The numbers are staggering: About 22.4 million people have HIV in sub-Saharan Africa (more than the total population of Australia). About 15 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS – a figure that will grow to about 20 million by the year 2010.
Staggering, and defeating. After all, what can you do about it when you’re not a doctor, a political leader, or a deep-pockets philanthropist? For one writer and photographer, the answer was to hit the road. Karen Ande’s and Ruthann Richter’s 7-year effort eventually became Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa, a book that portrays the children who are growing up in the shadow of AIDS.
The World Affairs Council will be hosting a solo exhibit of Karen Ande’s photos at its San Francisco office at 312 Sutter Street. The exhibit opens July 8 and continues through August 27 (there will be an 6-8 p.m. opening night reception).
“Karen and I trekked through the grimy alleyways of the Nairobi slums and the pastoral villages of the East African bush to capture the stories of these youngsters, who were living under staggering conditions. Many had watched their parents die and then had to cope with the consequences of living alone or with little support, often without food, education or a stable, caring adult in their lives,” said Ruthann, the writing half of the team.
“We resolved to bring the issue to light. We also chose to focus on what could be done, highlighting the remarkable people at the grassroots level who are working to transform these children’s lives.”
Photographer Karen, who won the top honor at the Council’s “Global Vision” competition, first traveled to Kenya in 2002, on assignment with a Bay Area nonprofit that was working with kids in Kiberia, Nairobi’s notorious slums. She later teamed with a former Stanford roommate, Ruthann. “As a medical writer, I had covered AIDS for a daily newspaper in the Bay Area in the early days of the epidemic in the 1980s, when this strange disease had no name,” Ruthann writes in her introduction to the book. “But nothing in my experience would prepare me for what I would witness on that first trip to East Africa with Karen in 2004.”
They met children like Esther, a 13-year-old girl nursing a dying mother and taking care of three shoeless and threadbare younger brothers. “She met the challenge with a dignity and grace that I would not have imagined possible in a teenager,” writes Ruthann. They also met 2-year-old Mary, who had been living with her 4-year-old sister under a lean-to of plastic and cardboard. She was skeletal, barely able to sit up and bent from malnutrition before she was taken to the Saidia Children’s Home, a shelter for children in Kenya.
They also met community leaders, advocates, activists, and others who are rescuing children from a present that is robbing their future — through malnutrition, homelessness, poverty, and illiteracy.
The bad news keeps coming: A recent AP article explained that, in eight African countries, doctors are being forced to turn away people with HIV/AIDS (meaning they will fall ill and almost certainly die) as donors cut funding amid the global economic meltdown. What to do?
Follow this duo’s example, and take to the road — but for the next six weeks, you’ll only have to go as far as 312 Sutter Street in San Francisco. Proceeds from the book go to support organizations working with these children – they’ve raised $70K so far. The exhibition is co-sponsored by Kerry Olson, founder of the Firelight Foundation, a public charity dedicated to supporting the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Kevin Waiharo (left) refused to be parted from the plaid green jacket given to him by the man he called “Daddy,” who had rescued him after Kevin’s mother was murdered. Daddy had died of AIDS, but Kevin continued to hope for his return. Finally, the coat finally came off, and Kevin settled into his new home at Saidia.