The innocents of AIDS

I remember the raw fear.

(from the website for Every Orphan's Hope)

When the AIDS epidemic first stung the world’s consciousness 30 years ago, I had young children. All I could wonder was what kind of world would they grow up to face? How would they find a husband or wife? Would the entire country be overrun by the disease? It was a frightening time — the very future seemed to be in jeopardy.

But as the years progressed and we became more enlightened about the disease, AIDS became less scary, and compassion gradually began to overwhelm the fear. With access to medicine, active treatments and education programs, we kept HIV and AIDS corralled for the most part. What we initially feared — an out-of-control AIDS epidemic wiping out the country — did not materialize here.

But elsewhere it did. Take Zambia.

…. AIDS children have been much affected by the AIDS epidemic in Zambia where 120,000 children are estimated to be infected with HIV. However, being HIV infected is not the only way that children are affected by HIV and AIDS. In 2009 there were 690,000 AIDS orphans in the country and AIDS orphans made up half of all orphans in the country. Children may be abandoned due to stigma or a simple lack of resources, while others run away because they have been mistreated and abused by foster families.*

Today’s estimate of the number of Zambian AIDS orphans is approaching one million, according to recent United Nations data. These children are the innocents of AIDS. Without parents or family left, without the maturity to care for themselves, Zambia’s orphans are desperate. Numerous organizations worldwide are trying to help them. One of these is Every Orphan’s Hope.

Last summer, after studying abroad in Florence and “wwoofing”† on an organic farm in Roccabruna, Italy, a town in the Alps close to France, JMU media arts and design major Peter Jackson (’12) traveled to Zambia. He had learned about Every Orphan’s Hope and through networking had been invited to film a documentary about their work. It was a chance to use his SMAD skills and to explore a new part of the world. “A shot of luck,” he calls it.

“Social and cultural documentary [filmmaking] is something that’s been rolling around in my mind,” Peter says.  What he didn’t know when he signed on was the impact it would have on him. 

“My first time seeing the living conditions outside of a western society was an eye-opener. It was shocking,” he said.

Every Orphan’s Hope builds homes and sustainable communities for widows and orphans impacted by AIDS. Native Zambians do the construction under the supervision of other Zambians, creating not only homes but an investment in community.

“My job was to document what the organization was doing,” Peter says.

One AIDS widow lives in a home with eight to 10 orphans. Some of the children have been abandoned because of the stigma of AIDS and some are “double” orphans, having lost both mother and father to the disease. “The house mama becomes their mother. The other orphans become their brothers and sisters,” Peter says.

In addition to providing shelter and homes for the children, Every Orphan’s Hope works to help Zambians create sustainable economies.  One family Peter came to know — “Mama Jane and Lucky” — raise chickens, part of a co-op handing 35,000 chickens every cycle.

Because of the crisis, “within the community, there’s an inability to hope much for the future,” Peter says. Every Orphan’s Hope tries to change that. “If we can give them opportunity and give them an environment where they can feel loved and hope for the future, they are the ones who will empower the nation.”

For Peter, who captured hours of video, hundreds of still shots and is working on his documentary, the challenge is even more than bringing the story to the rest of the world. “You come back and think what can I get rid of? What can I do? It changed my life.”


To read more about the problem facing AIDS orphans, visit http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/vol15no3/153child.htm

To learn more about Every Orphan’s Hope, visit  http://everyorphan.org/

* http://www.avert.org/aids-zambia.htm#contentTable1  (specific statistics’ sources are available on the website)
†For more information on “wwoofing,” go to  https://jmubethechange.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/lessons-in-italian-pig-herding/
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About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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