Saturday, February 9, 2008

Smarty Saturday Book Recommendation: Taking Away The Distance, by Miles Rost

For this week's Smarty Saturday, I'd like to explore a subject that has always been very controversial... HIV. Specifically, the children left behind when their parents die from HIV-related illnesses.
In the USA, we are pretty lucky. I'd like to think that if a child is left orphaned by HIV, he would receive the same care as any other orphaned child. Our foster care system has lots of problems, but any child would at least be assured that, somehow or another, she'd have a roof over her head, food in her stomach, clothes on her back, and a school to go to.
But in Africa, and in many other countries, things are different. Many people are still reluctant to even say the word "HIV" because it is considered such a shameful thing, and the children left behind by parents who die of HIV are often shunned.
When a ten-year-old Kenyan boy named Kevin was left orphaned after his parents died of HIV, he was left to completely take care of himself. The little boy lived in the shack where he had once lived with his parents, sold peanuts to make enough money to eat, and snuck into school each day because he couldn't pay his school fees. He refused to tell anyone at his school that his parents had died, because he was embarrassed.
When he finally did tell someone, Kevin received a little marginal help from his community... but the opinion of most people was that it was best for orphaned children to continue living in their communities, and caring for themselves, rather than move into foster homes or institutions.
Kevin's story was similar to the stories of many, many children all over Africa. A generation of kids were literally raising themselves without assistance.
Kevin's story changed when documentarist Miles Rost interviewed him, while creating a documentary called Make It Real To Me, about the plights of the many HIV orphans in Africa. The book, Taking Away The Distance, is the true story of the growing relationship between Kevin and Miles, and of how Kevin is brave enough to demand answers from people with power all over the world about what they planned to do to help HIV orphans.
This is a great and enlightening book to read, and the world would be a better place if every single person read it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I haven;t read the book, but I wonder to what extent the different value that American/western cultures versus African cultures place on community plays into those attitudes. I know many African people would be absolutely horrified at the idea of a child being "doubly orphaned", first by the death of their parents and then by the loss of their community. I wonder if good goals for peopls helping African HIV orphans might be to focus on providing HIV education/material support to interested community members so they could care for orphaned children, rather than on moving children to institutions or to foster homes in other areas?