GUILFORD -- Just as people gathered Monday in Brattleboro to mark World AIDS Day to hear to the Rev. Phillip Wilson speak about his recent visit to Kenya, children and their guardians also gathered in Kaiguchu, the village he visited and some about, to receive gifts of food and other necessities, and to mark the day there as well.
There are approximately 3,500 children around the globe who have been orphaned due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and, of those, over 310,000 are in Kenya alone.
Guilford Community Church, UCC, has a long term project there in partnership with a local youth group. The youth group’s work, partly supported by the church, includes planting and caring for trees, assisting with the support of 133 orphans and their guardians who live in the Kaiguchu area, and working to create educational and training opportunities for disadvantaged youth (currently a secondary school is in the works.) In early November, a group of 10 people from area churches traveled to Kaiguchu to meet these children and their orphans first hand.
The truth of the devastation was made clear to the visitors, in as much as an entire generation of parents is missing from the fabric of the community. Al Franklin of Guilford, and another of the travelers, remarks that he was considered remarkable there for having arrived at the age of 78. The visitors rarely met a man over 40 years of age. This is, in part, because of the migration of men to the cities for work but this is also the means by which the epidemic spread so rapidly.
At a gathering Dec. 1, which also marked World AIDs Day, at the Guilford Church, the travelers shared their reflections on the challenges faced by children without parents, and thus without the resources to acquire the education their need to prosper. The Rev. Judith Kinley shared the story of a young girl who was living in the home where she stayed during the visit. The family barely knew the 9-year-old girl and yet welcomed her into their lives, while themselves facing the loss in a car accident of the taxi run by the young father in the household.
Others remarked on the ability of their Kenyan hosts to transcend what they would perceive as incredible challenges. Some of these challenges, at least the food and uniforms needed for school by the children are provided by the Guilford and Dummerston church congregations, but the visitors also helped in the planting of some 400 macadamia nut trees which will be used as a cash crop to provide food for the secondary school being built there for children who cannot afford state schools. Many at the Guilford Church gathering acknowledged it was hard to see in person the faces of the children whose lives have been affected so deeply by the AIDs epidemic.