Do They Know It's Christmastime? (Africa's AIDS Orphans) - U2 Feedback

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Old 12-24-2005, 04:00 PM   #1
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Do They Know It's Christmastime? (Africa's AIDS Orphans)

In the Spirit of this Most Holy Season, I offer you two articles about the present situation for some of Africa's AIDS orphans.

The first article describes in very sad detail the lives of young children trying to make a way for themselves on the streets of Khartoum, Sudan:

Young and Homeless Fill Africa's City Streets

By Emily Wax

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- The morning call to prayer echoed through the city
as Ahmed Abdulraham, 14, a small boy with cloudy, yellowing eyes, rose
from his version of a mattress: a pile of trash spread across a gutter.

He rubbed some murky brown water over his face. He prostrated himself
and prayed, he said, for a day when he would be safe and earn a lot of
money. Then he took turns with his five friends sniffing glue.

After they got high, the boys took off across a rocky escarpment on
the recent morning, over some aging train tracks and into the choking
traffic of downtown Khartoum. They were ready to work.

Ahmed, known in local slang as a "mouse," is one of an estimated
35,000 minors who live and work on the streets of this dusty capital city.
Some, like him, have been here less than a year, since fleeing the
Darfur conflict in the west. But most are runaways from rural poverty,
forced to support their families or orphaned by AIDS.

They are part of an unprecedented and growing phenomenon of homeless
youths in Africa's exploding urban centers, according to studies by
UNICEF and Save the Children. There is no reliable estimate of their total
number, but studies indicate it could be as high as 1 million.

Africa once prided itself on its traditional systems of extended
family, which sheltered children even in dire circumstances. But over the
past 25 years, a variety of problems -- including drought, wars, AIDS and
economic collapse -- have broken families apart and left hundreds of
thousands of children to survive on their own.

The problem first became noticeable in the 1980s, when coffee prices
crashed and Western subsidies undercut other export crops such as corn
and cotton, according to studies by Street Child Africa, a British
organization. Many children in large rural families were asked to go out and
earn money or simply left home.

Over the past decade, as the AIDS pandemic combined with other
regional problems, more and more young Africans had to forgo childhood and
school, which is not free in many African countries. More than half the
youths interviewed by Save the Children said the inability to pay school
fees forced them into the streets.

There, they encountered a tough, adult environment where they were
vulnerable to drug addiction, bullying, sexual abuse and devastating
health conditions, according to child rights advocates.

Now, nearly every major African city has its own name for them. In
Khartoum, they are called "the children of the market." In Nairobi, they
are known as "glue boys," because they sniff glue out of old bottles,
holding the rims to their lips as if they were whispering into the neck.
In Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, they are called "the desperate
children" -- barefoot boys who shine shoes, banging a stick with a bottle
cap to attract customers.

"Never before have we seen this many children living on the streets.
Part of the problem is that urbanization across Africa is pushing these
children into very chaotic settings," said Nassirin Dafallea El Hag
Yousf, program officer for Save the Children-Sweden in Khartoum, which
studied 500 street children in 2001.

When many of them leave home, Yousf said, "they intend on making an
honest living by working, but they end up in trouble, addicted to glue,
sometimes sexually abused or exploited by adults. Not all of these kids
are bad. But it's a huge problem for Africa. And it can't be ignored.
These sweet young boys will one day be men."

Out on the street, Ahmed started to panhandle. He tugged on women's
skirts. He pulled on men's sleeves. Block after block, people ignored him
or gave him amused but irritated looks.

He ran up to a heavy-set, well-dressed woman and grasped her hand,
using a technique his friends had taught him: "Get them to look into your
eyes and look very sad." When that didn't work, he sang her a song
about the beauty of Sudanese flowers. He stretched out his hand and
pleaded: "Please, mama, hungry. I love you too much. I am hungry too much.
Please, money."

After a while he gave up, reached into a trash can and picked up a
half-eaten apple. He shared it with his friend, Fecil Khmis, 16.

Later on, the boys approached a friendly merchant, who handed them a
tray of old rice, half-eaten bread, and some fat and bone from a grilled
lamb. They sat down in a shady spot and ate the scraps.

Ahmed has been in Khartoum for months, living by his wits and keeping
company with other homeless boys. His skin is infected because he has
little chance to wash. He often appears sleepy or disoriented from the
effects of glue. He has few defenses against the elements, or against
older boys and adults who pressure him for money.

A homeless man wandered over. Drunk and aggressive, he demanded some
coins Ahmed had begged and began slapping him on the head. A crowd
gathered. Ahmed started crying and handed over his earnings.

"There is freedom on the street," he said as he hobbled away, looking
disturbed. "It's not a good life, though. Your stomach is always
biting. You have few places to sleep at nightfall. You lack the love of
parents. It's a dangerous life."

