|© UNICEF video|
|Community activist Rodrigue Koffi Kolou at his family’s home in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire.|
By Bill Horn
BOUAKÉ, Côte d’Ivoire, 26 June 2006 – Rodrigue Koffi Kolou, 20, lost his mother when he was 10 and his father when he was 14, both from AIDS-related illnesses. It was a difficult time for the family.
“To be confronted at such a young age by this disease was a terrible trial for us,” he said. “We were outcasts. It’s why I threw myself so quickly into the world of non-governmental associations.”
Rodrigue is one of the founding members of N’Zarama (which means ‘star’ in the Boulé language). The group brings together young people who are living with HIV and those like Rodrigue who have been affected by the disease.
Over 300,000 children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Côte d’Ivoire alone.
With the help of a sister who interrupted her studies to care for the family, Rodrigue was able to continue his education. Many are not so lucky. They no longer attend classes and lack even basic health and social services.
The members of N’Zarama bring moral support to children and young people as well as connecting children with clinics and other groups working in the area.
The next step
But N’Zarama lacks the resources to help children go back to school or give them access to medication.
Access to the necessary treatments is very limited in Côte d’Ivoire: Of the 40,000 children living with HIV, less than 3 per cent are receiving anti-retroviral medication.
For Rodrigue and his friends in N’Zarama, the story is much more personal.
“There was a little girl at [the local clinic] who was HIV-positive, who was really exhausted,” remembers Rodrigue. “She obviously needed to be on anti-retrovirals. This little girl was in Bouaké, and there were no paediatric drugs available. The doctors from the local hospital tried to do something, tried to organize for her to go to Abidjan and get medication. But all the while it took to do this she was very ill, and on the day we had the opportunity to send her to Abidjan she died.”
More action, less talk
Taking his activism to the international level, Rodrigue spoke out at a recent Conference on Childhood and AIDS held in Paris on 15 and 16 June. At the closing session of the event sponsored by UNICEF, the French Government and other partners, he demanded more action and less talk.
“We are tired of programmes and national plans for orphans and vulnerable children which exist only in name and result only in workshops. What we are waiting for is funds to be made available to NGOs, associations and organizations which work efficiently on the ground,” he said at the closing session of the conference at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie.
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Conference on Childhood and AIDS website
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