After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda was known as the country with the highest proportion of orphans in the entire world. Today, while many of these orphans have grown up – the number of orphans is still very high at over 220,000 children countrywide have lost one or both parents to AIDS or other causes. There are also some20,000 children who live with HIV.
However, all is not hopeless; thanks to the combined efforts of the Government of Rwanda and international partners who have ensured that more children who are infected and living with HIV as well as those affected by the disease receive the basic care, treatment and support so that they can lead normal and positive childhoods.
Fifteen-year-old Usher Irakoze is one Rwandan teenager who has had to endure a lot of childhood struggles related to HIV. Although she is not HIV positive, she is the first born in her family of three siblings who live in Kimironko Sector, Gasabo District. After her father passed away six years ago from HIV/AIDS, she took up the role of her parents because her disabled mother lacked the ability to provide for her children.
Irakoze said since the death of her father, her life has been like a rollercoaster ride.
“He (her dad) died when I was only nine years old and it seemed like the end ofthe world because our disabled mum had no means to give us a better future,” she said.
“We relied on the generosity of well-wishers and good Samaritans, but most ofthe time we were so poor that we hardly had anything to eat,” she added.
“But then UYISENGA N’IMANZI came into our lives and everything changed. I even go to boarding school now and can finally dream of becoming a doctor. My siblings, too, are taken care of and we finally feel that we belong somewhere,”she said smiling.
UYISENGA N’IMANZI is a local Non-Governmental Organisation , supported by UNICEF that is modeling an approach to address the special needs of children orphaned by the genocide, AIDSand other causes by providing them with medical, psycho-social counseling, educational, financial as well economic development skills support.
The NGO currently provides support to 3,422 children including Irakoze and her siblings.
Ancilla Mukarubuga, a trauma counselor and psychosocial project manager at the organization has worked with the children for over 10 years to ensure that they receive their basic child rights become self-reliant in the near future.
“We not only try to help children reconstruct their lives, go toschool, but we also respond to their psycho-social needs and provide them withskills training so they can become independent and care for themselves as they grow older,” she said.
Rwanda is one of a few African countries with relatively low HIV prevalence, estimated at about 3 percent of the adult population. This is attributed to various efforts of organisations like UNICEF that have increased access to health care, support and treatment for children living HIV. As a result, the number of eligible children on HIV treatment jumped tenfold from five percent in2004 to 50 percent in 2010.
According to Dr. Grace Muriisa, an HIV/AIDS Specialist workingwith UNICEF Rwanda, through support in the modeling of innovative approaches, a huge difference can be made in the lives of these children.
“By modeling of innovative approaches, we can define minimum guidelines for a comprehensive care package for children orphaned by or living with HIV in our country,” said Dr. Muriisa.