Fighting AIDS in Africa, One Child at a TimeAugust 2, 2019 (Mombasa, Kenya) - “The electricity suddenly went off in the hospital. We were left in the dark and had to do a cesarean birth by flashlight. This only added to the tension. The mother, who was HIV positive, was more worried that her baby would test positive. Once her baby was born, we immediately tested him. When I found out the results, I leaned over and whispered, 'he is negative' as I placed the baby on her chest. She gripped my hand, and with tears in her eyes said, 'thank you, oh, thank you' over and over again. The medicine we had provided, plus the cesarean birth, had given her baby a chance of living without the virus. That moment showed me again how important our work is in Africa. One child that day was born free of HIV because of what we do.”

This is one of many stories from Belhaven alum Tanya Weaver '91, who is fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. She is the executive director of American Foundation for Children with AIDS (AFCA), a non-profit organization providing critical comprehensive services to infected and affected HIV positive children and their caregivers.

Weaver is the only full-time staffer, and this means that her responsibilities encompass everything from program management, logistics, and fundraising to graphic design, marketing, and administration. She has worked for AFCA for over 14 years and was asked to join the charity while she was seven months pregnant with her first child. Weaver said, “It seemed to me that if I would do anything for my own child, why wouldn't I dedicate myself to help children who had no voice and who were dying at incredibly high rates.”

Africa has a small population compared to the rest of the world, yet it has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world. Recent statistics estimated that 50% children with HIV/AIDS were dying by the age of two and 75% by the age of five.

“Our friends in Mombasa, Kenya had no medicine to give children when we first met them in 2004,” said Weaver. “At the time, they were losing 97% of the children that came to them for care, not because of lack of training, but because of lack of medicine. They washed them, they comforted them, they held them, and they watched them die.”

That is when AFCA decided they needed to do something about this horrible issue facing many in Africa. A board of directors was formed and they become a charity March 2004. They joined the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders in their fight for the youngest victims of HIV/AIDS.

They immediately got involved sourcing medicine and delivering it free of charge to accredited clinics and hospitals in Uganda and Kenya. There programs then grew to include other parts of Africa that were suffering from the virus, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.

AFCA's work is having a tremendous effect. “Now, our friends in Mombasa say that the trend has completely reversed - 97% of the children who come to them for treatment are doing well!” Weaver adds, “Since 2005, in collaboration with our in-country partners, we have served tens of thousands of families in some of the most underserved and marginalized communities in Africa.”

What started as an initial response to HIV/AIDS led to other active programs to address the many other issues that were affecting the children. AFCA noticed famines would hit an area where they were working and children would go hungry, not able to take their medicine.

They quickly responded. In times of famine and drought, AFCA provides nutritional support (fortified porridge) for the neediest of children. That program evolved into the provision of agriculture training, the setting up of greenhouses, livestock and garden projects, and seed and livestock distributions. Weaver wants the people to be able to take care of themselves and adds, “Our programs are efficient, promoting self-reliance and sustainability. Our areas of impact not only include medical support and emergency relief, but promote long term livelihoods with the educational support they need to thrive.”

The many stories Weaver has experienced in her 14 years with AFCA have amazed and changed her. “Working with AFCA allows me to follow Belhaven's motto, 'To Serve and Not to Be Served' by looking for ways to help others, to brainstorm ideas, to lift people out of poverty, and to build sustainable programs that see the worth in a human and their abilities.”

Volunteers play a major role in helping AFCA. “I would love to extend an invitation to anyone and everyone. Join one of our volunteer teams and see for yourself how your talents, abilities, and willingness to serve can change lives. Whether you are a musician, an artist, a mathematician, a teacher, or a carpenter - we need you. You will return home so blessed, and I can pretty much guarantee that you will return to Africa again and again because you, too, will fall in love with this magnificent, mysterious continent.”