By MICHELLE AMBA
Never did it occur to Doris that her safe haven was where she would find her soul mate.
Doris and her entire family was introduced to El Rafa, meaning God heals in Hebrew, an orphanage run by the Evangelical Brotherhood Church (EBC) in Jiwaka when their father was confirmed HIV/Aids positive almost two decades ago.
Doris came from a polygamous family, she tells me. Her father had another wife and they all lived happily, a huge family, two mothers and all her siblings from both mothers. All was well for Doris and family until at the age of nine when her father died of Aids. It was then that Doris and her five siblings were taken in by El Rafa Care Centre and cared for.
I met a matured Doris at the care centre on July 4 this year when she and another 44 orphans about to be discharged back into their communities. At first I took her for another bystander observing the ceremony because she was carrying a baby with her. When she was called up to receive her gifts, a spade, a Bible and seedlings, I then realised that she was also part of the group and so our conversation began.
Smiling she told me that El Rafa gave her everything a teenager would want, and for her even more than that because here was where she met Johnny, also an orphan.
“I have been visiting the centre since a baby,” chuckles Doris. All my other brothers and sisters have also been part of the team here at El Rafa. We come here during term breaks to get together and have a picnic that is organised by the centre. The care givers have been our parents,” said Doris.
“My husband Johnny is also an orphan and we met here at the centre and now we have a baby. I really feel that the centre has groomed us well and we are ready to go out to the community and live on our own.”
Johnny, a soft spoken young man, tells me that his association with the centre began years back when he lost both parents.
“All my needs were met by the centre.
“I want to thank the church and the kind-hearted individuals who dedicate their lives and go through a lot of sacrifice just to make sure that kids like me become useful citizens in the communities.”
He said the centre had taken care of him all throughout his schooling days, from primary school up to secondary school where he completed Grade 12.
Johnny, Doris and others all at the age of 15 and above where discharged from the centre in a small ceremony last month. The centre at Minj, Jiwaka has been providing care and attention to orphans since 2004.
The centre comes under EBC Health PNG and is supported by the Swiss Evangelical Brotherhood Mission.
However, the services are not restricted to EBC alone. It was opened in 2004 and provides all services including, voluntary counseling and testing (VCT), education and awareness in schools, pre-post testing, base-line care, anti-retroviral treatment (ART) and many programmes associated with HIV/Aids and of course cares for up to 200 orphans.
These children are identified through their parents who come for care and counseling at the centre. The children come from as far as Chimbu and Western Highlands. Once they are identified and registered, they are brought to the centre at the end of every term during school holidays.
This is when picnics are organised and the care givers assess their school work for those that are in school. This is also an opportunity for care givers to talk to the orphans to make sure that they are not facing any issues with their guardians at home.
Care giver and counselor, Rachael Kiman says they try as much as possible to minimise stigma and discrimination.
“We have gone out the communities of each and every orphan that we are discharging today. We have made awareness on stigma and discrimination .We do not want them to feel like outcasts when they are sent back to their villages.”
She said they have asked and pleaded with the people to accept these children when they are sent back by the centre. She said the mistakes of their parents should not bring these innocent boys and girls down; they were free of the virus and therefore should be respected.
While Doris and Johnny and the other 43 have been discharged, another 57 orphans aged 14 and below are still under the care of El Rafa Care Centre. They continue to come to the centre for counseling and come Dec 1 (World Aids Day) 57 candles or even more will be lit in memory of their loved ones.
- Michelle Amba is a freelance journalist.