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Zambian Center Brings Hope to Children Affected by HIV/AIDS

Zambia is one of many countries in Africa to be hard hit by the AIDS pandemic. It is estimated that 16 % of the population is living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The worst hit areas are the Copper Belt mining area and the tourist town of Livingston.

Many organizations in Zambia have been created to help children who are either living with HIV or have been orphaned by AIDS. One such project is the City of Hope, outside the capital, Lusaka.

The "city" was built as a compound by the Salesian Sisters. Through its efforts, it has raised hope for hundreds of girls and boys, many of whom are orphans and some of whom are living with HIV/AIDS.

Many of these children had dropped out of school and did not have enough information about HIV/Aids. The center provides a rehabilitation program and classes to teach women the skills they need to support themselves.

With funding from Christian aid organizations and other supporters, the center is trying to offer young girls at risk of infection the possibility of a better future. The Sisters say they’re using professional training and Christian values in their effort to help girls develop a sense of dignity as they grow into women.

An estimated 650,000 children have lost a parent to AIDS in Zambia, where 20 percent of adults suffer from the disease. The impact on children has been devastating. Forty thousand children under age 15 are believed to be infected. One in six of the children between the ages of 15 and 24 is HIV-positive. Every year, tens of thousands of babies are born HIV-positive. HIV/Aids has redefined childhood.

There are 700 boys and girls at City of Hope. Here, girls and boys are given the hope of living a normal life.

Behind the brick and sand buildings of the City, the Salesian Sisters have developed a unique model for helping these children create a future using the few resources available.

The spacious compound, which was built in 1985, provides a safe and open atmosphere where the children play and spend time together. It’s also the site of several projects, including a chicken house with more than 100 birds. The fowl are used for their eggs and meat in the compound and are also sold for income. In addition, there is the carpentry shop, where children are taught how to make furniture.

Sister Maria is one of the founders of City of Hope. She says the children need not only want clothes, shoes and blankets, but also love and the assurance of a better future.

"The girls are helped in every way. They are encouraged. You have to try and learn something, you have do beadwork, knitting. We can sell it and you can start a bank account, and all of this is help for the future," she said.

Sister Maria says the center helps girls develop coping and social skills. But sometimes this has not been easy, especially for those who are infected with HIV. She says learning to accept the possibility of death from AIDS is a common challenge for the children of the compound.

The center provides counseling for the girls and helps them cope with their situation.

Sister Maria says she would rather not think of the City of Hope as an orphanage, and in many ways it is in indeed just that. She says her goal is not to keep the children there forever but to help them get back into a normal family situation. She says it’s also a place where children can be educated and grow confident with the knowledge that the skills they learn here will help them make it on their own one day.