Keeping children out of harm’s way
During a class at Linköping University in Sweden, Damian Lahoud teaches an African song as part of a presentation promoting support for AIDS orphans in South Africa. Photo courtesy of Damian Lahoud
South African Damian Lahoud is deeply concerned about the welfare of AIDS orphans in his country, now and in the years to come.
“The number is steadily rising, and within a few short years there will be close to three million,” says Lahoud, a 2009-10 Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar. “The difficult task of raising these children has fallen to the goGoGetters [a South African term for grandmother]. These goGos might not even be related to the children, but they have taken it upon themselves to look after [them], most taking care of up to 20 at a time. They provide protection and support and encourage these children to go to school.”
The plight of AIDS orphans led Lahoud to carry out a fundraising project during his scholarship year at Linköping University in Sweden. The project’s main goals were to increase awareness of AIDS in South Africa and the goGoGetters’ role in caring for the orphans, and to raise funds to help his sponsor, the Rotary Club of Knysna, support goGoGetters in the local community.
The university’s students have a tradition of wearing overalls that display patches of various gatherings they have attended. Lahoud’s fundraiser netted US$6,000 through the sale of special AIDS awareness “ImPATCHits” for about $2.75 each.
“I spent time on campus selling patches and promoting the project at Rotary clubs throughout Sweden, selling African beadwork ribbons to Rotarians,” Lahoud says. “A single patch can go a long way by helping one child for one month!”
Natsuko Sawaya, a 2007-08 Rotary Scholar from Japan, shares Lahoud’s passion for helping kids at risk. She works at a center in Mbour, Senegal, where 160 children live, more than 100 of them less than a year old. The Rotary Club of Bologna-Est, Italy, and four other clubs in Bologna have helped support her efforts there.
“I could see among the ones who were only a couple of months old the symptoms of institutionalization and maternal deprivation,” says Sawaya, who studied as a Rotary Scholar in Italy. “I worked with a psychologist to improve the quality of maternal care. The center is now building a new facility for babies. I’d like to help make the place better for institutional care.”
After the center opens, Sawaya is planning to work at an orphanage in Zimbabwe. Eventually, she would like to study as a Rotary Peace Fellow.
“It’s really unbelievable what Rotarians are trying to do for me, for kids, for people everywhere I go,” Sawaya says. “I’m still connected with Rotarians around the world and receiving such wonderful opportunities.”
Maternal and child health is one of the areas of focus of the Future Vision Plan. The three-year Future Vision pilot began 1 July and continues until 30 June 2013.
Written for Reconnections