My name is Jonathan, and I am the Every Child is Our Child (ECOC) intern here at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO). In this post I will outline the mission of this program and highlight its role in bringing about development and empowerment.
During the past decade, the world has made massive strides in confronting the HIV/AIDS crisis. New infections have fallen by 33% since 2001, new infections in children have fallen by more than 50%, access to anti-retrovirals has increased by 40-fold and yearly HIV/AIDS related deaths have fallen by more than a quarter in the last ten years. Though there are still more than a million new cases every year, the combined initiative of governments, NGOs, and countless individuals has prevented millions of infections.
Despite this heartening progress, HIV/AIDS remains an inescapable reality for millions of people, many of whom already suffer from or are at risk of severe economic deprivation. More than fifteen million children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS and many of those children are HIV positive themselves. The UU-UNO’s Every Child is Our Child program to support the education of children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS is our response to this crisis. It began with the realization that the the AIDS crisis has many dimensions and is grounded in the principle that co-operation with grassroots organizations is essential to bringing about lasting positive change.
Providing medical treatment to those suffering from HIV/AIDS is a necessity, but it is also only a first step. A HIV positive child whose parents have died can be given anti-retroviral drugs, but their road to mental wellness and personal development will often be littered with obstacles. The ECOC program is based on a partnership between the UU-UNO and the Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association. Manya Krobo is one of Ghana’s poorest provinces and also one of the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. The Queen Mothers are traditional female community leaders who have taken on the responsibility of supporting children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. While many aid programs work in top-down fashion, ECOC is meant to support the existing goals and initiatives of the Queen Mothers. By providing the supplies needed for children attend school, it furthers the Queen Mothers' stated goal of improving local society through education. On a larger scale, the program reflects the Unitarian-Universalist commitment to addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Formulated in 2000 by the UN, the MDGs consist of eight ambitious development goals. By providing access to education for vulnerable children ECOC is meant to work toward the goals of achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, and combating HIV/AIDs.
Supporting gender equality: In Manya Krobo, as in many poor areas, girls are far more likely to drop out of school than boys. The negative effects of this are deep and broad, as not only are girls without education are less likely to find meaningful jobs later in life, they are also more likely to be forced into exploitative relationships with older men. These relationships often lead to them contracting HIV, which makes finding regular employment even more difficult, thus leading to further dependency. To have any chance of breaking this vicious cycle it is essential to start at the beginning by ensuring that girls have the opportunity to become financially and socially independent women.
When it started in 2004, the program supported 20 students. Today, thanks to the support of many donors, it provides for the expenses of 120 students. To learn more about the program you can visit our website. You can help these students and give other children the opportunity to participate in this program by making a generous donation.