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AIDS Orphans Find Small Families

Children orphaned by AIDS have no one to love them and care for them. They have no money. They are unhappy, more introverted and more sensitive than other children.


To help children in northern Anhui Province who have lost one or both parents to AIDS feel the love of their parents again, the local civil affairs department and Save the Children UK jointly initiated a project called Small Family Unit. Volunteers were invited from the local villages to be the orphans' new mothers and fathers.


In the village of Daluzhai in Fuyang, Lu Yue and his wife live with their four new children in a new house built by the project in June. Two of their own children have attended universities, and a third is in a local boarding senior middle school.


The four children, two boys and two girls, were all orphaned by AIDS. Previously, they lived with their grandparents or other relatives, who were economically strained.


Lu said the four children, all in primary school, were unruly and uncooperative when they came to their new home. Now they seem to have settled in.


"When my wife was ill, these children were really worried about her," he said.


Receiving monthly subsidies of 200 yuan (US$25) till they reach age 18, each of the children will eventually regain the land their parents had.


These children seem to be stepping out of the AIDS shadow, and that's the mission of Save the Children UK, which initiated its China program recently in Hefei, Anhui's capital.


Children living in AIDS-affected communities are usually ostracized and discriminated against. They lack self-esteem and feel lonely.


One example is Xiao Jie, 10, a boy in Fuyang who collected rubbish to earn the money to buy a pen and stationery. His father died of AIDS, his mother left, and he and his younger sister live with his sick grandmother in a dilapidated house.


It is their emotional health and well-being that must have a top priority, said Andy West, a consultant for Save the Children's China program.


Save the Children UK has established 40 activity centers across China that provide a place for children to have safe activities and experience personal growth.


The centers are open to all children around the communities, but they emphasize children from vulnerable groups, such as migrant families, those who are disabled and those affected by AIDS.


One center opened recently in Duanzhai village in Fuyang. The facilities and rooms look a bit shabby, but children from the surrounding villages like it. They come at the weekend to read books, watch cartoons or play chess and table tennis or skip rope.


Adjacent to the center is a clinic that treats AIDS patients in the village free of charge. The AIDS epidemic in Fuyang in the early 1990s left many children orphaned.


In the village, 47 people from 26 families are now living with AIDS, each one generally with at least three children.


Children at the center seem accustomed to the presence of the AIDS patients. In fact, children affected or orphaned by AIDS also come here to play with the other children.


But children orphaned by AIDS are certainly not the only children who feel depressed. So do children in migrant families and those who are disabled.


Evidence of physical and psychological abuse, the negligence and maltreatment often remains hidden, and society is usually ignorant of it, according to the United Nations Secretary-General's Study on Violence Against Children, presented recently to the General Assembly.


And the effects of the abuse can be far-reaching.


When Xiao Juan moved with her parents to Hefei from her rural hometown, she perceived a barrier between her and her new classmates.


She often cried when her father sent her to school. Other students often ridiculed her rural accent. Though keen to participate in the chorus and dancing activities organized at school, she thought neither the teachers nor other students paid attention to her.


"Is it all because I'm a child from a village that I have to suffer all this bad treatment?" she said.


Funded by Save the Children UK, a community children's club opened in 2002 in Hefei where migrant and disabled children could play together with other urban children.


Xiao Juan, who joined the club only two years ago as a timid child who hid in the corner and read books, already became a child manager.


"I feel more self-confident," she said. "During the activities, nobody laughs at me. They give me applause and encouragement."


(China Daily November 20, 2006)

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