A new film by five teenagers from a Cape Town slum which shows how their lives have been affected by the loss of a parent to AIDS will be screened next week at the XXIXth International Conference on AIDS, as part of a project to reduce the stigma of the disease, conceived by Wolfson Fellow Dr Lucie Cluver.
The fifteen-minute film, called Young Carers: Through Our Eyes, shows footage shot by some of the 6,000 children in South Africa who participated in the Young Carers Research Project, which Dr Cluver is working on with the South African National Departments of Social Development, Health and Education to determine health and educational impacts of caring for an AIDS-sick parent.
When the children were asked what they would like in return for participating in the study, many respondents expressed a desire to show what life was like through their own eyes, which inspired the idea of making a film using footage shot by the AIDS orphans themselves, in order to overcome some of the stigma attached to the subject.
Describing her reaction to the film to the Guardian today, Dr Cluver said: “I'd thought it was going to be a typical teen movie: soccer, school, a bit of romance. But when the footage came, we watched it with tears running down our faces. These children wanted the world to know what it was like to live with a parent with HIV/Aids, and the film they have made shows their reality.”
Dr Cluver has spent the last decade studying the children of AIDS victims in Africa. While working as a social worker in Cape Town in 2002, she discovered that there were practically no existing surveys on the mental health of African AIDS orphans, and set about conducting the surveys herself.
Her research has shown that the stigma attached to AIDS makes AIDS orphans more likely to suffer bullying, which in turn increases the likihood of them entering the type of abusive relationships which contribute to the spread of the virus. “Children orphaned by HIV/Aids or with Aids-ill parents are twice as likely to suffer depression, anxiety and feel suicidal than other children, according to our research”, said Dr Culver. “The stress of poverty and HIV leads to three times more child abuse.”
Young Carers: Through Our Eyes will be screened at the XXIXth International Conference on AIDS in Washington DC by UNICEF's Regional Interagency Task Team for Orphans and Vulnerable Children and by Save the Children.
The teenagers featured in the film hope to receive 5,000 messages of support to challenge the stigma experienced by children affected by AIDS. To watch the film and send a message of support, visit the Young Carers website or the Young Carers Facebook page.