SOUTH AFRICA: Children helping children empower themselves
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
DURBAN, 3 December (PLUSNEWS) - Children often seem helpless in the face of the onslaught of HIV/AIDS, but a South African network of NGOs helping children affected by the pandemic has recognised that they can play a proactive role in combating the disease.
Children in Distress (CINDI), based in KwaZulu-Natal's provincial capital, Pietermaritzburg, has realised that when children assist other children, they not only benefit those in need, but empower themselves as well.
CINDI has teamed up with a number of primary schools in and around Pietermaritzburg to launch 'Children helping Children', a programme where pupils actively help disadvantaged children their own age.
"We hope that children will get involved at a deeper level than just listening. If they serve those who are affected, they will be motivated to take decisions to save themselves and remain HIV-negative," CINDI's network coordinator, Stellar Zulu, told PlusNews.
In the Pietermaritzburg area alone, more than 10,000 children younger than 18 years have lost either one or both their parents to HIV/AIDS.
The initiative makes children in relatively privileged situations aware of the plight of children whose lives are drastically affected by the pandemic.
"It is important to raise kind-hearted and empathetic children, because even if the cure for AIDS is found tomorrow, orphaned and vulnerable children will remain a reality of our lifetime," Zulu added.
CINDI operates throughout the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands region and, with partner schools, organises four annual events that include activities children can participate in without much help from adults. According to Zulu, being proactive had made children feel less helpless in the face of the pandemic.
"We want to show kids that AIDS is a problem they can do something about," she noted.
This year, during their first school term, learners collected warm clothing, which were then distributed to 15 NGOs working with orphans and vulnerable children around Pietermaritzburg.
In the second school term, the children collected basic hygiene articles to support home-based carers, while in the third, the four participating schools organised a party for 400 children affected by HIV/AIDS. At the annual party the pupils meet and play with the children they are helping.
"Being part of the 'Children helping Children' project, I learned to appreciate people for what they are. It made me more aware of what is going on in the communities around Pietermaritzburg," said 13-year-old Sihle Mofokeng, from St. Nicholas Diocesan School.
Although the children receive HIV/AIDS education at school, a CINDI project was generally where youngsters initially became actively involved in helping people affected by the pandemic.
"For the first time I could actively do something about HIV/AIDS," said 14-year-old Lindiwe Khanyeza. "AIDS is not a boring subject anymore."