Linden Care Foundation giving hope to persons living with HIV/AIDS By Cathy Wilson
Stabroek News
March 3, 2003

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In spite of the complexity of the HIV epidemic, people have been finding ways to respond. Individuals, families, communities, and organisations continue to organise and work together to support those who are living with HIV/AIDS. And the Linden Care Foundation (LCF) is on the frontline embracing and giving hope to HIV/AIDS affected persons.

The non-governmental, non-profit organisation evol-ved from the Regional AIDS Committee of Region Ten (Upper Demerara/ Berbice) almost two years ago to work in a more dynamic way to promote various activities aimed at preventing and reducing the incidence of HIV infections.

Since its inception LCF has been able to manage several projects aimed at sensitising young persons about the dangers of being infected with HIV.

The foundation’s current programmes include several components - Youth and HIV, and The Ready Body Project, which are funded under the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and USAID respectively.

According to the organisation’s president Hazel Maxwell-Benn, participation by children and youths in the fight to reduce the spread of the virus is an absolute necessity.

“Promoting meaningful and quality participation of children and adolescents is essential to ensure their growth and development. With the rate of the spread of this dreaded virus, if our children are not involved in the fight their growth and development is at risk.”

Working with this programme the foundation has a vibrant corps of peer educators who are active throughout the region. This group is headed by a dynamic 18-year-old, Keeran Williams.

The peer educators have been conducting awareness sessions in schools and with community groups at public events and in the streets, targeting minibus conductors and drivers as well as pedestrians.

The evidence of their work is seen in the number of youths who are now fully conscious of the effect of the virus on their lives and the growing number youths who have been joining the organisation.

Care & Support for PLWHAs (People Living With HIV/AIDS) is a programme that has been recently launched by the foundation. Its main components are life skills training for children and families infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS, pre and post test counselling, community facilitation and case finding, removal of blood samples and facilitation of testing, nutritional enhancement for children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, a medical programme, legal aid and the provision of nutritional supplements and other drugs for opportunistic infections.

LCF sees this programme as very important, since it recognises that sections of society in Linden and elsewhere often violate the rights of PLWHAs. This leads to stigma and discrimination which deny PLWHAs their rights as human beings, bringing about their self-stigmatization, acute stress disorders and withdrawal from society and early death.

Though the programme has been recently launched officially, it has been running for some time now to the extent that the lives of persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS have been improved greatly.

“I am HIV positive for over six years. Had it not been for the LCF I might have been dead today.

“They have taught me so much, they have been counselling me. Today I am positive that I can live way into my 60s, 70s.

“I am convinced that being HIV positive does not mean I will die tomorrow, next year or ten years after,” one of the many LCF beneficiaries frankly declared.

The programme has been positively impacting on the lives of a very vulnerable group - children whose parents are living with or have died of HIV/AIDS.

To date, LCF has over eighty children drawn from some thirty-seven families. Of these children, more than forty are orphans. These numbers rise daily.

All of these children live under adverse conditions, hence their proper growth and development are at risk.

Thanks to UNICEF and other stakeholders, this vulnerable group receives highly nutritious meals twice weekly and is given nutritious low cost diet sheets to take home.

The future plans of the LCF include the overall objectives of reducing stigma and discrimination against PLWHAs; empowering youths to deal with the issues of HIV/AIDS; and further enhancing the nutrition status of PLWHAs.

In addition, very soon the organisation will be putting in place a child assistance scheme that will allow interested persons to contribute towards the growth and development of children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, by sponsoring in part or full the education, nutritional and other needs of the children.

“We do not want PLWHAs to be totally dependant on the foundation.

We cannot do it all for them. What we are doing is to build their self-esteem so that they can go about their lives working, socialising in society just as persons who are HIV negative,” the LCF president said.

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