Firewoin is one of more than 15 million African children orphaned by AIDS. But thanks to the nutritional, emotional and spiritual support of Compassion's AIDS Initiative, this teenager is not alone.
A quick look at Firewoin's home life reveals the usual antics of an adolescent. The Ethiopian teenager goes to school, plays with friends, and does her chores at home. But a closer look at Firewoin's life shows her existence isn't that of the typical 15-year-old.
No One At Home
When Firewoin wants dinner, there's no mother to cook for her. When she needs help with her homework, there's no father to guide her. Not long ago, when she needed a place to sleep, there was no one to secure it for her. That's because Firewoin is one of the estimated 34 million orphans in Africa - many of whom are orphaned by AIDS.
"I hardly remember my mother, who left me never to return," Firewoin says quietly. Neighbors say her mother died of AIDS. "For a long time I expected her to come home. My playmates in my neighborhood told me that my mother had actually died and that she would not return."
AIDS' Social Price Tag
AIDS orphans face many dangers. They must contend with the mental stress of being alone. They often become caregivers for siblings or relatives. They lose the opportunity to go to school and are at a higher risk for societal ills, including sexual exploitation, child labor, hunger and exposure to HIV and other diseases. Most importantly, they face a life without nurturing and love.
For Firewoin and thousands of other children orphaned by AIDS, the only answer has been Compassion. In Ethiopia alone, Compassion's AIDS Initiative helps more than 800 AIDS orphans, about 100 of whom are HIV-positive. Support includes health screenings, counseling and help with securing food and even housing when needed.
A New Family
Alone, with no relatives to support her, Firewoin bounced around her community living with neighbors, but a threat of sexual abuse made that temporary situation too dangerous. It wasn't long before project workers at the Gotera Full Gospel Student Center (ET-406) created a plan for Firewoin's future. Firewoin, being alone and without relatives, had unique needs that project workers worked to fulfill.
To meet her nutritional needs,the project provides meals for her. The meals are from a menu approved by project workers to ensure high nutritional value.
"When I get sick I just call Meseret Gadissa (project health worker) to take me to the doctor," Firewoin says matter-of-factly. "She arranges everything for me."
Meseret and other project workers visit Firewoin regularly at home and at school - they also consult with her teachers to make sure she's doing well in her studies and check her academic progress reports.
And though Firewoin lives rent-free in a government house, her water and electricity bills are paid for through Compassion's AIDS Initiative.
But perhaps the greatest need Compassion sponsorship meets for Firewoin is the comfort she gets from knowing she's not alone.
"My sponsor wrote me after he heard that I lost my grandmother," she says. "He encouraged me and said he would pray for me. I am so grateful to him for his support."
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