2008: Fighting vulnerability in Mazabuka: Protecting children and rebuilding families
Poverty and HIV and AIDS have overwhelmed this nation of more than 11 million people.
At 67, Esther Hachintu can recall the good times that she and her family enjoyed before disaster struck. “As a young girl, I trained in Zimbabwe to be a seamstress. I won awards for my work designing and producing fashionable dresses and clothes. When my husband and I moved back here, we were happy and dreamed of a successful life with our children,” she reminisces. Today, Esther still makes clothes, but only because it’s how she can provide the winter sweater her youngest great-grandson, four-year old Hamakata needs to stay warm during the Zambian cold season.
Esther and her husband are one of thousands of vulnerable households throughout Zambia who are struggling as a result of the ravages of poverty and HIV and AIDS. They both continue to work hard to provide for 14 grandchildren whose parents – the Hachintu’s sons and daughters – have all either died from AIDS-related illnesses or fled to escape the poverty and despair that surrounds their tiny village.
Too escape is not easy. Outside of Mazabuka, where Esther and her family live in Zambia’s Southern Province, one can find even more poverty and despair – and HIV and AIDS. There is an advantage to living in Mazabuka though, for it is home to the Chikankata Mission, truly a shining light for thousands of Zambians in this area.
“Chikankata Mission has been here for over 100 years. They know the community and the people. They know what is happening and can predict how things will unfold. In the last 15 years, especially, they have worked with the community to get out the word on HIV and AIDS and find innovative ways to support vulnerable households hit by both poverty and AIDS," said Harland.
"They realize that these issues are tied together, and it is this awareness and approach that UNICEF was seeking to partner with here. The protective safety net that children used to have in their families is gone as a result of poverty and AIDS, so we must work together to support families in this fight,” Harland says.
Gabriel Fernandez, Chief of UNICEF Zambia’s Child Protection section, explains, “UNICEF Zambia goes beyond the typical ‘orphans and vulnerable children’ strategy to reach a greater number of children living in households where the traditional safety nets have unraveled.
We recognize that there are many issues contributing to the crisis of vulnerable children, but it is a crisis that stems from the deep level of poverty that households must endure. The crisis is worsened when an epidemic like AIDS hits and erodes what little foundation of strength remains.”
Esther, for example, began losing her children to HIV and AIDS in the early 1990s. While ticking off the years in which she lost her children, her fingers stop at four. With tears in her eyes, she explains, “It was when I lost my fourth child in 1997 that I understood how bad it really was. She was a nurse, the glue in the family. She would call every weekend to tell us that she had food to bring us, or that she wanted us to come visit in Lusaka. I was so proud of her and she was so concerned with the family’s well-being. When she died of AIDS, though, I realized then that we were in trouble. That anyone could get it. That my family was dying and we were too poor and too late to stop it.”
While it cannot be easy to be in charge of such a large family at Esther’s age, it is likely no easier to be a child in her household. Young Hamakata, Esther’s charming and mischievous four-year-old great-grandson, is not an orphan, but he was abandoned by his mother, Esther’s granddaughter, just after his birth. No one in Esther’s family knows where she is or why she left, but Esther does not seem to blame her. “Life is hard here,” Esther says.
Thankfully, Esther has found support from Chikankata Mission, and while the family is still extremely poor, there is a growing sense of security that they are not alone.
“At least now we can live. But living is not enough. I am speaking out, because I don’t want other families to suffer like we have,” Esther said. “We must protect our children and families and not hide. That is my hope for the future: That our children do not have to hide, that they can instead live healthy and be safe.”