Gambian Street Children
The Saidy Family
They were a family of seven; they came from the countryside to the capital of Gambia, Bakoteh, in search of jobs and better living conditions. Unfortunately, this was short-lived when in 2002 both Oumie and her husband Lamin tested HIV positive. This was during Oumie's sixth pregnancy. She was put on medication but the baby got infected, and so did the seventh. Though the children were supposed to be tested at 18 months for HIV antibody test they were never tested because there was no parental consent.
A year later, things grew worse and after a number of hospital admissions, Oumie eventually died, leaving the seven children with their chronically ill father in a village with very few relatives and caring neighbours. A maternal grandmother aged about 70 to 75 years, joined the family and took care of baby Buba and little Haddy (who were infected) with barely any community support. She was not aware of what Oumie's status had been, that of the two little ones or their father.
Buba and Haddy were admitted repeatedly as they were taken from one health centre to another to get help. They suffered stigma and discrimination from the health centres: for example, they were not attended to by nurses who refused to give injection to those suspected to be HIV positive. Care and support for them was therefore left in the hands of the doctor-in charge. It was no different in the community as neighbours began to avoid the Saidy family by breaking existing friendship and stopping their children from playing or eating with them. Buba and Haddy eventually died due to the lack of requirements (good nutrition, recommended medical care, proper sanitary environment), because their father is still in denial (not convinced about his status) and because no test had been conducted on them. Both died of "query HIV/AIDS" (where the patient presents typical signs and symptoms of HIV/AIDS to a medical doctor without having an HIV antibody test conducted).
For three months their father was seriously ill with chronic diarrhoea and tuberculosis, thus the remaining five children were faced with the challenge of feeding, taking care of themselves and education. They also had to cope with the impact of stigma and discrimination from society. With this situation, the children resorted to manual labour (opting for a day's contract in making building blocks, fetching firewood and other forest products for sale to feed the family and complement other essential family needs) to survive. Lamin, their father is still living in denial and this has led him to withdraw totally from services offered by "Hands-On Care" (HOC - a reproductive health clinic) because of societal stigmatization of his own family due to recurrent illnesses and deaths of some family members. According to him, patients attending or receiving related care and support from HOC clinic are termed HIV positive by society and they are viewed differently in all aspects of life.
A hopeful future
In spite of all these, all is not lost. The Saidy family were first identified by a former social worker with HOC who is now the national coordinator for the family strengthening programme. With assistance from the child welfare committee of Brikama who is responsible for identification and selection of orphans and vulnerable children in their community who need help, the Saidy family was selected. After the national coordinator had explained the aims and objectives of the programme to the father, he consented for the family to be part of the programme.
With the intervention of the family strengthening programme the Saidy family is now receiving immediate support to their basic survival needs as follows:
· Nutritional supplement: 50 kg rice, 5kg sugar, 5kg milk powder and 5 litres oil/month
· Clothing and shelter: they have been provided with some clothes and mattresses.
· Health: Mosquitoes nets have been provided for every bed in the house.
· Education: four of the five children (Ida and Pa in the senior secondary school and Tijan and Abbie in the junior secondary) are benefiting from school fees, educational material and other
items. Also, arrangements are being made for Doudo, the eldest, to enrol in a vocational skills training school.
Since this family strengthening programme is still very young, only the immediate needs of the family are addressed so far. But plans are already underway, that in the future, the family will receive
· Psycho-social support that is, counselling for stress, bereavement and resiliency.
· Secondly, the family would be given support to gear them towards self-sufficiency.
Furthermore, every six months there will be community out-reach programmes such as planned community sensitization activities to create community and beneficiaries' awareness on childcare issues, hygiene and HIV/AIDS. This would be done by using radio, community drama, cultural dance, story telling or drawings to portray feelings of children as well as adults concerning situations of orphans and vulnerable children in their own communities.
With all these interventions, the Saidy family is beginning to see better days ahead. All the children are doing well in school despite the enormous stress, trauma and hardship they underwent in recent years. This is a wonderful glimmer of hope.