It’s 7am, sunny and bright, and 32 children are already lined up in their uniforms, ready to greet Sister Sidónia and Mana Atija and take their medication. This is how every day starts at our HIV Day Centre in Manjangue, in the province of Gaza.
The Centre runs alongside Santa Luísa de Marillac School, ensuring HIV-infected children have access to medical treatment, education, and a balanced diet so they, too, live healthier lives and have a chance to prosper and succeed. This region, Gaza, is heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, with many children being orphans or depending on infected relatives.
From 7am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, a small but hardworking team of five makes sure these children, aged 3 to 15, follow their daily routines, attend school and don’t miss doctor appointments, learn technical skills such as cooking or farming, enjoy themselves in a safe environment, work as a team, and – above all – feel loved. They also regularly visit the families to talk to the parents, assess their needs, and provide advice on how to best care for their children.
Visiting the Centre is always a special moment for us. ‘Mana Patrícia, Mana Cris!’, they’ll shout as soon as they see us. There’s always laughter and you can feel the energy in the air. Only nap time is quiet!
If they’re having breakfast, they’ll ask if we want to take a seat and offer us a piece of bread. If they’re singing outside, they’ll grab us and invite us to sing along. If they’re studying, they’ll proudly show us their notebooks.
Despite being a relatively recent project, the HIV Day Centre is already well known in the community for the brilliant work they do to support this group of seriously ill children, so much so that other parents will very often approach the Sisters who are in charge of the Centre, asking if their sons and daughters can join too. Having seen and felt the difference this programme is making in these kids’ lives, our only hope is that the Centre continues to expand and reach even further!