I have been living with HIV for five years now, so it makes me feel happy to help children who are also living with the virus to cope with the challenges,” says 28-year-old Sam. Sam is a child mentor for the HIV child support club at Africa Directions, a Foundation-supported organization in Lusaka, Zambia.
“Initially when I came here to join, I didn’t understand what would be involved in dealing in kids who are HIV-positive,” Sam says. “I thought it would just be playing with kids and singing songs.”
The Foundation paid for Sam to attend a short child counseling course, which helped him understand children’s needs better. “Through this course, I have learned how to talk better to children, how to come up with topics to talk about and how to handle the children and their concerns.”
When Sam started the child support club, he discussed his HIV status with the children in the group. The children are now very free with him because they understand he is in the same situation that they are in.
As part of his work to improve the children’s lives, Sam makes visits to the children’s houses to ensure they are being properly cared for. “I want to make sure that the parents make their children adhere to their lifesaving medicines,” Sam says. “Some of the parents and guardians are really busy; they go to markets, work, etc., so they might not be monitoring the children’s medication properly.”
Sam talks to the children’s parents about issues like food, nutrition, sleeping arrangements, adherence to medications, and the children’s general welfare. He also talks to both the children and their parents about how to deal with the stigma they face in the community because of their HIV status.
“I am the children’s best friend,” Sam emphasizes. “When the child support group started, most of the children had very low self-esteem; they were very closed up. But now nearly all the children are very open, they love to talk, and they are in high spirits.”