Our Stories, Our Songs
"We need to remind ourselves why so many children are orphans
today; because their parents were not able to get treatment for AIDS,
most likely because they could not afford it, or because they lived in
a country which was too poor to provide their basic health care. We
must know that one of the greatest assaults to human dignity is
poverty, where you wake up not knowing where you're going to get your
next meal. When you cannot have decent accomodation for yourself and
your children. When you cannot feed them and send them to school.
That is the greatest assault on human dignity." Nelson Mandela
Most of us on learning that 11.5 million children in Sub-Sahara
Africa have had their lives devastated by AIDS would be angry or sad.
Not much we can do, right? Fortunately award winning author and peace
activist Deborah Ellis wanted to get to know some of these kids and
introduce us to them through her writing. She traveled to Malawi and
Zambia (her first trip to Africa). She stayed in homes and hostels
and used public transit. Although some of her interviews had been set
up by Internet contact, many happened when she met people
spontaneously. "The children I met are awe-inspiring. They welcomed
me into their lives. Gracious and generous, they answered very
personal questions about life and death put to them by a stranger..."
In Our Stories, Our Songs: African Children Talk About AIDS (The
Nelson Mandela quote starts the first chapter, Songs At The Edge) we
get to know some of these children through photographs and
narratives. You'll meet
*Manuel (8) who lives with his grandmother because his mother died of
AIDS. "She died in our house. Her body was there but she wasn't
inside it anymore.";
*Francis (17) an AIDS orphan in prison for a crime he did not do. "My
brothers and sisters visit when they can, but that is not very often.
They do not have the money for travel. Even with my friend here, I
feel very alone.";
*Namitso (14) who stayed with his dying mother in a hospital too
understaffed to provide basic care. "I stayed in the hospital with
her. I slept on the floor under her bed...I did what I could for
And so many other youngeters who remain kids, eager to spend time with
friends and play netball (basketball?), even after surviving the worst
life has to offer. At the end there are young people who are using
the arts to teach about AIDS prevention and bring joy into their lives.
The chapter that touched the most took place in a school. Here
in the United States we are up in arms when we can't get our students
the latest in electronics, taking it as Gospel that state of the art =
superior. In this book there is a chapter where children in a village
school receive desks. The children there rejoice. Mary (13) says:
"Having a desk makes me feel important. Having a desk makes me feel
that someone else thinks I'm important."
Ellis is a woman with a mission. At the end of the introduction
she tells us, "We all need to believe that our lives have meaning,
that our existence is acknowledged, and that we are valued. AIDS
chalkenges all of us. We can meet that challenge by embracing the
sufferers and assisting the survivors to lead lives of dignity and
Amen to that!
On a personal note, budget season is in full swing in Veazie. The
town council has cut much more from the school budget than we can lose
and offer an adequate education. In the 25 years I have resided in
this town I have never before seen as much anger and fear.
A great big shout out goes out to all who work to help children and
families coping with AIDS, especially in the most impoverished of
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod