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Zimbabwe Project Seeks to Help Children Cope With Loss of Parents From AIDS - 2003-03-10

Globally, an estimated 19 million women are living HIV/AIDS. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women account for 58 percent of the adult population with AIDS. The Zimbabwe Red Cross hopes a new project will help empower some of these women and ensure cultural continuity.

An increasing number of children in the country are being left orphaned after the death of one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. This has caused the collapse of the family as a nucleus, and the gradual loss of cultural heritage.

Gladys Sananguray lost her husband to AIDS in 1999. When she tested positive to AIDS, she and her children were thrown out of their home by her husband's family. She now lives in a shed without electricity and running water. But she says the future and not the present, is her greatest concern.

"The future of these lives, I do not know, if I die myself, who will take care of these young children of mine," she said.

The Zimbabwe Red Cross recently launched a project called "Memory Box" to help mothers preserve their families' cultural heritage and communicate with their children long after their deaths.

Women who participate in the project make a memory box with their children. It serves as a "keepsake" of family photographs, letters, stories and history.

The Red Cross believes the program helps diminish the trauma of a parent’s death, and keeps the memory of a mother alive.

The project also helps women empower themselves. Lexa Samugadza, a single mother of three, believes her memory box will help her children fulfill her wishes.

"I want them to go to university so that they can teach other children that if you don't have a father at present with only your mother, you can be someone," she said.

The project also helps break the cycle of silence common in the region. HIV-positive women in Africa still face discrimination that makes them reluctant to speak out or protect themselves. Many women still choose not to reveal their HIV status to their families and children.

Even though this project is a positive step, the Red Cross says much work is still needed to lessen a woman's vulnerability to this disease.