The Monitor is following two South African couples who have opened their hearts and stretched their resources to give AIDS orphans a family. Olga Thimbela and Pontsho Monamodi took in six nieces, nephews, and cousins who lost their mothers to AIDS. Celina and Pule Seloma, an older couple whose only son was killed, are foster parents to an orphaned boy with HIV. They represent thousands of families on the front lines of an epidemic that is overwhelming South Africa. Their stories have heartbreak, but also tell of hidden strengths: faith, persistence, African traditions of generosity, and love.
Melanie Stetson Freeman
AIDS turning point: The spread of infection has slowed sharply and those infected are living close-to-normal lives. Still, an exhausted nation deals with the aftereffects.
AIDS killed a baby a week during the height of the epidemic at the Cotlands child-care facility in South Africa. But because treatment has improved so much, infected babies aren't being abandoned as much, nor are they dying.
VIDEO: Monitor staff photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman reports on one South African woman's struggle to help keep her family, which has been affected by AIDS, together.
Celina and Pule Seloma
The last time we saw Gift, in May 2010, he was living happily with his foster parents, Celina and Pule Seloma,Pule, in Dobsonville, outside Johannesburg (see Part 3 update, below.) An AIDS orphan, he was taken from his birth mother at the age of 4 because of neglect and had lived with the Selmoas ever since. But on the Monitor's last visit, his birth mother had reappeared and was lobbying to get him back.
A social worker told us that wouldn’t happen.
But upon recontacting the family in May, the Monitor was told that Celina died early this year after being injured in an auto accident while traveling with a social worker to get Gift's birth certificate. Since Pule was ill at the time, Gift – who would now be 10 – was sent back to live with his birth family. The Monitor was unable to do a fully reported story on Gift for our latest installment on AIDS and the affected families we have been covering for six years.
The Monitor will follow up on Gift – and reports we have that he now is living with his grandmother in Limpopo province, about 3 hours from Johannesburg by car – in future installments.
The familiar heartbreak of South Africa AIDS orphans: Gift's foster mother is confronted by his birth mother.
Like many shouldering the burden of South Africa AIDS orphans, foster mother Olga Thimbela tearfully wonders if her goodwill in adding six extended family members to three children of her own was a mistake.
Lora Doman has 450 cases to keep track of: A daunting challenge typical amng those in social work services providing care and protection of South Africa AIDS orphans.
Gift started kindergarten this year, but misses his sister who was taken away in a custody dispute.
Thabang Thimbela's foster parents struggle to guide him and his foster sister Bulelwa through the temptations of adolescence.
Ever since their 21-year-old son was killed six years ago, Celina Seloma told her husband, Pule, that she wanted a child in their lives.
Olga and Pontsho Monamodi added six children to their family after Olga's sister and aunt both died.
The caseload at Roodepoort Child Welfare Society has risen from between 60 and 80 a year to well over 1,000.