“I have been living with HIV for five years now,” narrates Sam Nyirenda, “so it makes me feel so happy to help children who are also living with the virus cope with the challenges of living with it.”
Sam Nyirenda, 28, is the child mentor for the Africa Directions’ HIV child support club, which is supported by funds from the Elizabeth Glazer Paediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF).
“Initially, when I came here to join,” he recalls, “I didn’t understand properly what would be involved in dealing with kids who are HIV-positive. I thought it would just be playing with kids and singing songs.”
Through EGPAF, Sam was sponsored to go for a short course in child counselling, which has now helped him understand children’s needs better.
“Through this course, I have learnt how to talk better to children, how to come up with topics to talk about and how to handle the children and their concerns,” Sam testifies.
Sam says that the children are now very free with him because they now understand that they are in the same situation as he is.
He explains, “One of the main reasons to that is that, when we started this project I introduced and discussed my HIV status with the children in the group.”
As part of his work to make the children’s living better, Sam makes house visitations to children’s houses, to make sure that the children’s welfare is properly taken care of at the support group and in their homes.
“I make sure that the parents make the children adhere to the life-saving drugs that they take. Some of the parents and guardians are really busy; they go to markets, work, etc., so they might not be monitoring the children’s medication properly,” says Sam.
Because of such reasons, he does the house visitations to talk to parents on how they are bringing up the children, the food, nutrition, where they sleep, adherence to ARVs and their general welfare.
“I also talk to the parents about issues related to stigma, because I am the children’s best friend”, Sam emphasises.
He also says when the child support group started most of the children had very low self esteem and closed up, but right now nearly all the children are very open to talk and in high spirits.
Sam’s appeal for the young people is that most of these children need help in their education. This is because most of them have lost a parent or both, making it hard for them to find funds to go to school. This also makes it hard for them to get food on a daily basis because they don’t have resources, or struggle to have resources to get food in their houses, due to parents not being there or inability for guardians to afford.
“I now know that there are more children like me and I have met more friends who are also just like me in the support group,” says Paul Nyambe, a 15-year old a child support group member at Africa Directions, who is now living positively with the HIV virus that he was born with.
The Africa Directions child support group is a new concept designed by Africa Directions with support from the Elizabeth Glazier Paediatric AIDS Foundation as a pilot project. When this programme was first started, for the mostly economically challenged children of Lusaka’s Mtendere compound, there had been no support group specifically for children who have to go through stigma, loss of parents and sometimes rejection from the communities that they are live in and a string of negative issues that most children have to endure when they are HIV positive in Zambia.
Paul, who looks much younger than his age, is now full of joy and happiness in his life. Before he joined the child support group, he thought that he might be the only one in his situation.
He says with the child support group, he has been helped to know how to take his life-saving medication, how to stay with people, how to deal with stigma and what type of nutritional foods he needs, to stay healthy for the rest of his life.
“Previously, I didn’t know my HIV status; I just used to get sick more than often, but at AD, I now know my status and I am able to take care of my self with information I receive from the support group and fellow positive friends,” narrates Paul.
Paul, who first came to the AD child support group in 2008, thanks his grandmother immensely for enrolling him in the program. He has lived with the grandmother since childhood because both his parents passed away when he was still a baby. Having repeated his seventh grade because of his previous constant absenteeism from school due to ill health, Paul says he would like to be a teacher when he grows up.