Open to any page of Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa, and you’ll find haunting photos and text that will either make you weep for, laugh with, or give applause to the children who are profiled here.
The story of one tiny girl, whose image flees across the page, gives a new perspective on the word “hardship,” as we experience it in the West. Author Ruthann Richter writes, “Two-year-old Mary Maishon was near death when she was found with two other children living under a piece of cardboard and plastic. Her limbs were skeletal, bent from lack of nutrition, and she was barely able to sit up. She didn’t speak at all.”
In a later photo, taken after she was restored to health through loving kindness and the generosity of strangers, tiny Mary beams at the camera, full of life and joy. Over a period of many months, photographer Karen Ande has captured the child’s journey from the brink of death to the beginning of a hopeful future.
Mary’s is but one of several heart-wrenching stories included in Ande’s and Richter’s new book. Both strikingly beautiful and compellingly written, Face to Face is a joint enterprise of two longtime friends who share a passion and a dedication to the orphaned and vulnerable children of sub-Saharan Africa.
Though AIDS no longer has a mandatory death sentence in many countries of the developed world, in sub-Saharan Africa, it is a very real and deadly enemy. Nearly an entire generation has disappeared, leaving more than 12 million orphaned children in this part of the world.
Like the subjects of the stories Ande shared in her interview with Blue Planet Green Living last fall, these children face almost insurmountable odds as they strive to care for dying parents, raise orphaned brothers and sisters, or struggle to survive on their own without the support of caring adults.
Between 40 and 60 percent of these children are estimated to be living in the care of a granny, who is to likely to be too poor to support them. In addition, there are some 2.3 million children in the region who are living with HIV.
But Face to Face is not simply a story of heartbreak. It is a story of hope. And it calls us all to action to do whatever we can — no matter how small — to help provide a future for children who struggle each day for survival.
Writing in the foreword, Peter Piot, MD, former Executive Director of UNAIDS, says, “This book brings these issues to the forefront, providing seldom-seen and poignant portraits of the lives of children in sub-Saharan Africa who are growing up in the world of AIDS.” He adds, “These are remarkably resilient youngsters, children with the faces of hope, carrying on in the face of daunting loss and economic deprivation.”
For several years, Ande and Richter have worked tirelessly to bring public awareness to the critical situation of AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children in Africa. They have also been actively gathering donations to support the children whose needs they know so well.
“We have been raising funds for education and nutrition primarily, though the organizations we support provide a variety of services,” says Richter. “For instance, we raised $10,000 to help the Goat Project at Mama Darlene, a project in Tala, Kenya; the goats went to desperately poor families to provide a source of nutrition, as well as income. To date, we have raised about $70,000. In addition, Karen has recruited a number of people who are sponsoring children’s education.”
Speaking of Face to Face, Helene Gayle, MD, MPH, President and CEO of CARE USA, says of the book, “These beautiful faces will remind you of children you love. And their stories show what’s possible when we care enough to stand up for them.”
“We were greatly moved by the children and families we met,” Richter says. “It was impossible for us to turn our backs on them, especially when we knew that a simple thing, such as a $15 school uniform and a $5 pair of shoes, could make a difference between a child’s ability to go to school or not. And so many of these kids we met were desperate for the chance to go to school. That spurred us to action.”
Note: Proceeds from the sale of Ande’s and Richter’s book, Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa, will be used to support orphaned and vulnerable children in Sub-Saharan Africa, a few of whom are profiled in the book. The book is available on the web at www.facetofaceafrica.com. By purchasing directly from the book’s website rather than an online bookstore, significantly more of the proceeds will be available to support the work that Ande and Richter sponsor.
As you plan your holiday shopping, please consider giving Face to Face to someone on your list. Your purchase will be a double blessing, as it brings a gift of love to the recipient and a gift of hope to children who have little else.