Ahmed said his childhood back in Darfur was "normal." His parents were
farmers. He had five brothers and sisters and he went to school, where
his favorite subjects were Arabic and math.

When war broke out about two years ago, their village was attacked and
bombarded, he said. In the chaos, Ahmed said, he became separated from
his family and ran after some neighbors to safety. He lived for a few
days in a camp but didn't want to stay there alone.

"I heard some other boys were coming to Khartoum by sneaking on
trucks. I joined them," he said. "At first I liked it because eating from the
rubbish is better than living in the camps, where the food has no taste
-- just wheat and oils."

Ahmed has not seen or heard of his family since the day he fled his
village. He said he missed his father but tried to "forget his memories
of back then. I have a new life now." Ahmed's new family consists of a
few boys he met on the streets. One is Fecil, who has been here much
longer than Ahmed. He left southern Sudan about six years ago, when a
north-south civil war was raging. At first, he lived with his family in a
camp near Khartoum for people displaced by the war. But his father was
unable to find steady work and there was no money. So Fecil came to the

"I kept asking my family for money, but my family had none," he said.
"I might as well do something for myself." Sometimes he visits his
family in the camp, but he said he never stays long because he doesn't like
his father's rules.

Ahmed and his friends survive through a combination of odd jobs, petty
theft and charity. They carry heavy objects for merchants, sweep their
shops or wash their cars for a few coins. They hang around food stalls,
hoping for handouts. They steal scrap metal to sell and poke through
trash bins for leftover food.

To distract themselves from the tedium and hardship of street life,
they sniff glue, soaking it into pieces of cloth that they hide up their
sleeves. They also gamble on a game of skill called om assach , tossing
and catching small stones with one hand. But the glue is both addictive
and toxic, and om assach can get rough because older boys often force
younger winners to pay a tax.

They also love to see Bollywood movies from India, and they spend
hours in 10-cent movie houses, evading the afternoon heat and watching
four-hour epics filled with music, romance and human triumph over desperate

"I like those films so much," said Ahmed, who wears torn and taped
plastic sandals. "The stories make me feel happy."

A line of dirty, barefoot boys waited outside a shelter called Sabah.
More than 200 have appeared at the door this year, according to the
director, Khalaf Allahismail. He tries to work with the government to get
the boys off the street, off glue and into classes and part-time jobs.

"The first time I saw children eating from the garbage, it was
shocking. It was this new phenomenon in Africa to have so many children
surviving like this," said Allahismail, 57, who quit his job as a government
social worker and started Sabah in 1986. "Suddenly, farming wasn't
profitable enough, and then wars were raging and AIDS came all at once.
Now, the issue is complicated by Darfur, and we are seeing more children
arrive here traumatized and orphaned."

The street boys are seen as shameful in Sudanese society. When they
begin to fight with each other, it gives the police an excuse to arrest
them. One recent day, a police officer chased after Ahmed and his
friends, calling out, "Don't tarnish the name of Sudan. You have to reform

The government has also instituted what it calls "public order
campaigns," rounding up street children and putting them in shelters. The boys
say they dislike the shelters because often they are beaten or abused
for resisting strict discipline.

But at Sabah, street children seem to find a warmer welcome. They are
allowed to use a clean toilet and shower in privacy, a rare luxury, and
the counselors patiently listen to their problems.

On a recent day, Amad Adel, 13, an emaciated boy with huge brown eyes
and no shoes, told a counselor how much he wanted a life away from the

Amad's mother was killed during a robbery three years ago. Soon after,
his father remarried. His stepmother decided she would pay to send her
four children to school, but not Amad. Frustrated, he ran away to
Khartoum, stealing car mirrors to pay for his bus ticket.

On the streets, he linked up with some other boys and started sniffing
glue. To support his habit, he said, he stole car parts, trading them
with mechanics for glue or cash. The first time he inhaled glue, he felt
a sharp pain around his eyebrows. Then he thought he might pass out.

"I got scared that I would die and be punished for all my thieving,"
he told the counselor, Nwadar Eltaab, 30, a soft-spoken woman. He said
he came to Sabah in part because of guilt, and in part because he had
heard he could wash in private.

"There is something so good in him," Eltaab said, looking at Amad as
he smiled back and fidgeted in his chair. When he spoke, he addressed
her as "madam" and used formal Arabic. "These children look scary and
society has written them off," she said. "But many are at the age where
they need us to step in."

Eltaab invited Amad to live at the shelter but warned him he would not
be allowed to use glue. With a sweet smile, Amad admitted that would be

"When I do glue, it makes my imagination so good. I have no anxiety or
pain. I imagine myself in a big comfortable house," he said. "I have
money and all the kids around me have plates of food, warm tea and new


The second article is REALLY a story of Hope and Love from South Africa:

Abandoned babies get mothers' milk

Volunteer mothers donate the milk

Amid high HIV infection rates in South Africa, women in Durban are volunteering to provide immune-boosting breast milk to abandoned children, the BBC's Mahlatse Gallens reports.
Eight-month-old Thalenthe was abandoned by his mother weeks after he was born.

