‘I don’t know what my parents died of. They just became sick and then died. I hardly remember it. I don’t even know how old I was at the time. But, all I remember is that everything was fine until one day my mother couldn’t walk and then she just passed on. My father wasn’t there when he died, so I don’t know what happened to him’, says Miriam, aged 16.
Miriam was born HIV-positive and was very young when she lost both her parents. After her parents died, she was moved from one family member to another. When an aunt could no longer afford to take care of Miriam, she sent her to this children’s haven where she has lived for almost three years.
‘You get children out there that have lost their parents and their family members cannot look after them. So, the centre is good because it accepts those children and makes them go to school to get that education they need and give them a roof to stay under, and it shows them love’, says Miriam.
The children’s haven run by the Muslim AIDS Program (MAP) is situated in the densely populated Muslim community of Mayfair in Johannesburg. MAP is a faith-based organisation that helps to create awareness about HIV/AIDS.
The children live with a house mother and child care worker who makes sure their needs are met, that they take their medicines and go to the hospital if they have to.
Director for MAP, Suraiya Nawab, says prior to MAP’s intervention, HIV/AIDS in the Muslim community was taboo and never spoken about. She says, although they have made significant progress in reaching out to Muslims, stigma and discrimination is still rife, much as it is in other communities. Nawab says it is a fallacy that HIV is not a problem that affects the Muslim community.
‘In terms of the Muslim faith itself, drug and alcohol are completely forbidden, pre-marital sex is forbidden. But, there is evidence that there is drug abuse in our community and there is alcohol abuse. There are pre-marital and extra-marital relationships in our community and, therefore, there is HIV in our community as well’, says Nawab.
The haven focuses on women and children infected or affected by HIV, mainly because men are not coming for help, she says.
Melody is a child care worker and resident at the haven. She and her son are both HIV-positive and live at the centre. But she has not told her son that he has HIV. Melody lost her husband to HIV a few years ago.
‘I asked myself many questions’¦ How it happened to me? How and why God is giving all these burdens to me? I don’t work now. I have this disease and left with two children. I was faithful in my marriage’, she says.
This week MAP unveiled newly-renovated living quarters at the haven made possible by Tibb Institute, an organisation that supports poor communities. It now boasts seven bedrooms, four bath-rooms and four toilets and can accommodate 20 children and four adults.
There is a resident doctor, Joy Saville, who visits once a month to monitor the children’s health.
‘Initially, when I came it was during winter. So, the kids had rashes, coughs, diarrhoea and bed wetting. I treated the symptom, then provided them with immune boosting medication. This year, I added something for their liver. Because ARVs do damage the liver we just want to make sure that we’re keeping their liver function as optimal as possible’, says Dr Saville.
And, by the look of the children’s faces at the unveiling, they are doing just fine.