The East Bank Clinic’s Alex Aids Orphan’s Project was initiated in 2001 when the staff members at the Children’s clinic became aware of an increase of young patients missing appointments and dropping out of treatment. Large numbers of children were losing their parents due to AIDS related illnesses and were under the care of elderly grandparents.
Since then, Alex Aids Orphan’s Project has provided support for these children and their caregivers.
Adding to the financial burden of looking after their orphaned grandchildren, the grannies must parent at a point in their life when they often required care themselves. They must also deal with the loss of their children and the grief of their bereaved grandchildren.
In addition to the existing problem for which they came to the mental health clinic, the children are faced with bereavement issues as well as disrupting changes in their lives. Many children are left destitute and older children must leave school to care for younger siblings. In many instances, the children can face the multiple losses of parents, siblings and, in turn, their aged caregivers.
Currently, the clinic is running bereavement groups for children who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The children are able to share their experiences of loss in a safe environment, as well as to raise any other concerns they may have (bullying has been a major issue). These children have often experienced multiple losses such as death of one or both parents followed by one or more siblings. In addition they themselves may be HIV positive. These are extreme difficult issues to deal with and the counsellors are faced with ongoing new challenges, for which there is no guidance in the specialized literature. Children use these weekly sessions to raise issues around bereavement, loss and trauma. They celebrate birthdays together, and so share both sad and happy occasions.
The clinic is hoping to raise money so that these children and their caregivers can go together on a holiday. The children feel vulnerable in many ways and face very uncertain futures. Bereavement groups are divided according to age and running every Monday and every Thursday after school, coordinated by Clinical psychologist and Interns from different universities.
There are a number of extremely ill children who have participated in a group for the terminally ill children. The group runs on a weekly basis and is coordinated by the Clinical Psychologist. The aim of the group is to provide emotional and in some instances material support. These young children have lost their parents through the AIDS epidemic and are themselves positive.
There are number of HIV positive mothers attending the support group once a week. The group gives them support and helps them cope with the nature of their illnesses and deal with every day life challenges such as prejudice and stigma around HIV; all this while still caring for their children. Some of these women lost their husbands and boyfriends through HIV, while others were physically abused and abandoned by their boyfriends and husbands.
This group is for aged grannies looking after their grandchildren after losing their children through HIV related illnesses. The group has been an amazing source of support for caregivers, giving them enough space to mourn and grieve. The aim was to support those that are facing the problems of looking after the sick grandchildren. There is also peer support as the grannies assist each other in coming to terms with deaths from AIDS, as well as the mourning and healing process. The group is also involved in number of activities such as beadwork, (they make HIV awareness badges to raise money for food parcels) and gardening to help them feed their families with fresh vegetables. There are concerns for the children’s future because many caregivers are old and sickly with hypertension and diabetes.
Some children need candles, so that they can study in the evening (not all houses in Alex has electricity). Other required help to obtain schoolbooks and school uniforms. Funds for school fees and school trips such as leadership camps and visit to the zoo are also often needed.. For the winter season there is a huge need for winter clothes and blankets
Most families require some assistance with food. The project is feeding 57 families each month. Families on the brink of starvation receive food every 3rd week of the month. These families can be linked with other South African donor families who sponsor food on a regular basis. In addition, financial donations help towards food purchases. Peanut butter sandwiches are offered to children every afternoon as most of them cannot afford lunch boxes or three meals a day.
There is a vegetable garden at the clinic to provide fresh vegetables on regular basis to the children. Community goats were a problem until the Church of Christ congregation donated a fence and a gate.