His ailing grandfather could not take care of him and brought him to Ithemba Lethu: a transit shelter for abandoned children in the city of Durban.

Children like Thalenthe are part of the trail of devastation left behind by the HIV-Aids pandemic ravaging the country.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest infection rate in South Africa, 40% of women test positive at the government's ante-natal clinics.

Some of the children who arrive on Ithamba Lethu's doorstep are HIV positive.

Here they don't only get shelter, food and love - they also receive breast milk from a network of volunteer mothers who express extra milk every day.

The milk is then collected and sent out to homes like Ithemba Lethu.


Project co-ordinator Penny Reimers says the advantages of breast milk have been proved by a World Health Organisation study.

These orphans have thrived and are now awaiting adoption

"The WHO did a study of children in developing countries and they found that children who are not breast fed are six times more likely to die from diarrhoea and pneumonia - it's literally life saying," she says.

"The studies they have done in relation to HIV show that if a child is exclusively breast fed for six months - that means no other formula or water - these babies have a very low chance of contracting the HIV virus."

Penny Reimers says volunteer mothers are rigorously screened before contributing the milk, to avoid HIV from being transmitted through the milk.

"In donor banks internationally they do blood tests on the mothers - we don't have the funding to do that so we screen by lifestyle," she says.

"Then we pasteurise the breast milk to kill off any HIV, hepatitis virus or bacteria that might be in the milk."


The breast milk project is the brain child of paediatrician Professor Anna Coustodis, who with her friends wanted to lend a hand in the fight against Aids.

The project has grown through word of mouth, over the last four years, and more than 100 mothers have become a part of it.

Andrea Muller, 33, provides just over 500 millilitres of milk every week.

"As a South African, Aids is very close to everyone's heart and everyone wants to do something to help - without giving money perhaps. It seemed something that would be easy to do to help babies - and having a little one gives one a very soft heart."

That kind of compassion is urgently needed in a country where poverty and disease have driven some mothers to desperation.

"There are a lot of children abandoned,or just left", says Liz Holley, the house mother at Ithemba Lethu.

"One of our little girls was left in a room. Then the neighbours could see no-one was going in but could still hear the baby crying. They broke the door down and got the child out.

"Many of the women are desperate, they don't know what to do. Families refuse to help because it's HIV-related and they don't know what to do with the children."

Ithemba Lethu is Zulu for "I have a destiny". By coming here, children like Thalenthe have a chance of realising theirs.


At this time of year when we all try to reach for the Good and the Hoepeful in ourselves and in our world, I ask you to please remember the innocent children of Africa, many of whom are struggling today against enormous odds to simply survive and to do whatever you can to help them.


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Old 12-24-2005, 04:07 PM   #2
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Here are a few organizations that you can contribute to which directly help to improve the lives of some of these children:

Thank you for your concern and compassion for these fragile and precious lives.

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Old 12-24-2005, 08:19 PM   #3
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As sad as this was to read, it is so hard to comprehend this happening in our world, I do feel good that just a small donation I am able to give can do some good. If everyone were to donate just a small percentage of a weekly paycheck it would bring so much to so many in need. Think about this. At Christmastime and all the time.

Bless you Everyone!
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Old 12-25-2005, 11:41 AM   #4
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Originally posted by Carek1230
As sad as this was to read, it is so hard to comprehend this happening in our world, I do feel good that just a small donation I am able to give can do some good. If everyone were to donate just a small percentage of a weekly paycheck it would bring so much to so many in need. Think about this. At Christmastime and all the time.

Bless you Everyone!
It is exactly BECAUSE extreme poverty is difficult to face and to comprehend that we MUST FACE IT.

What do Christmas and all the other spiritual holidays really mean if it isn't to take some time out of all the merry-making and spend it DOING SOMETHING for the world's poorest and most vunerable people?

The second story is actually a story of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND HOPE which is why I placed it last.

There is always Hope....

And it's really important to click on the links to SEE THE FACES OF EXTREME POVERTY - the AIDS orphaned children of Africa.

I can only hope that the REAL SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS will touch people's hearts and more will read these articles and then DO SOMETHING TO HELP THEM!
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Old 12-26-2005, 12:03 PM   #5
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Here is a collection of pictures showing AIDS orphans in South Africa trying to enjoy their Holidays.

I hope that you'll give them a peek to see some of the world's most PRECIOUS AND ROYAL PEOPLE (as Bono says).

And for those of you who have come into this thread: thank you for your concern and compassion for these beautiful yet highly at-risk children.

Please do what you can for them.

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Old 12-26-2005, 12:04 PM   #6
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