In Zambia, over 850 orphans are infected by HIV / AIDS. Others have been left to fend for themselves, after their parents died of the disease. An American NGO is working with the orphans’ extended families to help bring relief.
Operation Blessing International, or OBI, says one way the lives of Zambia’s orphans can be enhanced is through families and not orphanages and drop-in-centers.
OBI’s Country Coordinator for Zambia, Aaron Mwewa, says the parents do not have to be related to the child but can be any caregiver who will agree to raise the children in his or her home.
"We believe that orphans and vulnerable children can grow up complete when they grow in families where caregivers take care of them. We do not give “handouts” (frivolous things) to the caregivers, but we believe in giving them seed capital and skills so that they can start making a sustainable living. Seed capital is basically the materials and seeds necessary to do farming or business as opposed to money," he said.
Mwewa says his organization – which is funded by USAID -- works with World Hope International, the Christian World Relief Committee (CWRC) and the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries to help Zambia’s orphans.
"We work with churches because they command a lot of trust in the communities. When an NGO or a politician goes to these people, (we believe) they can not be trusted. (On the other hand) there is a sense of trust people have in the church and they are all over the place. (In our opinion) politicians and NGOs can’t be trusted because they are viewed as people who appear to solicit for votes or do projects for personal gain," he said.
Mwewa says rural orphans are at a disadvantage materially but not in terms of social support as many families in the rural areas are willing to take on more children.
He says many families in urban areas have developed what he termed a ‘Western attitude’ where they are reluctant to take on more children apart from their own.
He says many rural families in Zambia are able to take orphaned children thanks to the funding from groups like OBI.
Mwewa says his organization and its partners give families keeping the children cash and farming implements after carrying out a feasibility study.
He says the families identify economic projects, which can be sustainable.
"We are not paying them. We are just increasing their capacity to look after those children. People are not taking in more children not because they don’t care, not because they don’t feel the pain. It is because they do not have the capacity. Let’s increase their capacity to bring in four, five children. Our poverty levels are 70 to 80 percent," he said.
One of the children in Kanyama, Mary Munyai, describes herself as an orphan.
"I am 13 years old, my mother died on May 9 last year and I am staying with my grandmother and my grandfather who take care of me and my aunt and uncle," she said.
Mary, whose grandparents have received cash to run a business at a market, says she has managed to secure a place at the Nazarene community school through one of O-B-I’s partners. The school has four classes and six teachers with over 400 pupils.
She says her future looks brighter thanks to the efforts of O-B-I – which is also helping to make sure that scores of other children in Zambia have homes, and an education.
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