Although the number of deaths attributed to HIV have greatly decreased in recent years, the number of orphans and child-headed households remain high.
According to estimates that were released last year, Zimbabwe recorded a total of 25 900 HIV-related deaths.
The Mustard Seed Communities, welfare centres that are run by the Roman Catholic Church in Bulawayo, have taken it upon themselves to look after children affected and living with HIV.
Mustard Seed Communities administrator, Mr Takawira Singadi, explained the church’s mission.
“Our aim is to provide children with the opportunity to live under proper care and ensure that they have access to the best possible social, physical, medical and educational services,” said Mr Singadi.
Apart from children affected by HIV, Mustard Seed Communities also caters for children born with disabilities and any other vulnerable children referred to them by the social welfare department.
Mustard Seed Communities run three residential care facilities, housing a total of 53 children between the ages of zero to 18 years with six of those currently on anti-retroviral therapy (ART).
Children living with HIV often suffer stigma and discrimination at the hands of their peers.
This is, however, not the case with the Mustard Seed Communities, where children are taught to embrace each other.
The matron of Freedom House, which is part of the Mustard Seed Communities, Mrs Margret Sitanimeti said the institution had managed to integrate children living with HIV with their peers, wiping away stigma in the process.
“We treat a child living with HIV like any other child in all the three housing facilities, hence there is no room for stigma,” said Mrs Sitanimeti.
“We even remind them to take their medication in front of their peers.” Mustard Seed Communities were established in Zimbabwe in July 2002.
The communities also maintain nutrition programmes for other vulnerable children not under their shelter.
“We feed over 500 children a day under the nutrition programme,” said Ms Constance Ncube, Mustard Seed Communities assistant administrator.
The communities run three pre-schools, a training centre, a chapel and a health clinic.
The institution also produces its own food.
“We produce eggs, maize, vegetables and chicken to supplement the children’s dietary needs.
Any surplus goods beyond the needs of our nutrition programmes are sold to the local community for income generation,” Mr Singadi said.
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