South Africa AIDS orphans: Gift's birth mother confronts his foster parents
Another facet of the heartbreak of South Africa AIDS orphans: Gift's foster parents are confronted by his birth mother.
Soweto, South Africa
Nobody told Celina Seloma that being a foster mother would be easy.Skip to next paragraph
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What they did tell her, nearly four years ago, was that a little boy whose mother had neglected her children in her tin-shack house needed a new home. They told her that the mother was an alcoholic and unhealthy, hadn’t been seen for weeks, and was presumed to be well into the advanced stages of AIDS, if not already dead. Celina – whose own adult son had recently been killed in a shooting – opened her heart and took in a sickly 4-year-old boy named Gift.
Today, Gift is healthy, but challenging for Celina, who is in her late 50s. Every morning, she must wake him up at 6 to give him his state-provided antiretroviral (ARV) medication. Gift is a bright, highly energetic kid, but he has learning difficulties and at 7 years of age, he still can’t count past five and can’t write his own name.
“The teachers, they don’t deal with slow learners,” she says, making dots on a paper for Gift to copy out his name in Zulu, “Sibusiso.” “I don’t know why he’s having trouble in school. If you ask him to write, it’s like he wants to cry.”
Abandoned to foster care, Gift is considered an AIDS orphan. With some 5.7 million South Africans affected by AIDS as of 2009, most of them in their childbearing or childrearing years, South Africa has become the nation with the highest number of AIDS orphans in the world, at an estimated 1.4 million, according to the United Nations and World Health Organization. As many as 11 percent of the children of HIV patients, including Gift, are themselves HIV positive, having contracted it from their birth mothers. And it is people of modest means, like Celina and her husband, Pule Seloma, who take on that burden of looking after these AIDS orphans with little financial support from the South African government.
Gift’s life has clearly improved from the day he first arrived at Celina’s house, unbathed, hungry, and persistently ill. When diagnosed as HIV positive, Gift began receiving ARVs from a local public hospital, and his health improved. The same hospital helped Gift with a speech impediment, and today he speaks clearly. But there are no schools nearby where he can get help with his learning disabilities, and Celina and Gift’s teachers are running out of ideas.
“My main goal right now is finding the right school for him,” says Celina. “They say there is a school in Westbury [a neighborhood of Johannesburg] and near Orlando [a neighborhood in Soweto], but both of those places are far, far away.”