Yesterday, I met up with Patrick in the Kampala taxi park and we jumped onto a mutatu. After an hour and a half ride, we arrived in our destination- Mitala Maria. I think/hope that some of this got lost in translation, but Patrick told me that Ugandans believe this road to Mitala Maria is the path that brought AIDS to Uganda. Either way, all of the children I met lost their parents to AIDS and their personal status is unknown because there is no money to get them to a hospital for testing. We spent the day visiting some households that RUHU supports financially- and by support I mean 2 or 3 dollars when it can be spared. The households all have a fairly similar story; parents pass away, leaving all the children in the care of the grandparents. Most women in the area have taken in children unrelated to them as well. The primary caretakers of these households are too old to work (many are 70 and upwards, usually women) and the children are too young to help with farming. The women do what they can, but there are too many days where the children go without eating.
One woman in particular lived in a 2 room hut with walls of clay and takes care of 8 children. This past year all three of her children have died of AIDS leaving her with no money and mouths to feed. This woman should have been devastated, outraged, worried about her future, but instead she greeted me with a hug and danced with me. She laughed hysterically when I sat on the floor with her as opposed to the provided bench. When I asked how she finds the courage to take care of so many children, she stated matter-of-factly that there was no one else to do it and she knew she had to. She is known to the kids as Jaja (grandmother) and she laughed and danced with me again as I bade her goodbye, saying "Weeraba Jaja!!".
RUHU goes out to Mitala Maria weekly to meet with the grandmothers and orphaned children, holding counseling sessions and seminars about varying topics. The meetings are held on straw mats in a shady spot under a tree on the property of a jaja who takes care of eleven children. The primary focus of the talks when the kids are in attendance is living positively with HIV, talking about how to remain happy and healthy. More than anything else, these meetings are a way to keep the community united in their battle against HIV/AIDS.