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Children play table games at Bophelong day care centre in Thembisa township, South Africa. Joanna Hiebert Bergen

Children play table games at Bophelong day care centre in Thembisa township, South Africa. Joanna Hiebert Bergen

A place of life for people affected by AIDS

June 12, 2009

WINNIPEG, Man. — In the South African language of Southern Sotho, Bophelong means "the place of life." It is a fitting name for a bright day care centre full of smiling children in Thembisa township, near Johannesburg, South Africa.

But many of the children at Bophelong have lost one or both parents to AIDS and are being cared for by either a grandmother or by siblings not much older than themselves. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is providing financial support to the day care centre to ensure that the children have a loving, adult presence in their lives.

"The walls are full of posters, numbers, letters and pictures," says Joanna Hiebert Bergen, MCC's HIV/AIDS coordinator, who recently visited the centre. "It is a day care centre where children are given opportunity to learn, to grow and to thrive."

Hiebert Bergen recently travelled to Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa to visit a variety of organizations that MCC supports in helping people affected by HIV and AIDS.

In many places, the effects are devastating. The disease often strikes people in the prime of their life, between the ages of 20 and 40. When parents are too sick to work, children often cannot afford to attend school and are left to beg or work in menial jobs.

In South Africa alone, 1.4 million children have lost at least one parent to AIDS. Organizations such as Bophelong play a key role in supporting them.

"These children would go hungry if not for the nutritious meals and snacks provided by the day care centre," says Hiebert Bergen.

MCC provides financial support or personnel to 69 organizations responding to HIV and AIDS in more than 25 countries around the world. These organizations provide care for adults and children with HIV and their families, teach communities how to prevent the disease and advocate for people affected by it.

Information about MCC's response to HIV and AIDS, including ways to help, is available at mcc.org/aids.

Amanda Thorsteinsson is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.