Friday, September 21, 2012

UNICEF support to Commune Councils assists vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS

Sina 6 and her sister Neang 12, (names changed) wash dishes outside their home.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
After helping her grandmother sweep their yard in rural Tiang Kroch commune, 68 kilometres west from the capital Phnom Penh, six-year-old Srey Sina* curls up in her grandmother’s lap, tired from completing her household chore. Sina, the youngest of five children, tires easily from undertaking such small tasks.

“She needs to eat a lot of food regularly because of her illness. If she doesn’t, then she has no energy,” explains Sina’s 53 year old grandmother, Meng Theany. “She eats more than her siblings.”

Three years ago in 2009, Sina and her four sisters lost their mother to an AIDS related illness but she was the only child who contracted HIV from her mother.  Since then, all five children have been living with their poor grandparents.

“I’m taking care of my grandchildren, so they won’t be separated,” says Theany.  “And I will take care of them until the day I can’t carry on anymore.”

Sina’s grandfather provides for the family by clearing local forests for farming, harvesting sugar cane and undertaking any kind of manual labour he can find in the village. However, his small earnings are not enough and the family struggles to pay for basic necessities including Sina’s medication. In Cambodia anti-viral medication is free of charge, but for associated medicines, there are additional costs.

“Compared to the other children, Sina needs to eat something sweet every day and we spend around 500 – 1000 Riel (US12.5 – 25 cents) a day on ‘sweet’ food,” explains Theany.  Children, who are HIV positive and taking antiviral medication, need to consume high-calorie foods.

Social service mapping

Using the commune council social service mapping system – a tool designed and piloted by UNICEF to help local communities identifies gaps in social services and identifies vulnerable children and families in communities - Theany and her family were approached by Ty Long who serves as the Commune Focal Point for Women and Children. After visiting the family at home to assess their living conditions, Ty Long and other commune committee members agreed to support the family using the UNICEF-funded commune budget. This fund makes US$1,000 available for supporting vulnerable children and families, including those affected by HIV and AIDS.

Through these funds, Theany and her family were provided with food and household items, including rice, noodles, tinned fish, toothpaste and soap.  The children also received school materials to enable them to go to school such as bags, uniforms, books, pens and pencils.

“Long provides my family with emotional support and motivates us to stay healthy,” responded Theany when asked about the type of support given to her by the Commune Focal Point for Women and Children. “She helped the children go to school and she guides and supports other people in the commune,” she added.
Ms. Ty Long, Commune Focal Point for Women and Children, Tiang Kroch Commune.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
Caring for children affected by HIV and AIDS

For orphans and vulnerable children, HIV and AIDS can significantly change their lives. Almost two per cent of Cambodia’s children have lost their parents to an AIDS related illness or are living in an AIDS-affected household. Limited financial resources and even fewer social safety nets exist to support orphans and vulnerable children, including children affected by HIV and AIDS.

In addition to support with household and school items, Ty Long ensured Theany was equipped with basic knowledge to care for Sina by arranging an awareness raising session for her with staff at the local health centre.

“I learnt about improving Sina’s nutrition and diet and how to keep her healthy,” said Theany. “We also make sure she takes her medication regularly and sleeps with a mosquito net to prevent infections.”

Since 2004, UNICEF has worked with 422 commune councils in six provinces including 87 commune councils in Kampong Speu, to explore and strengthen the role they can play in supporting the most vulnerable children and families in their communities. UNICEF works with commune councils to ensure these children and families, including those affected by HIV, have the necessary access to services and support to improve their living conditions and to help children realise their rights to a safe, supportive environment in which to grow.

“The commune budget funded by UNICEF to assist vulnerable children, aims to improve their living conditions and keep them as much as possible in their communities rather than in institutions,” explained Ty Long.

*All names have been changed to protect the family’s identity

By Angelique Reid

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