Russell Davies - Hope HIV

Russell Davies - Hope HIV

I am privileged to work for a UK-based organisation with the rather paradoxical title – HOPEHIV. HOPEHIV (www.hopehiv.org) raises funds and disburses them to a wide range of community-based organisations throughout sub-Saharan Africa who work with children and young people orphaned or affected by HIV/Aids.
We currently fund 45 different projects in 11 countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana. We prioritise four broad programmatic themes – emotional and social support, education, economic empowerment and children’s rights.
The Aids pandemic has had its impact in three waves – infection with HIV, where often the victim is perfectly
well, unaware of their status and
unknowingly infecting others; illness incorporating the transition to Aids, where the body’s immune system ceases to function; and finally death – leaving thousands of children as orphans. It is this last phase which occupies HOPEHIV’s attention – the care and empowerment of this massive orphan generation. In South Africa alone, 1.7 million children have lost at least one parent to HIV/Aids.
The extended family, which has traditionally taken responsibility for their care, has been pushed well beyond its limits, meaning that many children have nowhere safe to stay, no-one to help them deal with the trauma of their grief and loss, and sometimes little chance of starting, let alone completing, their education. Many are neglected, abused, forced into exploitative labour, or find themselves living on the streets.
So, one might reasonably ask, ‘Where is the hope in HIV/Aids?’. In the five years I have worked for HOPEHIV, initially based in London and, since January 2006, as Africa Director based here in Cape Town, I have met hundreds of orphaned children in urban slums, townships and remote rural villages all over East and southern Africa. What began to strike me increasingly was the latent but untapped potential and passion to make a difference in these children and young people, most of whom are not themselves HIV positive. My well-meaning paternalism was challenged and I realised that these were not just benign victims who needed the help of affluent UK donors – out of a sense of noblesse oblige.
Rather, Africa’s orphan generation is a vast talent pool which holds the key to the continent’s future stability and prosperity. From within this generation will come the leaders of the future – for good or for ill. We needed to change our paradigm and that of our donors –
seeing what we do as investment in human capacity and development rather than just charity/welfare coming from an odd mixture of guilt and compassion.
My work forces me to walk the tightrope between hope and despair. Sometimes I can feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the orphan crisis, the complexity of needs each orphan faces, the depth and intransigence of the poverty in which they are trying to survive, and the seeming indifference of so many in the affluent West. But more often I am inspired by the courage, heroic self-sacrifice and amazing resourcefulness of our project partners and the communities they mobilise to care for and empower the orphans. And in the midst of despair I meet children with a spark in their eyes who I know, given the opportunity and support, could provide leadership and genuine hope for their communities for many years. As I introduce well-resourced visitors from the UK to these children, they too capture something of that optimism, and go back motivated to contribute funds and spread the word. We should not be naïve and pretend that the obstacles are not huge. But neither can we just wring our hands in resignation and say we can’t do anything. I have seen too many orphan’s lives changed and communities mobilised to believe that. They have embodied for me the recurring biblical theme of death and resurrection, where out of seeming despair and destruction comes new life and hope.

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Daniel was born on 2 February 1988 in a village called Ebule in civil war-torn Northern Uganda to a family of peasant farmers. In 1993 his family were displaced by Karamojong warriors and moved to Lira, where they settled. Daniel entered primary school in 1995.
On the morning of 1 January 2003, when only 14 years of age, Daniel was captured by rebel soldiers from the Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA). They moved him to Gulu, where he was forced to stay for three months in the bush. Many people were killed and he had only un-ground sorghum seeds to eat.
In March 2004 the LRA was attacked by the Ugandan Army and Daniel managed to escape. He walked miles to the Army barracks, only to find that his father had died. He moved to the internally displaced people’s camp in Lira and was given psychological support to help him recover.
In 2006 Daniel was selected to study bricklaying at the HOPEHIV-funded Vocational Training Programme run by The Salvation Army in Lira Camp. He told us: ‘The everyday activity of this course has helped me come to terms with my terrible experiences in the bush. After I finish the course I shall be able to restart my life and have a future. My mother is dependent on me to earn an income due to what she went through in the displacement.’
Daniel graduated in July 2007 and received a full toolkit with which to start work.