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SOS Children in Africa: Family Strengthening, Aids Orphans and Street Children

SOS Children is a large African Charity working in some 45 countries in Africa and the Middle East to help the region's children. The menu on the right allows you to choose particular countries, but on this page we look at a few specific real human cases. The characteristics of Family Strengthening Programmes are similar in one regard: low cost interventions with a considerable human impact.

Example from SOS South Africa (Qwa Qwa)

This example was one of our first family strengthening project interventions as a child headed family affected by AIDS, so we can recount it from start to a conclusion.

 Qwa Qwa Family HouseThree sisters were living in this very small one-room structure, made of corrugated iron and mud bricks, there are no windows, no toilets and all the children slept in one single bed. Their mother had died a few years earlier when the eldest sister was 13. The father was a miner in distant Klerksdorp Vaal reefs and had last visited some months earlier and given them a little money. They were surviving on handouts from neighbours. They had no birth certificates, clinic cards or IDs making access to any services difficult. They were not in school with little prospects.

Our first move was to make contact with the father and persuade him to take hisQwa Qwa new Family House responsibility more seriously. One of our SOS mothers acted as a regular "drop in mother" to the sisters and we helped them get legal papers and get to school. With our help they moved into a one-room, "proper" house (see picture, still with a corrugated roof), with a proper stove to cook and got some small regular financial support from their father.

The oldest sister has now moved out with a partner to start a family of her own. The other two have a small vegetable garden for food, are learning to care for it and their new home now even has a toilet! This is not that much of a luxury but it is so much better than the situation before and a very effective (low cost) intervention in their lives.

They are both in school and one is particularly interested in becoming an accountant. They are involved in a local cultural club and have friends,  who “they like to help out” in the neighbourhood.

John's account from Kigali (Rwanda)

“I was having the time of my life: a job, a salary and many friends. One day a piece of paper was seeing that I am HIV positive, I thought it was a joke, I didn't believe it. I spent several weeks feeling sorry for myself, asking myself what happened to me. I cried a lot, I didn't want to accept that I was infected. I could not imagine that I would stay alive for more than a week,

When the news of my illness reached my office, I was dismissed outright. My boss thought I would either die very soon or contaminate the other colleagues. I found myself alone without friends or a job, and I realized that there was a problem. I had no money, no savings and could not imagine that I would overcome this situation.

My girlfriend left me with a six-month-old baby. I did not know how to calm her cries during the night. I used to walk with my baby all day long to find something to eat…but this was not easy because I couldn't walk every day due to my illness.”

Being HIV positive seems the end of the life, especially in a country where HIV is still a taboo, where you don’t know how to get support or information about this illness.

John has been lucky on meeting the SOS family strengthening programme in Kigali which gave him a hope for him and his kid, through nutritional support, antiretroviral medications and a start-up grant for income generating activity. He is actually selling foodstuff in a market and he can say smiling: “I am ill, but I live…”

Thanks to the support from SOS he can think about his future and have some normal life

The Gambia

When all family members put their hands together to improve their situation, things can change fast and the tunnel is no longer so long and dark.

“Walking hand in hand towards self-reliance” is the motto of the family strengthening programme in the Gambia and is under this approach that Yama’s family, one of the FSP beneficiary families, which had the chance to become “somebody” some day.

Yama was married twice, but lost her two husbands. Her second husband passed away in 2001 and left her with three children to fend for, Mbye (15-year-old boy), Malik (12-year-old boy) and Aisatou (10-year-old girl), and no resources. Struggling to make her family survive, Yama put her self-esteem aside and started begging in the street to support her family.

But being reliant on people's generosity to get something to eat and to send your children to school is not the life one could wish for a family. Some days it works, but most of the days children go hungry and are sent out of school for not paying their fees in time.  And God knows how long it takes to regulate the situation and join the school benches again.

"Since SOS Children is helping us, we have good beds to sleep on and mosquito nets to prevent us from having malaria", says Malik. "Before, we used to sleep on the floor, on cartons and mats covered with bed sheets. Now we are well rested to go to school", he adds. And the children need to be well rested: school is far for home (about one hour walk).

Yama gained back self-confidence and is very positive when it comes to her family's future. She is now concentrating all her efforts to make the best out off her business, with the wish to improve it and the dream of constructing a small house for her children on a land that was given to her family ten years ago in Yundum, by the chief of  the village

However, being so much focussed on improving her family situation and being financially independent, Yama just regrets one thing: "I unfortunately do not have much time so far to spend with my children and give them all the attention they need.  But everything I do, I do it for them..."

Nevertheless, the children understand their mother is working hard for them and try to do their best to relief her from some house chores. "When she is in the market, I cook lunch" says Malik. "When I have time, I also help her in the market to carry and sell items like onions and tomatoes", he adds. Mbye, on his side, helps his mother by taking care of his younger brother and sister. He also supervises their homework.  

Byumba (Rwanda)

So many children in Rwanda have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS and war that many have been forced to become heads of households at very tender ages.  Children in such conditions are deprived of their childhood and the opportunity to go to school.

Claudine's daily life is not like that of the girls of her age. At only 19 years of age, her main preoccupations turn essentially on the education of her younger brother and sister. This is a responsibility she has assumed for some years, and for which she was not prepared.

"I was only seven years old when my father died during the 1994 genocide. We didn't suffer at all because our mother was still alive and she was taking care of us. Ten years later, things changed completely with our mother's death, and we had to cope with a new, very difficult life. I was the only one who could take care of my younger brother and sister, as there was nobody else to stay with us, except my uncle who is very old. I was obliged to abandon school in order to have enough time for them. At once, I became a head of a family with two people under my responsibility. It was very difficult and I was terribly disrupted. I was wondering how we would manage to survive. The only people who assisted us in these hard moments were our brothers and sisters-in-church and our neighbours. But, their assistance was limited just to advice and this did not save us from famine and diseases. At first, I used to walk from house to house in search of small temporary jobs from which I could gain a little money to buy food. But the money that I often had (250 FCFA, less than one Euro) was so insufficient that it did not even allow me to buy a kilogramme of beans. We regularly spent days without eating. Sometimes, my small brother would start crying, especially during the night, asking for food. Then, I would ask him to wait till tomorrow; maybe we could have the chance to find something to eat".

When she was referred to the family strengthening programme in Byumba she could hope in a better future for her “family”. Now they can eat every day and her brother and sister can go to school.  Claudine herself is being supported to undertake professional vocational training, so that she is able to earn an income.

Claudine's life today rests on two terms: hope and optimism. Hope that the family strengthening programme will assist her until she learns a job and optimism in the future and in the success of her brother and her sister.

All understood that everyone had to contribute for a better family future. Yama can count on her children for support and they know she's doing her best for them, to improve their living conditions and give them better chances.

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In Africa, children orphaned by AIDS can find a loving home and family in an SOS Children’s Village.