For sixteen-year old Kristen, every day is a long one.
She wakes early, fetches water, then wakes her two younger brothers to get them ready for school. She makes them breakfast and then walks with them to class. Despite both her parents dying three years ago, Kristen manages to continue her own studies, before heading home after school to tend the small vegetable garden that helps sustain her and her brothers. She then collects firewood, prepares dinner, and lends a hand with the boys’ homework. At around 11 pm, Kristen begins her own homework. Six hours later her day begins again.
It is an enormous burden to place on her slight shoulders and one that has been repeated with terrifying regularity across a country ravaged by HIV/AIDS. Almost a million children in Zimbabwe have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. The Japanese Government, in conjuction with UNICEF and the UN Human Security Fund, is hoping to lighten the burden.
They have set up the Masiye Camp in southern Zimbabwe to counsel orphans from across the country. Utilising games, song, dance and theatre, the camps focus on grief management, personal growth and HIV/AIDS prevention. The camp has also trained facilitators who have spread the methodology throughout the country, enabling children such as Kristen to attend similar camps in their districts.
UNICEF and the Government of Zimbabwe have embarked on a new two year programme together. While it is hoped the camps will continue to grow and prosper, interventions in child protection, education, health & nutrition, and water and sanitation are being merged to prevent greater rises in the number of orphans.
“Zimbabwe, indeed the entire region, faces a monumental struggle to cope with the rising tide of orphans to HIV/AIDS,” says UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Festo Kavishe. “This is why projects such as the Masiye Camp are so critical. At a time of depleted international support, they are helping Zimbabwe’s children to not only cope, but to prosper in immensely difficult circumstances.”
Last week Kristen and 125 children like her spent five days and nights at the camp. They played games and did activities that taught life skills, built self-esteem, and developed problem-solving capabilities.
“We aim to make children strong once again,” says Masiye’s head of training, Frederick Mabikwa. “These children have no one to talk to about their sexuality; no one to guide them in life skills, no one to tell them how on earth they should run a household, and no one to help with their grief.”
Kristen has borne her share of grief. Her mother died giving birth to her and her father died, likely of HIV/AIDS, when she was 13-years old. Though her father had remarried and had two children, Kristen’s stepmother committed suicide two days after his death, leaving Kristen with two half-brothers to take care of. Tears well in Kristen’s eyes as she tells her story, but a smile returns when asked whether her brothers are good boys or not. “Ahh, they both study well,” she says, “but they are still boys!”
For Kristen, after many years of silent suffering, Masiye represented her first chance to get psychosocial support. “I want to be the best person I can,” says Kristen. “I want to continue going to school, I want to see my brothers do well at school, and I want to help all three of us make something of our situation. This week has begun all that for me.”