|© UNICEF Gambia/2006/Downes-Thomas|
|Six-year-old Isatou and her younger sister attend a UNICEF-sponsored programme in the Upper River Division of Gambia where they play, eat and receive check-ups and psycho-social care.|
By Begay Downes-Thomas
BANJUL, Gambia, 23 June 2006 – Like most six-year-old girls, Isatou enjoys snacking – in her case, on bananas. She likes to go to school, play ball and most of all, spend time with her family.
But only five months ago, this Gambian girl could not indulge herself in such activities. Isatou’s family struggles against poverty and both parents are living with HIV.
Many young children like Isatou are living in extreme poverty. In sub-Sahara Africa alone, an estimated 18 million children will have lost at least one parent to AIDS by 2010. In an effort to reduce the impact of this situation, a UNICEF-sponsored project of the Catholic Development Office (CaDO) is providing support to orphans and other vulnerable children in Gambia.
Changing for the better
Until recently, Isatou’s father, Mustapha, was bedridden. The family attended to him day in and day out, confining them to their home. The children were missing out on their basic education and faced the real possibility of becoming orphans.
“It was bad. I was very thin. I could not talk with anybody,” recalled Mustapha.
But CaDO came to visit him during one of its outreach rounds, and since then, Mustapha has been treated with antiretroviral (ARV) drugs at a local clinic. Isatou and her younger sister, Jainaba, have been enrolled in a nearby school and are equipped with school uniforms, books and money for school lunches.
Every month, CaDO provides the girls with hygiene supplies such as soap, toothbrushes and body lotion. The family also receives a monthly sack of rice.
“I see that their lives are changing,” noted social worker Emerence Fonu, who has been working with the family since they joined the programme.
‘I am not ashamed’
UNICEF and CaDO support 50 children in Gambia’s Upper River Division, offering them psycho-social care and medical treatment. Those who are living with HIV – and who meet the minimum requirements set out in the National ARV Guidelines – receive free ARV treatment.
“I want people to see me. I have this sickness, AIDS, and I am not ashamed,” declared Mustapha. “What I want for my family is to have more health and [for me] to help my family as well as I can. It is more possible now than before.”
With UNICEF assistance, CaDO will increase its support in the Upper River Division to a total of 75 children this year. However, thousands of orphans and vulnerable children throughout Gambia are equally at risk. The programme urgently needs more resources.
“Children need their parents,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Gambia, Cheryl Gregory Faye. “Those whose parents are ill or those who become orphans have reduced opportunities in life. They are more likely to be malnourished, to miss out on education and are at increased risk of abuse. Projects like this one give these children another chance in life.”