Thursday, July 3, 2008

Orphaned and Vulernable Children

Today Thoko, Thini and I drove to Salukazi to take some clothes for a family of four children without parents. When we got there, we found that only one child, a 14 year old girl, out of the 4 children is still attending school. An older brother has gone to live with an Uncle in another community and attends school there. Another sister and brother aren’t attending school for unknown reasons. We also learned of a boy who is 15 years old and lives with his grandmother and blind mother. The boy is only in the 4th grade probably because of the lack of money for school fees so the boy probably doesn’t attend school regularly for the entire school year or he may not have started school at age 6 like he should have. And then we learned of a family of 3 children ages 13, 12 and 11, who are double orphans that are staying with an Auntie who is sick so another Auntie is taking care of the sick Aunt. This usually means the person has AIDS and is being cared for by someone else. It might not mean that, but rarely is the term HIV or AIDS used especially referring to someone who is sick. The Auntie has two children, a boy 17 and a girl too young to go to school so there are 5 children living in that house. The 13 year old girl has some sort of eye infection and clearly wasn’t healthy. The girl couldn’t afford to go to the Doctor because of the cost of transport and the Doctor fees. Round trip transport fee is 15 rand (about $2.00). The Doctor’s fee is 20 rand (about $2.75). The girl’s auntie would have to travel with her. So the cost of the transport and Doctor’s fee to send the child to the Nazarene Hospital in Manzini is 50 rand. When I sit there and listen to these stories as they are translated to me, it is so overwhelming. The easy answer would seem to be to give the child 50 rand so she can go to the Doctor. However, time and time again I’ve heard the stories that if you put 50 rand in the hand of a person they are going to use it for something else that they feel is more basic such as food. Put it in the hands of a child and you put the child at risk of being robbed. But the situation is so sad, and I am so aware that this scenario of orphaned children in need of medical attention is repeated thousands of times over. We just happened to be at this place with this child.

I asked the head teacher if I gave her (the head teacher) the 50 rand if the auntie could be trusted to get the child to the hospital for treatment and how I would know that this actually happened. The plan we came up with is that I gave the money to the head teacher. She is going to contact the girl’s Auntie and make arrangements for her to go to the hospital next Tuesday morning. The head teacher will notify Thoko when then are going so that one of the Manyano ladies can go meet them there and make sure they get the treatment, which should help them get better treatment. They will ask for a prognosis report to be returned to me so we know she got the treatment and also know if she will need to make a return visit so I can get the funds to the head teacher for the return visit.

This seems like a lot of mistrust and checkpoints. I struggle with that a lot. But somehow we (the head teachers, Manyano and I) have to find a way that we can help individual children with a few of their basic needs and make sure they get the care. It’s as much to protect the child and make sure she gets the care as it is to make sure the money isn’t wasted. We all waste the equivalent of $7.00 every day. One latte from Starbucks and we’ve almost thrown that much away. But it’s a different playing field here. One, people are used to receiving handouts without accountability and two the needs are so great.

I don’t know if this will be successful or not but my thought is we’ll use this as an experiment. If this can work maybe we will have set up a process we can use with other children we have seen that need medical care that is beyond reach because of distance and the cash needed to get to the clinic or hospital.

The ladies are going to add the children to the list of children to make school uniforms for. They also left a couple of boxes of clothes for these children or others in need. We’ll see what happens from here. Bit by bit, one heart at a time, one child at a time.

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