Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

I became a ChildFund Australia sponsor when I was just 19 years old after landing my first proper job – that was 26 years ago. For me, I have never been sure about having children so I decided that I wanted to sponsor a child who may not have the same opportunities we have here in Australia. As the years have progressed, I have had many different sponsored children from various countries through ChildFund.

I started sponsoring Emmanuel from Mexico seven years ago, after a trip to South America inspired me to sponsor a child from South or Central America. Ever since then I have wanted to visit him and the country, so when the opportunity came up this year for me to go to Mexico, I knew I had to make the trip to meet Emmanuel.

On the day of the visit, my friend and I were picked up by our interpreter and her husband and taken to the community, which was about an hour`s drive away. When we arrived at the project office we found out that ChildFund had been working in the area for 15 years but I was their first sponsor to ever visit! It dawned on me that my visit was a big deal not only for myself, Emmanuel and his family but also for the local ChildFund staff.

Emmanuel, his mother and father, the project director, all of his staff, and the interpreter were all at the local office. We had an entourage of about 10 people! It was such a lovely introduction – they were all so eager to meet me.

After meeting at the project office we all went out for lunch and wandered around the town where we bought ice cream in the main square. The day we visited was actually Mother’s Day, which is a big public holiday in Mexico – I think this made the day even more special as everyone in the town was in such good spirits. We bought Emmanuel’s mum a lovely big bunch of flowers to celebrate the day.

At first everyone was nervous, especially since they had never seen a ‘white’ person in real life before! Although everyone relaxed rather quickly when they realised that my friend and I were laid-back and loved to laugh. I told Emmanuel and his parents that they could ask me anything and boy, did they have a lot of questions! They asked me many questions about Australia and my life here: how do we live? Where do we live? Did I have a job? What is my family like? What do I enjoy doing?

Emmanuel’s mother was particularly interested in what foods we eat here, especially after we brought out a packet of ginger nut biscuits which everyone wolfed down. So I am putting together an Aussie cookbook for her, with all the classic Australian recipes such as lamingtons! We just talked and talked and talked, it was lovely to learn from one another. We realised that even though there are many differences between our lives, there are also a lot of similarities.

 

Titus (pictured middle) loves to play soccer, cook with his brother and do math. One day this bright, young 12-year-old boy hopes to be an engineer. Yet, Titus faces some serious challenges. He lives in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, which is a tough place to grow up. Most families live in one-room shanties constructed of makeshift materials, and children typically sleep on the floor. Titus and his mother are also both HIV-positive.

But with support from ChildFund Titus and his mother are receiving the medications they need to stay healthy, and they also attend a support group for those affected by HIV and AIDS.

Titus and his mother, who is a community health worker and sells vegetables near their home, tested HIV-positive in 2006. His mother was in shock at first and did not take the medications she needed to be healthy. Today, though, thanks to the support group, both mother and son take their medicine regularly and have learnt about nutrition therapy, as well as receiving water treatment kits and school materials. Last year Titus also went to a special camp for children affected by HIV and AIDS.

Titus is happy and confident about the future, and he and his parents and brothers talk about HIV openly. “The one thing I love about my family is that we love each other,” he says.

Kenya has a serious AIDS epidemic that touches virtually everyone in the country. Although the prevalence of the disease has declined in the past 15 years, in 2011, 1.6 million people, 6.2 per cent of the country, were recorded as HIV-positive, according to UNICEF, and 1.1 million children were AIDS orphans.

ChildFund has implemented a long-term support program for children in Kenya who have been affected by HIV and AIDS. So far, 350 children and 200 parents have been tested for HIV and received counselling, and more than 1,000 families have started income-generating work that allows them to afford nutritious food and school materials. More than 70,000 children have also received insecticide-treated mosquito nets that help prevent malaria, a disease that is particularly debilitating for those already weak with HIV or AIDS.