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Investing in protection for children living with HIV and AIDS

Anwar and Aina join Ruman Solehah Supervisor Wan Hava Wan Hussin to look at photos of “fun times” with their mother who has since died of AIDS.
© UNICEF Malaysia/2010/Jaafar
Anwar and Aina join Ruman Solehah Supervisor Wan Hava Wan Hussin to look at photos of “fun times” with their mother who has since died of AIDS.

'Rights Here, Right Now' is the theme for the XVIII International AIDS Conference. Also known as AIDS 2010, the conference will focus on the crucial need to protect the rights of infected and affected communities, including children.

By Juana Jaafar

KUALA LUMPUR, 19 July 2010 – Outgoing thirteen year old Aina* is determined to be a filmmaker when she grows up. She knows she’s talented and isn’t too shy to talk about it. “Women can make good filmmakers. As for me, I’m going to make feel-good films because sad stories are simply too tiresome,” she said.

Aina is a secondary school student living at Rumah Solehah, an orphanage for children living with HIV and AIDS. Rumah Solehah is home to thirteen children, twelve of whom are HIV-positive – including Aina’s fifteen year old brother, Anwar*.

Aina is the only HIV-negative child living there but face no discrimination for being different. She was previously enrolled in a boarding school for orphaned children but moved into Rumah Solehah upon her brother’s request.

Her brother discovered she was being harassed by her peers because she was related to him, an HIV-positive person. He knew too well the discrimination she was facing in school despite that she is HIV-negative. To protect her, he insisted she moved in with him at Rumah Solehah.

Stigma starts at home

Rumah Solehah's Wan Hava Wan Hussin has a light moment with Anwar who is HIV-positive.
© UNICEF Malaysia/2010/Jaafar
Wan Hava Wan Hussin has a light moment with Anwar.

Anwar himself was the home’s first HIV-positive child when he arrived with his mother in 2000 at age five. While his sister lived for a few years with other family members, he and his mother sought refuge at Rumah Solehah.

“The children’s mother was ostracised by the family when she found out she was infected. She was abandoned by her husband who was actually the one who infected her. She had nowhere to go so she stayed here until the day she died,” said Wan Hava Wan Hussin, or Mak Wan, who is Home Supervisor of Rumah Solehah.

UNICEF Representative to Malaysia, Mr. Hans Olsen, said stigma in HIV and AIDS usually manifests as ostracism or avoidance of persons believed to practice a “shameful’ lifestyle. As in the case of Aina, stigma also applies to those who are themselves not infected but are associated with infected persons.

“For children, stigma strikes hard on their self-esteem and psychological well-being. Put simply, stigma kills their spirit,” he added. But this is all caused by ignorance, fear and the judgemental attitudes, even sometimes among family members themselves. As a result, Mr. Olsen said, some of these children are denied their basic right to belong in a family. Unfortunately, stigma can also affect a child’s access to education and health care.

Homes like Rumah Solehah play a critical role in protecting children like Aina and Anwar in an environment stained by stigma. In 2010, the home as well as two other organisations, namely Rumah Wake and PRIHATIN, will receive financial support from UNICEF for their continued effort in supporting children living with HIV and AIDS. The funds will be disbursed through the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC).

Providing safety and solace

Besides providing a safe home for the children, the caretakers at these homes also strive to give the children a sense of family and responsibility. Wan Hava Wan Hussin, Home Supervisor of Rumah Solehah, acts as a mother figure for the children living under her care. She monitors their progress at school and makes sure they complete their assignments. She also counsels them when they are down and encourages them to look to each other as siblings.

Wan Hava recalls a time when Anwar fell into depression and almost gave up on his HIV treatment. He grew tired of having to take medicines every day but decided to continue with his treatment for his sister’s sake. Wan Hava said Anwar knew the only way for him to be there for his sister was to be alive and well.

Anwar and Aina are lucky to have each other, and to be part of the Rumah Solehah family.

* Names of the children have been changed to protect their identities.

 

 

 

 

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