Because of its success in helping vulnerable children in Thailand, EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs’ (HHD) Regional HIV/AIDS Project funded by Deutsche Bank has been extended to parts of Cambodia and Vietnam where the number of children orphaned by AIDS is on the rise and 95 percent of all HIV infections are among people between the ages of 15 and 49.
In the year-old HHD-Deutsche Bank HIV/AIDS project in Thailand, HHD staff work with local health officials and a local NGO in Thailand to address the educational needs of children affected by AIDS. The project has successfully provided financial assistance to orphaned children to attend school and for vocational training for young people who must now support their families. A third component of the project is to train young people in hill tribes to become peer educators so they can educate their friends in their own communities about HIV prevention.
HHD opened a field office in Bangkok earlier this month to accommodate the added duties of this project and other related work in Southeast Asia.
“The people of Southeast Asia are struggling because of HIV/AIDS—especially the children,” said Angela Chen, HHD Regional Project Director. Deutsche Bank has recognized the urgent need and is working with HHD to target the most desperate areas, namely in regions of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, she said.
In Vietnam, the official estimate of those infected with HIV/AIDS is approximately 76,000, although some estimates are as high as 300,000. Nearly all infections are among people between the ages of 15 and 49, meaning it is likely that there will soon be a dramatic escalation in the number of children orphaned by AIDS, Chen said. “Stigma and discrimination are significant problems for all people living with HIV/AIDS in Vietnam, and it particularly affects children, often forcing them out of school,” she said.
The main activity there is to develop strategies to support these children by working with parents living with HIV/AIDS, providing vocational training or bridging education for orphans, as well as providing emotional support for children affected by AIDS.
“The situation in Vietnam is quite different from Thailand and Cambodia, where most orphans are cared for by grandparents or other relatives,” she said. Vietnamese orphans are often cared for in institutions, particularly in large cities such as Ho Chi Minh City. Although most institutions are well equipped to ensure adequate physical care, nutrition, and access to schooling, they are not the best psychosocial environment, especially for vulnerable children, Chen said.
As part of the expanded Deutsche Bank project, HHD is working in partnership with Save the Children UK to help children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS in Ho Chi Minh City and Hai Phong province—two of the areas hardest-hit by the HIV epidemic. The aim of that project is to pilot activities and establish a network of volunteers to provide care and support for children within their communities.
The project focuses on three main areas:
- Social services, care and support—outreach to families affected by HIV/AIDS, school and training support, basic needs support, fund for photographs and memory books, assistance with funeral costs.
- Training workshops—raising awareness about HIV prevention among policy makers, and training outreach workers and peer educators.
- Support networks—development of support groups for children and families affected by HIV/AIDS, field trips and outings for affected children.
Rather than providing set amounts of aid, the project is designed to be flexible and give tailored assistance based on the circumstances of each family and child, Chen said. Wherever possible, the project uses local resources. For example, local partners are sometimes able to ask schools to waive fees for children who cannot afford them.
Because of the affects of civil war, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries and among the worst hit by HIV. “In Cambodia, it is not unusual to find families with five children, where the oldest children face the responsibility of caring for sick parents as well as younger siblings who may also be infected. All this while they are trying to earn an income to support the families,” Chen said.
These vulnerable children often end up living on the streets and have no choice but to turn to whatever work is available, she said. All too often the only option is sex work, which in turn exposes them to the risk of infection. Mith Samlanh/Friends, HHD’s NGO partner in Cambodia, works primarily with street children in 12 separate but interlinked projects to reintegrate them into their families, communities, and culture and return them to the school system.
An important part of the project in Cambodia is to identify young children who are affected by HIV/AIDS and who are at risk of becoming street children and provide a day care center for them in hospitals for AIDS patients in Phnom Penh.
Children of AIDS patients who come to stay at the hospital fi nd themselves without even the most basic support. These children are often forced into high-risk situations such as sex work just to eat for the day, Chen said.
“The hospital day care center provides safe care for these children, and is an opportunity for Mith Samlanh staff to work with families and contact relatives or possible foster parents,” she said.
If relatives or suitable foster parents cannot be found, Mith Samlanh sets up a longer-term care for the child and develops financial plans to ensure that they have the resources needed to provide care. The staff also works with children and families to produce memory books and give counseling to traumatized children.
“The work HHD does in Southeast Asia is just one way we are helping in the fight against AIDS,” Chen said. “We are grateful to Deutsche Bank, Save the Children UK and Mith Samlanh/Friends because, without them, we couldn’t reach out to so many families and vulnerable children.”
Originally published on November 1, 2004