Sitting behind their mud house in Ngoma, kibungo district Bakayisenga Chantal seems content with the world around her. It is hard to believe, that she lives with an only sister who happens to play the parenting role of mother and father.
Chantal is not your typical orphan in Rwanda. Orphans in Rwanda are generally living at or beyond the brink of desperate poverty. Chantal, however, is a bright student studying at Nyamugali Primary School in the Kibungo district.
But there’s more to her story. She is an orphan because of tragic events that took place at a time before she was born.
Her mother survived the 1994 genocide. She witnessed her father brutally slain by a band of killers wielding machetes. Although she survived with her mother and sister, she lost her entire extended family: grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
After the genocide, her mother’s life was never the same and mainly because of her limited formal education.
What followed was even more tragic; at two Chantal lost her mother, to the deadly HIV virus, leaving the family responsibilities to her only elder sister.
However all was not lost thanks to a Swiss organization Actions Recherché Enfant Sida, (ARES), that came to her rescue and took her in with other vulnerable children, in the Ngoma district.
Africa has a staggeringly high proportion of orphans, approximately 1 out of every 6 children is an orphan.
Rwanda is not exceptional. In fact, today sub-Saharan Africa has more orphans than any other region in the world.
The United Nations estimates that of the 43 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, about 14 million are AIDS orphans, a number that is expected to rise to 20 million by 2010.
So it is common for some people to wonder whether the world really cares enough to help these vulnerable orphans in Africa.
Today, Chantal and many other vulnerable children infected and affected by AIDS are being helped by ARES which offers them social integration by according them access to education and health.
The president of the association Claude Muhizi, says this association started its operations in Rwanda in 2005 centering in four districts Burera-Northern Province, Kicukiro-Kigali city, Ngoma –Eastern province and Rwamagana through partnering with local associations to reach the desperate and vulnerable children in these areas.
“This organization is about building human capital in Rwanda as much as it’s about supporting students like Chantal, who never thought they would have a chance to go to college,” Muhinzi said.
To the catastrophe of the 17 million people who have lost their lives to AIDS in Africa , add the 12 million orphaned children left behind.
These children are traumatized by the death of their parents, stigmatized by society through association with the disease and often thrown into desperate poverty by the loss of bread-winners.
So with this growing army of orphans defined as children who have lost one or both parents is straining the traditional extended family and overwhelming national health and education systems in the most severely affected countries.
The needs of AIDS orphans are as immediate as their next meal and as extended as access to education, guidance and care until the end of their adolescent years.
ARES chose to help orphans here in Rwanda and the number today has reached a very small 500 children within the four districts.
Muhinzi says that they made sure that those that were in dire need got the first attention.
“These children were selected transparently by the help of local authorities and the criterion was to help the most vulnerable infected and /or affected by HIV/AIDS and who are not benefiting from any other association,” Muhizi said.
Most of these children (over 434), are in primary schools while 66 are in secondary and none in Universities because the association does not sponsor students to that level.
However what happens when the orphans endeavor to take a chance at higher education. Most association that come in to help, sponsor them up to primary level and utmost secondary level.
The assistance given to Africa is often viewed from a long way up. At the macro level, development assistance, World Bank support and foundation grants are talked about in the multi-million or multi-billion dollar range. But that’s not the only way to make a deep impact. Small, local, carefully targeted support can be truly far-reaching, and is just as important to Africa’s future.