Saturday, August 4, 2007
SASO (Salima AIDS Service Organisation)
We were up and on the road early this morning. The plan was to visit SASO (Salima AIDS Support Organisation), then Ndi Moyo Pailliative Care Centre, Senga Bay Baptist Clinic, and end with visit to Lake Malawi. Salima was a couple of hours away so it was important to get an early start.
When we arrived at SASO we were greeted by many happy, smiling faces. Linli, a beautiful young woman who is expecting her baby any day, gave us a little background information on the center. She came to work at SASO in 2002. It was founded in 1994 by Katherine Quinn. Orphans ages 6-18 receive services. The center provides HIV testing and counseling, home-based care, youth and outreach programs. They work to inform and educate surrounding communities about HIV/AIDS. But they do not actually educate the children at the center. Primary school is free in Malawi, meaning up to 5th grade. After that many families can only afford to send one child, usually a son, and the girl remains behind in the village.
At SASO, they provide breakfast usually porridge and lunch consisting of nsima. One day a week the children are provided a full meal. When we visited, lunch was nsima, an egg and some vegetables. On occasion the children might get a little beef. The children come from their communities on Saturday to eat, play then return home. Some children coming from 6km away. SASO provides services for about 300 children and is supported mainly by GAIA (Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance) and COMESA.
Linli explained that the first priority in Malawi is to have children with their parents. Another goal is to reduce the number of child headed households.
The children sat outside and in a very orderly fashion stood in line for their meals. Some of the older children walked around and picked up the empty plates and took them to be washed. The kids either ran around to the front of the center to play or to the back for a game of soccer. As with Dzama village, I felt a pure sense of happiness. Despite the conditions and challenges these children were facing their smiles carried a sense of hope and peace that I envied.