This session is designed to give you and your team a brief history and basic understanding of the orphan crisis in Africa. You will learn about HIV/AIDS and its impact on the people of Africa, especially the children.

Suggested time frame: 2.5 hours (based on 8-12 member team)


The first recognised case of HIV occurred in 1981. Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the region worst affected by HIV/AIDS.

Perhaps the biggest danger in HIV/AIDS is that it’s a silent killer. It doesn’t immediately result in symptoms. In fact, people can live for 10 to 15 years without showing any signs of illness, although in others they can deteriorate rapidly (within 5-7 years).

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that infects people and weakens the immune system.

Over a period of years, HIV weakens the body’s immune system to the point where it can no longer fight off serious infections, often deadly infections and cancers. There are 5 phases of progression associated with HIV, with the fifth stage being AIDS.

HIV is a fragile virus that cannot survive outside of the body. The virus must get into the bloodstream in order to infect you.

Scientists still don't know what percentage of people infected with HIV will develop the disease we know as AIDS. But it is clear that with proper medical treatment, people can protect themselves from deadly AIDS-related infections. Many people infected with HIV live with the virus for many years.

What is AIDS?

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a fatal condition for which there is no cure. It is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

The infections associated with AIDS are called opportunistic infections because they take advantage of the body's weakened defence. People do not “die of AIDS”; rather it is the opportunistic infections that cause death. AIDS is the condition that gives the opportunistic infections the window of opportunity to take hold.

Symptoms of AIDS include continuous diarrohea and vomiting, oral thrush, inflamed lymph nodes, skin infections, pneumonia or TB, weight loss, memory loss, confusion, skin cancer and other STDs.

Remember that HIV/AIDS is preventable and a few precautions can keep you protected.


Infection occurs through semen, vaginal fluids, blood, breast milk and/or anal secretions. The HIV virus lives only seconds outside the human body, so transmission must be through the direct transfer of the above mentioned body fluids.

It is important that we are informed about HIV/AIDS so that we can understand how we can contract HIV, but also to understand the ways in which we cannot contract HIV. For example, we can see that you are not going to get HIV by simple things like picking up a child with the virus, hugging them or sharing food with them. You will, more likely than not, come into contact with people who are infected, but you can see you will not catch the virus through general interaction.

Five fluids that carry the HIV: vaginal fluid, anal fluid,  semen, blood, breast milk

The body's line of defence: skin, mucus membranes, white blood cells, CD4+ cells

If any of the above “line of defences” are broken the immune system is compromised, making a person susceptible to the virus.

The Orphan Crisis

Hands at Work in Africa has needed to be responsive as the face and impact of the HIV/AIDS disease has changed.

First Wave: HIV and subsequently AIDS “invisibly” spread throughout the continent of Africa.

Second Wave: People dying en masse with churches used as a vehicle to provide compassionate, voluntary Care Workers for Home Based Care Organisations. Care Workers offer basic cleaning and care for patients, often sitting at people’s bedsides so they did not die alone.

Third Wave: Huge numbers of orphans with fragile community support systems. As Care Workers were busy caring for dying patients, millions and millions of children were being left behind. Care Workers were left with no plan or resources to respond.

Responding to the Third Wave

One of the biggest consequences of HIV/AIDS is that it became the biggest orphan maker of all time.  Now that many of the adults infected with HIV/AIDS are on treatment or have passed away, the focus is on holistic care of the children. The care of orphaned children is done primarily through Home Visits to identify the most vulnerable children and build a parental styled relationship with them. International volunteers have the opportunity to model care to the Care Workers as they spend time with these children: sitting on the ground with the kids, engaging them in games, songs and activities. Listening well to the child makes them feel accepted and understood.

The Care Workers assess which children are most in need and then help ensure that the orphaned children have:

  • A Parental Home Visit where they can hear from the child, encourage them and see their needs.
  • Food: at least one basic meal for a minimum of 5 days a week
  • Health Care: Access to basic health care e.g. de-worming, clinics, personal hygiene education, etc.
  • Education: Care Workers advocate for these children in the schools when they have no money for school fees. They can sometimes help with the fees, school uniforms, supplies and even homework.

The Hands at Work in Africa Care Model

We as Hands at Work support the local volunteers (Care Workers) in each community to care for these children, to build relationship that is based in Christ and love. We strive to reach these children before the wrong people do. The Care Workers are like parents to these children. They are there to support, love, counsel and hold the children accountable. Visiting children in their home is how we build this relationship. Care Workers with the support of Hands at Work together try to meet basic needs for health, education, food, and emotional well-being. This is the holistic approach that really affects change in children’s lives.

Hands at Work appreciates that Care Workers themselves are wounded. Through our specialised training they are able to deal with their own wounds. In turn they are enabled to care for the children.

As visitors, confidentiality is an IMPORTANT point for us to understand and respect while in the community. Please DO NOT ask Care Workers or children to reveal their HIV/AIDS status. If someone does reveal their status to you, then you must consider their confidentiality. 

For You as Team Members
For those working and volunteering in Africa, an awareness and sensitivity to unfamiliar African beliefs and culture is very important. As visitors it is important to listen. Often people just need an outlet to share. Be careful when giving advice, as the wrong advice can have damaging consequences. If there is an issue that you really wish to address and you are not sure how, please feel free after the Home Visit, to discuss it with senior staff from Hands at Work. 

It is important to stop and think about “YOUR ATTITUDE towards HIV/AIDS”

If you would like further reading, check out the book, “The Truth About AIDS” by Dr. Patrick Dixon.


2) Learn More

Using the Community Profile, or Community Narrative Report provided from your International Office, learn more about the communities you will visit while in Africa.

3) Closing

Close your session in prayer encouraging team members to participate.