So this past week is the completion of my orientation period at St. Francis. The week ended on Saturday where I attended the two Youth Clubs that they sponsor – Young Positives and the Shadow Idol club. The clubs are designed to mainly address the issue of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) due to some impact of HIV in their lives. They both have similar issues and deal with young children but there is a major difference. The Young Positives is only for HIV+ youth and the Shadow Idols are for those that are negative but HIV has affected their larger family in some way. They both have Constitutions which are being established to lay down the ground rules for each Club. In addition, the clinic is open to handle walk-in cases as well as the children who may need support while there. I sat in the morning with the Young Positives and in the afternoon with the Shadow Idol club. The size of each group roughly hovers about 50 for the former and about 100+ for the latter. The age bracket for the former was between 9-14 but has been adjusted to between 11-24 yrs of age. I did not learn about the latter groups age bracket. St. Francis provides free meals for the children as well free transportation for the Young Positives group. Transportation is not provided for the Shadow Idols club so it is mainly children who are within the local area. In the morning, I sat in on a group lecture and exercise to educate the group on the HIV virus. I was impressed with the knowledge of some of the children in terms of what HIV is and how you can contract it. The group was run by a volunteer, Kasoma, who is himself HIV+ and was treated at St. Francis earlier in the decade. He, along with another girl gave their testimonies to the group after the discussions. Kasoma mentioned that his father was a polygamist. There were three children in his family. His mother passed away while he was still young. Kasoma did attend school but he would fall ill quite often. When he was 14 yrs old he developed TB. He was then brought to St. Francis after seeing several hospitals. There he learned he was HIV+ and began starting ART. This was in 2002. Later on, he became an active volunteer at St. Francis. He mentioned that the drugs “allowed me to go back to school” and to even perform better than those who are not HIV+. In the afternoon, I spent the time with the Shadow Idols where they were teaching the group to play African drums and dance by their music & dance director.
Personal note: I then began to think about the impact of what it might mean to a young child (or even myself) if they learned that they were HIV+ at such a young age. I think I can begin to understand the potential depression and of asking oneself if one could have a normal life like everyone else. Seeing the children in the Young Positives club was both enlightening and heartening.
Overall though, I could tell that while it seemed like a good program for some, it was difficult to manage so many children with the number of staff they had present. Granted a couple of staff called in sick or were busy with other tasks but it still seemed difficult to me to see how they can gainfully interact equally with each child. Also, both groups do provide some support even for school fees, etc. This is something for me to see how they can then follow up with the families and also the schools to see that the funds are spent properly and that the child is being supported appropriately – this along with everything else that St. Francis does during a normal week. The need is there from what I can see, it is just the execution portion that will be interesting to examine. Something that I will have to look at while I am here as an evaluator.
Some pictures of my Saturday are below. Kasoma is the person handling the soccer ball. The young girl in the picture is a member of the Shadow Idols group. I first met her at the Naminya village where the grannies’ project is being built. I had not realized she was an OVC herself at that time.