KELLYS KAUNDA, Berlin
IN DECEMBER 1999, then US Representative to the United Nations (UN) Richard Holbrooke visited Zambia as part of his 12-nation tour of Africa. In the company of Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin with the late Mwansabombwe MP Rodgers Mwewa and several other US officials, Holbrooke took a walk from some place I do not remember to the Fountain of Hope in Kamwala.
Here, Mwewa was keeping around 600 street kids.
I covered this walk and this visit for the Voice of America. I had come to know about Fountain of Hope through the late Sydney, who was popularly known in theatre circles as “Sido”. I remember Sido even telling me about the board Rodgers Mwewa was trying to put together to help run Fountain of Hope. He even extended an invitation to me to join the board. I can’t remember what my response was, but I never sat on the board.
This was when HIV AIDS was raging across the African continent decimating lives and families throwing large populations of children onto the streets to face an uncertain future.
Zambia had its fair share of the problem with government clearly not coping well in terms of support for the victims of the deadly pandemic.
The crisis called for men and women with the heart to lend a hand to the fledgling efforts of government by playing a part in providing any form of assistance to those in need.
Mwewa was moved by the swelling numbers of HIV/AIDS-orphaned children and stepped onto the scene scooping up large numbers of children off the streets of Lusaka and placed them under a shelter he rightly called “Fountain of Hope”.
For Richard Holbrooke who served under George W. Bush, the swelling numbers of orphaned children was a matter of national and global security.
For Holbrooke, watching children make their way into adulthood without the tutelage of adults and outside a home environment posed a huge security threat not only to Africa but the world as a whole.
Subsequently, he introduced a series of resolutions at the UN where the security implications of the growing number of orphaned and uneducated children were tabled and debated.
In 2003, then US President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address, demonstrated the importance his administration attached to the problem of HIV/AIDS by introducing an Emergency Plan for Aids Relief now popularly known as the Presidential Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, PEPFAR. Announcing the initiative, President Bush said, “As our nation moves troops and builds alliances to make our world safer, we must also remember our calling is to make the world better”.
This global US response to HIV/AIDS works in 50 countries and supports over 14 million people with antiretroviral therapy. 2.4 million babies have so far been born HIV free from HIV-infected mothers because of PEPFAR. Close to 7 million orphans and vulnerable children and their caregivers have received support under PEPFAR.
Since its inception, PEPFAR has pumped over 80 billion dollars into the global fight against HIV AIDS, the largest donation ever made by a single state. Of this figure, Zambia alone is estimated to have received about 4 billion dollars. This year alone, Zambia is expected to receive over 400 million dollars for its various HIV/AIDS programmes.
After his visit at Fountain of Hope, Holbrooke said he had visited a similar programme in Malawi, but it was after what he saw at Fountain of Hope that he had a better idea of the scale of the problem of orphaned children and their link to the problem of HIV/AIDS.
That triggered the series of actions he took and no doubt the decision of the Bush administration to launch PEPFAR. When the history of the global fight against HIV/AIDS is written, personally, it would not be complete if Rodgers Mwewa’s initiative – the Fountain of Hope is not mentioned.
To his credit, Mwewa, was gifted to us by God at a critical moment in human history so that through his seemingly ordinary act of generosity heaven may move mountains to save mankind from one of the most deadly diseases ever faced by humanity.
In conclusion, here are some thoughts Pope Francis is reported to have once used in his sacrament, “Rivers do not drink their own water; fruits do not eat their fruit; the sun does not shine on itself and flowers do not spread fragrance for themselves. Living for others is the rule of nature.
We are all born to help each other. No matter how difficult it is …. Life is good when you are happy; but much better when others are happy because of you”.
KELLYS KAUNDA, Berlin