Report by Revd Andrew Mukuyamba
African society has for a long time been perceived as a community that takes care of its underprivileged, especially orphans. This perception was correct until the late 1980s, when families could no longer cope with the ever increasing numbers of destitute people. Recently we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of orphans in Zambia due to HIV/AIDS. The statistics are readily available for those interested in them. But statistics are boring — a short case history tells the story better:
In 1993, I came across an elderly lady whose three children had died, leaving her with seven grandchildren to look after. This lady is divorced and has no source of income apart from selling mangoes, other fruits and sometimes roasted groundnuts near a beer hall. She uses the children to sell these items most times, and as a result the children do not attend school. They wake up early in the morning everyday and go to bed late. They spend all their time sitting near this beer hall selling the merchandise. They have to work hard for their food and if possible their clothing. It is like slavery, being an orphan in Africa today. The problem is growing. Everyday more children are orphaned. Many adults are dying of AIDS, leaving small children unable to support themselves or to receive help from relatives. Extended families have no means of sustaining them. With only 180,000 formal employment jobs in a population of 12 million people, the economic situation does not allow them to take extra dependants into their homes.
Nevertheless there is a feeling in some quarters abroad that the orphan problem has no impact on African society because orphans can be looked after by relatives and the best orphan care programme is one in which members of the family are involved. This is false, especially in Zambia today. People who live in the community are always narrating how orphans suffer at the hands of relatives, most of whom have no means to feed extra mouths and are cruel to orphans and do not care about their well-being and future. It is projected that by the year 2010 there will be 1.01 million orphans in Zambia (a very low estimate). Which family will have the capacity to care for them given the current scenario?
In the average family, much money is spent on taking the sick to hospital and, if such people die, the family spends a lot more money on funeral arrangements and burial. In the end the remaining family has no capacity to look after orphans. It is, therefore, not true that the orphan problem can be solved in the family, by the family, or by organisations working with families in a family set-up. Orphans in a family are usually ill-treated and receive little or no food and clothing, and may not even get the minimal education they need for their future. It is only natural that in a situation of poverty, parents put their own children first and any orphans in that family last.
Regrettably, there is now a great need for institutionalised orphan-care programme in Zambia. In view of the strong family focus of Zambian society such orphanages will always be run as much like a family as possible. Non-governmental organisations that are trying hard to set up such care programmes must be encouraged and supported financially, materially, morally and spiritually.
In Zambia we definitely need support to set up good orphanages if we are to give these orphans a chance in life, keep them off the streets and have them grow up in a loving, caring environment.