Marvin Chiremba is a 15 year old African child who has a younger brother and sister. He at his tender age is the head of his family, his parents having been lost to the AIDS epidemic that has swept across Zimbabwe. The responsibility of fending for his siblings, looking after their wellbeing and providing sustenance in order to survive falls squarely on the shoulders of this remarkable child. At his age, the youth of the UK are living a life of luxury, enjoying the freedom of being able and allowed by law to be a child. Even at 19 most British children do not even begin to understand the type of responsibilities and duties of care that Marvin has to undertake as a way of life. Circumstances dictate that Marvin fill the shoes of an adult without any life experience, education or preparation for this role. Yet he boldly steps up to the plate and delivers. He ensures that the crops are planted, house is swept and clean, the goats are tended too, and sends his brother and sister to school. He keeps food on the table, and clothes on their backs. It is no easy task to survive in Zimbabwe, and even harder for these children. At times they are unable to get the basic necessities for survival simply due to the shortage of supply in the country, let alone that as children they are often marginalised and overlooked by the adult population.
A mere decade ago the situation would have been different. These children would have been taken in by a relative, friend or even a neighbour. However due to the extent of the impact of deaths throughout Zimbabwe as a result of AIDS and the added pressure of malnutrition and starvation, the life expectancy of an adult male in Zimbabwe is 36 years of age and 34 years for women. Every single family in Zimbabwe can tell of not just one but numerous members of their immediate or extended family having passed away. It is not uncommon to find the home fatherless, and in so many cases the mother has in turn passed on the HIV virus to her children. A whole generation of children in Zimbabwe are growing up without any adult figure in their lives. Many are too afraid to talk of it for fear of being split from the only existing family they have. There is no foster care system in place, and the government is in no place to provide shelter or accommodation for these children.
How do we expect a child to be the leader of the home. How can we allow it to fall to the children to nurse their parents through their illness, be left to bury their loved ones, and learn to survive alone. Marvin says he often cries when he remembers his parents. He misses the love and support that every child needs. When you listen to his story and see his sister sitting beside him, you can see it in her eyes that she too carries the pain of being abandoned by a society that is locked in a battle for survival.
It is estimated that 1 in 3 Zimbabweans is infected with HIV. It is a sad fact that nearly all will develop AIDS and die. Powerful drugs that are available free of charge on the NHS here in the UK are scarce and extremely costly on the Zimbabwean market. Those that are able to afford to gain access to the drugs are no further protected due to the lack of constant supply. It is a crime that companies that make billions through sale of their drugs in first world countries, hold places like Zimbabwe where AIDS is an epidemic, to ransom in aid of furthering their profit margins. But that is a whole different story to be argued another day. With so many of the population at risk, it is no wonder that it is a common story across the face of Zimbabwe. Marvin is most certainly not alone, and you don’t have to go very far to find children alone, vulnerable and crying out for love and attention.
The Zimbabwean Government have turned their back on their people. While politicians and people of power squabble among themselves over who will get their hands on the next delivery of foreign aid, the children of Zimbabwe go by, watching a world that knows their plight, smiles at them, and forgets all about them as they sit down to their fancy meals and fall asleep warm in their comfortable beds. I watch as the world goes through its crisis and men and women lose their jobs and are suddenly faced with uncertainty and concern. For the first time in many of their lives they have woken up to what it feels like to be unemployed and uncertain about the future. But they are still rich when they live in a place like the United Kingdom. Yes it is fact. Your government are obliged to look after you. They pay to re-train you, give you a salary while you’re out of work, help you work out payment plans for your mortgage, give you tax credits for your children and bend over backwards to keep you sweet. Yet the average man in the UK will whinge and complain and moan till the cows come home.
I really wish at times I could give them a chance to trade places. I really wish I could show them the reality of hardship and loss. When did any 15 year old child in the UK ever have to take responsibility for his own life? When did any child in the first world ever have to face the daily challenge of keeping food on the table and money in the bank. Oh we watched Family of 5 on our television screens. We have seen children struggle to stay together in many ways through life. But never have we accepted that a child should become an adult. Never have we agreed that a child should be shouldered with the responsibilities of rearing his or her siblings. As a first world community we have done everything we can to protect the rights of the child. We have legislated and spent vast sums of money to protect children and ensure that they are given the best chance in life.
So why should African children not be given the same chance in life? It is not their fault that they find themselves alone in this world. There is no crime that sentences them to the hardships of pretending to be the parent to their own brothers and sisters. Yet we sit here and watch as a country cries out for our help and we do nothing. We are blinded by our comfort, and deafened by our greed. It is so much easier to say leave Africa to the Africans. We are the ones committing a crime. It is criminal that we watch as a generation of young people are subjected to a life of burden and difficulty. It is us who are at fault for allowing the plight of the children of Africa to go un-noticed. How often do you stop and think about the kids of Africa? How many times do you read about them in the headlines of our media. We hear of the wrongs of our leaders, and see the wonton greed splashed across the front pages of our news papers. Isn’t it time we began to give the real stories of heartache and suffering time in the spot light? Are the kids of our world not fit for our concern?
Let’s take time to focus our attention on the reality of this situation. Lets gather round and put our resources in the right place. Let’s make sure that every day we do something to help those kids. It is our duty. It is only us who can change the lives of our children. An hour a day from each of us to talk with friends and family to get their support is all we need. An hour a week to seek out a pound or two in support of children that really do deserve our help. We are not asking you to change the world. All we ask is that you find it in your heart to spend that time and work towards helping where you can. Kumusha/eKhaya works tirelessly to helping orphans in Zimbabwe. Our work depends on your support. Help us to make a difference and change Marvin Chiremba’s life, and those of the children of Zimbabwe. This appeal goes out on behalf of 1 million orphaned children in the country of Zimbabwe. Contact Kumusha/eKhaya and talk to us about how you can lend a hand to help the children of Zimbabwe.