"In the past, uncared-for orphans were rare in Africa. Traditionally, children were an unquestioned blessing. Everyone had many fathers and mothers and families were always happy to bring another child into the home. When the AIDS catastrophe started, many Africans proudly said that the traditional African family would take care of the children left behind. It was a nice idea, but was it realistic to expect even the broadest-reaching family to embrace the numbers of children orphaned by AIDS? The communal family system has come under intense pressure. In urban areas, it is impossible to expand living space and costs like food and school fees to extra children. Richer relatives send money to poor cousins, but now there are tales that a few years ago would have been shocking. Impoverished families are turning away the children of their relatives. The extended family, Africa's great heritage, it's strongest mechanism for human survival, is under severe stress.
Grandmothers have brought up the first generation of AIDS orphans. Those who would expect to be cared for in old age have become the main carers again. Magnificently, they are bearing the brunt of the AIDS crisis, caring for those who should have cared for them. But what will happen in the future? As this generation of parents dies young, many families will have no grandmothers." From Richard Dowden's, "Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles."
(An important definition of "AIDS orphan" - it does not mean an orphan who has AIDS, it means a child who has become an orphan because one or both parents has died due to AIDS or an AIDS related illness.)
I would add to the author's comments that because of the pressure the AIDS crisis is putting on extended families, they are less able to care for children who are orphaned by other means as well. It is so sad to see extended families, already stretched beyond their limits, who cannot embrace the children of their relatives.
We have seen it ourselves, over and over again, an elderly grandmother is caring for three, five, eight grandchildren because her children have passed away. Some of our children have come to us because a loving grandmother cannot care for all the children in her care and the youngest or most vulnerable are accepted into our care.
Perhaps the most common family visitor I have here in my dorm is a grandmother. Many of them come at great cost to themselves, whether it's the small (to us!) price of a chapa to get to the center or the physical pain they endure to travel to visit their grandchild.
Shelton's grandmother visits every month at least but once didn't come for three months. When she came again, she told us she had broken her leg. Even after three months, you could see she was in pain. As I sat and visited with her, Shelton playing at her side, she showed me a photo of some of her children. They had that awful "x" mark on them that many people here use to indicate someone has died. I just cried with her at the loss in her life. I have started the process to find out where she lives so that sometimes I can take Shelton to visit her instead of her needing to come all the way to the center.
These precious women are heroes. What some of them endure or have endured in their lives is astounding to me. They carry on, doing the best they have, with the little they have. But - usually - with a lot of love.
Please pray for the families of Mozambique.
The mothers and fathers.
God in His wisdom designed families from the beginning of time.