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Working with AIDS Orphans

Listed under Volunteering Opportunities in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

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Surely there are no stories more heart wrenching than those of children orphaned to AIDS whose inheritance is the disease and the death sentence it carries. They can’t be properly fostered out because in many cases the care and expense required is too great and they spend their bewildering lives in the hands of doctors and nurses and carers getting prodded and poked but not hugged enough. This opening may not seem an appealing way to begin a suggestion of a wonderful travel related experience but it certainly reflects my appeal to you that this is a worthy cause amongst worthy causes and a very very fulfilling way to have a travel experience from which your reward is an added feeling of humanity.

There were 20 orphans living the in home I was placed with, though there are many similar homes or orphanages in this city, filled with some of South Africa’s million AIDS orphans. Some of those children were less than a year old ranging all the way to 15. They eat, sleep and are cared for here by truly inspiring individuals including more permanent foster mothers, some of whom are volunteers.

On my arrival it was all I could do to hold back my tears and not cry at seeing the interested faces and large, dark eyes which greeted me from garden. I was overwhelmed by how brave these tiny children are, until one of the staff took me aside and began my orientation by telling me that for these children their condition is normal and not something they need to see strangers crying over. What they really need is some love and to have fun and have things to look forward to around their treatments and schooling. I took her words on board, but when I was on my own in bed I did, and still do shed tears for these children with all the weight of fear on their shoulders.

If I sound melodramatic it is because I’m trying to give you an idea of what this experience was like for me and the day to day details were not the most memorable part of the experience. But I will give you those details now to try and paint a more full picture.

I think the most important task was exactly what I was told on the first day, give the kids some individual attention and make them feel important, loved and let them have fun. It was like being a den mother in a way. When I’d settled into the routine of the home I found myself preparing meals, washing, cleaning, bathing the littlest ones, scolding the bigger ones for not bathing, playing, making them do their home work, teaching songs, playing games, all the kind of things you would do with your own children. This bit was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and again the staff and foster Mums were right to tell me not to get upset about things, but just to be happy around the house and from trying to seem happy around the house I was.

The living arrangements were comfortable, I stayed in a hostel with a lot of other volunteers involved in similar projects and after a while I felt like I was on holiday in that I was in a new and very beautiful place but also that my life had settled into a rhythm. I completed an additional carers course during my stay but it’s not an essential part of the program and may not suit volunteers who can only afford to stay for a short period.

I’m not sure how useful this review has been as a recommendation, but this is an experience that will change you and it’s very difficult to sum up in so simple a way, the journey that I went on in Pietermaritzburg with these wonderful children. The highlight was teaching a group of four four year old girls to jump rope and play hopscotch, I’ve never seen anyone get so much joy out of something so simple and we were all in stitches as I tried to explain everything using basic English and charades. So far that afternoon is the most memorable one of my life!

Written by  Anabell Scott.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

How would I get hold of someone who runs one of these homes to go, on a regular basis, to help out?

I am 17 years old and I have a huge passion for children and I am looking to find a home such as the one mentioned above to just go to and help out with these children to read to them or eveen to just give them the love they deserve

1 Reply

Hi Megan, I think it largely depends which country you're living in as to who you should contact to get involved. You could start by contacting your local health service.

how do get involved

i was diagnosed 7 years ago with hiv the charity buddies has be imense and now would dearly love to give some thing back and this seems like a great way to do that i have a daugther of my own and now how much children need love and warmth x

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