|© UNICEF China/2007/ Jianhua|
|(L to R) Governor of Henan Province Li Chengyu; China's Minister of Civil Affairs Li Xueju; Secretary General of Henan Province Xu Guangchun; and UNICEF China Representative Dr. Yin Yin Nwe are presented with artwork created by youths affected by HIV/AIDS at Under the Same Sun.|
By Zhang Lei
HENAN PROVINCE, China, 14 September 2007 – On 6-8 September, an international seminar on children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS called Under the Same Sun was held in Henan Province.
At the opening ceremony of the UNICEF-supported seminar, youths from Henan Province who had been orphaned by AIDS presented an album of their stories and artwork to high-level delegates, including Party Secretary-General of Henan Xu Guangchun; Chinese Minister of Civil Affairs Li Xueju, and the Governor of Henan Province Li Chengyu.
Delegates discussed the creation of policies for the care and placement of children affected by HIV/AIDS in China. UNICEF Representative to China Dr. Yin Yin Nwe outlined four steps which could be implemented in the future.
“First, we must work to keep parents alive; second we must keep children in school; third, we must not allow AIDS to impoverish families; and finally, we must work to ensure that all vulnerable children – including children affected by AIDS – have the ability to reach their full potential.”
‘The feelings of being orphans were with us’
Yang Wen (not her real name), age 14, was one of the youth delegates at Under the Same Sun. Five years ago, she and her little sister lost both their parents to AIDS during an outbreak of the epidemic in the rural Henan Province.
“Almost overnight, we became a pair of orphans,” said Yang Wen. “The feelings of being orphans were with us every time we were stuck with homework without knowing who to ask. Three times a day, we had to stand on a chair to make our own meals.”
In the mid to late 1990s, the Province was shrouded in fear and myths about AIDS. The Government took measures to respond to the needs of children by building shelters called Sunshine Homes. Yang Wen was one of many children who were sent to live in these shelters.
Sunshine Homes were built throughout Henan as an emergency response in order to feed, house and educate children orphaned by AIDS. Although the children’s basic needs were cared for, however, the youths often felt isolated.
“I was still lonely for my parents and my little sister who was living with relatives,” Yang Wen told the international delegates at the seminar.
Now, Henan Province is committed to exploring family and community-based strategies such as the development of 'Sunshine Families'. This new programme will not isolate children affected by AIDS but instead aims to strengthen the bonds between the children and the rest of the community.
China’s central government has issued policies for orphans like Yang Wen to receive free healthcare, free education and living support. However, implementation of these services varies across the country due to disparities in local capacity as well as the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
'An auspicious day'
The UNICEF-supported seminar was made possible by China's Ministry of Civil Affairs; The Office of State Council Working Committee for AIDS Prevention and Control; and the Henan Provincial Government.
Based on the findings and recommendations from national and international experts during the seminar, a Policy and Practice Brief was prepared and will be shared with Chinese authorities.
“Today is a very auspicious day for the children in China,” said UNICEF China Representative Dr. Nwe.
When communities are able to extend a helping hand to children affected by HIV/AIDS, youths like Yang Wen will have the support they need to reach their full potential.
Kyria Abrahams contributed to this story from New York