Face to face with AIDS’ toll on children

Times Staff Writer

It is a chilling statistic: 12 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have been orphaned by AIDS.

But the figure alone cannot begin to convey the toll of a pandemic that continues to punish vast swaths of the continent. For that, consider the stories of four children featured in an interactive exhibit -- “World Vision Experience: AIDS” -- at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles.

Visitors, walking through a replica of an African village, view the children’s pictures and listen on headsets to their harrowing tales.


There is 14-year-old Babirye of Uganda. The HIV-positive girl watches her father die and her mother grow weak from the disease, all along wondering if she could be next.

And Mathabo, an 11-year-old girl who faces hunger and danger alone in the highlands of Lesotho.

Twelve-year-old Kombo, who is also HIV-positive, lives with his grandmother at a truck stop along the “AIDS Highway” in Kenya. He is frightened not only by the “big trucks” but also by “the big disease.”

And then there is Emmanuel of Uganda who, with his 11-year-old brother, Fred, must bury their mother in a banana grove and fend for themselves in the wild after heavy rains destroy their flimsy hut. He is 6.

Emmanuel, sleeping in the same banana grove where his mother is buried, fears the wild animals all around. Most of all, he dreads the thought of dying from the same disease that claimed both his parents.

“Fred and I have suffered so long,” Emmanuel says through the headsets. “What will happen to me if I’m HIV-positive? . . . Oh God, take care of us.”


The free exhibit was created by World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization that provides assistance to children and families in 100 countries. World Vision officials, quoting United Nations statistics, said 90% of children worldwide who have AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Visitors say they leave the exhibit feeling somber and alarmed by the impact of AIDS on its most vulnerable victims.

“I’m amazed. You actually see how they live,” said Julia Persaud, 78, a Holman member, after she took the tour this week. “There’s so much HIV. Hopefully there will be a cure.”

The exhibit is on display at Holman church, in the West Adams district, through Monday. It will be at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village from Friday to Aug. 26 and at New Life Christian Center in Turlock, Calif., Sept. 18-23.

The exhibit, and a second version, are touring cities and colleges this year. Plans are underway to continue the exhibits in 2009. More information is at www.worldvision

Muslim charities

As the holy month of Ramadan approaches, Muslims are preparing to fast daily and step up their charitable giving, one of the five pillars of their faith.


With giving in mind, a national Muslim legal advocacy group has teamed up with the Better Business Bureau to launch a new evaluation process for American Muslim charities -- a step intended to restore confidence among donors scared off by intense government scrutiny of Muslim aid organizations after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

San Francisco-based Muslim Advocates and the Better Business Bureau’s charity watchdog arm, the Wise Giving Alliance, are coordinating the voluntary effort in which charities and other groups will detail their expenses and enact conflict-of-interest policies, among other things.

The program is intended not only to bring back donors but also to improve relations with the federal government, which has investigated several American Muslim charities in recent years over alleged links to terrorist groups.

“People want to know that organizations are engaging in appropriate work,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates.

The new evaluations, Khera said, will provide “an avenue for American Muslim charities and nonprofit institutions to familiarize themselves with . . . the highest standards of governance and accountability.”

Khera said seven charities have already volunteered to undergo the evaluations, including the UMMA Community Clinic, which provides free medical care to uninsured patients in Los Angeles, and the Islamic Networks Group, a San Jose organization that educates the public about Islam.


Vietnamese prelate

The archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi will make his first pastoral visit to Orange County next week, part of a new effort to strengthen ties between the archdiocese and the Diocese of Orange.

Archbishop Joseph Kiet Q. Ngo will meet with diocesan officials, celebrate Mass with the Vietnamese Catholic community in Little Saigon and visit many parishes and schools in the diocese.

Ngo will arrive Tuesday and will celebrate the first Mass of his California trip Wednesday at the Holy Family Cathedral, 566 S. Glassell St. in Orange, at 8:15 a.m.

One of the trip’s highlights will be Aug. 31, when Ngo will say Mass at the Vietnamese Catholic Center, 1538 Century Blvd., in Santa Ana. The Mass begins at 2 p.m. His schedule can be found at under “important events.”

In a visit to Orange County last year Ngo proposed that the diocese and archdiocese develop a relationship analogous to sister cities. As part of that, the diocese has agreed to sponsor four seminarians who will come to the U.S. for study, said Ryan Lilyengren, spokesman for the diocese.

Details are still being worked out, but when the four men arrive, they will initially live with families in the diocese. The men will later attend a seminary, with the goal of returning to Vietnam to work as priests. The whole process could take about seven years.


“It’s not only important for our diocese, it’s important for the Archdiocese of Hanoi,” Lilyengren said. “We’re a very blessed diocese, and we’re trying to give back to the global church.”



Times staff writer Steve Padilla contributed to this report.