Seven-year-old Chifundo Christopher aspires to become a pilot.
However, he is not sure if the dream will materialise considering the social and economic challenges he has been forced to endure since his remaining parent—a mother—died five years ago.
The granny he has been living with cannot provide for him due to age barrier.
“She’s too old such that she relies on me for everything. I have since assumed the role of the breadwinner for her and my two siblings,” says the Standard Five pupil at Sosola Primary School in Balaka.
This is not all. Chifundo also faces steady stigma and discrimination from fellow learners and playmates, who pester him to confirm reports circulating in the village that his parents died of HIV and Aids.
This has had severe emotional, social and mental effects on the lad who sometimes absconds classes to dodge insults from his peers. His teachers confirm that even when he is attending classes; his attention is divided between problems he is going through and insults from friends.
“As teachers, we try to counsel him. But nothing seems to improve. His performance continues to drop every term,” said the teachers at the school.
Programme manager for the Community of Saint’ Egidio’s Drug Resource Enhancement against Aids and Malnutrition (Dream) programme, Francisco Zuze, says Chifundo’s suffering is a clear manifestation of the wide ranging, multifaceted and sustained negative impact of HIV and Aids on children, families, and communities.
He explained that the severe emotional, social, mental, physical and spiritual effects largely result from death of parents and guardians.
“Separation of brothers and sisters, disruption of organised patterns of living, abuse of various forms, poverty, stigma and discrimination, and dropping out of school are also negative consequences of HIV and Aids.
In this regard, HIV interventions for children need to include psychosocial programmes to meet their emotional and social needs,” said Zuze.
He disclosed that this is the reason Dream programme has introduced a three-year project in Balaka to address the psychosocial needs of children and families living with or affected by HIV and Aids in the district.
The project is being funded by the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and aims to create an enabling environment for the Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes, health, nutrition, and hygiene and sanitation.
“Research shows that the first eight years of life are crucial for optimal development. It’s, therefore, imperative that deliberate efforts are made to give children the chance to grow up in an environment conducive to the development process,” explained the programme manager.
According to Zuze, the project will be conducted in two main targeted areas of Traditional Authority (TA) Msamala, which is within the catchment area of Balaka Dream Centre, and Group Village Head (GVH) Nyanyala in T/A Chanthunya.
GVH Nyanyala has a total of 20 Community-Based Child Care (CBCCs) with 133 active care-givers and 850 children—419 boys and 431 girls.
But Zuze stated that these care-givers lacked in-depth knowledge and expertise to comprehensively handle PSS and ECD issues to satisfy the needs of the children living with or affected by the disease.
The project will also target Area Development Committees (ADC) and Village Development Committee (VDC) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) to ensure that they are mobilised and empowered to lobby their Members of Parliament (MPs), local government officials and district health officers to consider prioritising ECD and PSS support for children living with or affected by HIV and Aids, according to him.