|© UNICEF Rwanda/2011/Clover|
|Emmanuel Nyandwi, founder of APESEK, outside the organization’s headquarters.|
By Jenny Clover
KIVUMU, Rwanda, 1 November 2011 – Perched high in the hills above Rwanda’s Lake Kivu, a project is transforming the lives of nearly 1,000 orphans and vulnerable children.
Kivumu, in Western Province, faces a variety of challenges. The area was affected by conflict during the 1994 genocide and again in the years that followed. Today, the region suffers land shortages as well as high levels of malnutrition and alcoholism. Life can be stark for vulnerable children here, particularly those affected by HIV.
APESEK aims to change this. Since 2002, the organization has offered vital support to children living with and affected by HIV.
Emmanuel Nyandwi founded APESEK after losing a brother, an uncle and his grandparents to AIDS. His organization’s goal is to “elevate these children up to the level of other children in the area,” Mr. Nyandwi said.
APESEK uses a sustainable, community-based approach known as Nkundabana (which means ‘I love children’ in the local Kinyarwanda dialect) to ensure these children have access to health, education and protection services. Mentors assist child-headed households, and when children reach age 18, APESEK helps them transition to independent living. The organization also educates local communities on children’s rights and on the importance of support for children living with or affected by HIV.
With support from UNICEF, APESEK now helps up to 882 children at any one time. Of its current beneficiaries, 52 children are HIV-positive, while the others have lost one or both parents to AIDS-related causes.
Claudine (name changed), 16, is one of these children. She is HIV-positive, and lost both parents to AIDS when she was just two years old. Much of her childhood was spent being bullied for her HIV status. Her remaining family – a brother and grandmother – did not have a home of their own; instead they moved among the homes of neighbours and friends.
But, with APESEK’s help, things have changed. The organization constructed and furnished a new house for Claudine’s family. It supplies them with food and helps them cultivate vegetables in their garden. Claudine also receives assistance for her school materials, uniform and hospital visits.
“I am very happy to have my own house now,” she said. “It means that I have respect from my neighbours and people no longer treat me badly. I feel safe with my family now.”
Claudine is now thriving. She was the third-highest performing student in her class last year, and dreams of becoming a teacher.
“I see APESEK as my parent now,” she said, “because they provide all the things my parents would have if they were here. I am very grateful for all they have done for my family.”
A need for protection
There are thousands of others like Claudine. Rwanda has an estimated 22,000 HIV-positive children under age 15.
The country has made remarkable progress in scaling up services for these children. Government figures show the number of HIV-positive children receiving anti-retroviral treatment has increased from 5 per cent in 2004 to 70 per cent in 2010. The country’s target is to reach 80 per cent by the end of 2012.
Still, access to social protections for the most vulnerable children – including those affected by HIV – remains inadequate. Mr. Nyandwi estimates that, within the three districts where his organization works, there are 4,500 orphans and vulnerable children under age of 15. Without additional resources, they will remain beyond reach.
But UNICEF hopes that organizations such as APESEK can offer a model approach to caring for vulnerable children, helping the Government set minimum standards of care, ultimately ensuring that all vulnerable children receive the support and services they need.