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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

DR Congo: Volunteers help children orphaned by HIV/AIDS

Volunteers like Chantal Lufini are reaching out to children in DR Congo who are orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

By Sarah Crowe

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, 24 October 2005 – Only now emerging from a long history of war, the Democratic Republic of Congo is facing a future where poverty and disease, especially HIV/AIDS, will be the enemies and soldiers of a different kind will be needed for the battle.

Armed with nothing but community spirit and advice, volunteers with Caritas, a Catholic relief organization and UNICEF partner, work across the country, both in the capital Kinshasa and in rural villages. They represent the kind of soldiers needed for DR Congo’s future struggles. Their job is to gather intelligence and put in place the beginnings of a safety net. With support from UNICEF, the volunteers seek out children at risk and help them fight the killers in their lives.

In a place like Kinshasa, there are many killers around and HIV/AIDS is one of them. There is little infrastructure to talk of; a large proportion of residents have no access to education or health services. The city is full of children – they make up 60 per cent of the population. Many are out on the streets every day scrounging for a living, and they are fast becoming more vulnerable than ever before.

Children orphaned by AIDS

The Caritas volunteers are the eyes and ears of the community and deal with all kinds of problems – children suffering from malaria, children orphaned by the war or by disease, or even children accused of being witches or sorcerers. But among all the problems here, HIV/AIDS is a lurking giant. There are 1,100,000 people living with HIV in DR Congo, and 770,000 children who have been orphaned by the disease.

Chantal Lufini is a resident of Kinshasa and a Caritas volunteer. She has seen how AIDS has crept up on her country. “Before, some children’s parents died from diseases and accidents, and some were killed in the war,” she says. “Now we have AIDS orphans too. Often both parents would be HIV positive and the child would be orphaned.

“At first people did not know, but now, little by little people are talking about it and are being warned. They are becoming able to take care of their bodies and know they have to be faithful in marriage, so as to prevent contracting AIDS.”

Children make up about 60 per cent of the population of Kinshasa, the capital of DR Congo.

Help for Judith

With UNICEF support, vulnerable children get assistance through Caritas. Their school fees are paid and they are treated free of charge at health clinics.

One child who has benefited from Caritas’ work is Judith Bidimweme, 17 and an orphan. She is one of the few orphans who know for sure that her parents died of AIDS. “My mother died in 1998, and my father was very sick at the time,” she says. “He told me all about it one day, because he wanted to warn us not to use sharp objects he had used.

“He told me had AIDS and could die soon. He told me that was why my mother died too. But I was very young and didn’t understand. My father died in 2000.”

Judith’s family had had a good home with furniture, a television and a yard with chickens. But all is gone now. What wasn’t taken by unscrupulous relatives was sold by Judith in order to survive.

Judith now cares for her two brothers, aged 14 and 12, and for a 10-year-old sister. She credits Caritas with helping her out in a very difficult situation. “Since my parents death I have been taken care of by Caritas,” she says.

“They have paid for my studies, and I’ve been able to get a diploma thanks to them, which I don’t think would have been possible without their help. They taught me accountancy and how to take care of my brothers and sisters. They all get an education thanks to them. It has been really beneficial for our family.”




October 2005:
Sarah Crowe reports on how volunteers from Caritas, a UNICEF-supported relief organization, are helping in fight against HIV/AIDS in DR Congo.

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