African Eye News Service, 28 October 2002, Life's a Lucky Dip for Aids Orphans, 

By Jabu Mhlabane

There was no snow and only a few presents for more than 1 000 orphans queuing in the hot Mpumalanga sun this week but for most it was like Christmas.

Many have lost their parents to HIV/Aids. A few shed tears of joy as they received small gift-packs containing a lucky-packet and stationery.

"It makes me feel like rushing to my mother's grave because it reminds me of when she used to give us presents," said Vusi Dlamini, 18, of Schoemansdal near Malelane.

Dlamini says he doesn't know the cause of either of his parents' deaths. He says his father died in his sleep in 1989 and his mother's death certificate just says that she died of natural causes.

Dlamini said his mother would motivate him and his three younger brothers to do better at school by offering a prize to the child who got the best marks.

"Exams were like a competition for us," says Dlamini.

He explains that his mom always emphasised education as a way out of poverty.

"My mom used to say we were suffering at home because she never went to school. She always encouraged us to study hard because she didn't want us to be farm workers like her."

Her encouragement gave Dlamini license to dream of becoming a doctor but when his mother's health declined so did his marks.

"My mother became ill in 1999 and things became difficult at home because she had to leave her job," he says.

"I decided not even hunger could stop me from going to school so I got work as a gardener after school to support the family."

By 2000 Dlamini's mom was critically ill and he had to put all his efforts into caring for her and his brothers.

"One day towards the end of the year I came home and my mother was dead. I cried and asked God why? But I didn't get an answer," he said. "None of us got excellent results that year but we all managed to pass."

Dlamini has sacrificed his dream to study medicine to make sure that his mother's wish for all her children to matriculate is fulfilled.

"I dedicated myself to finding a job so I can help my younger brothers improve their lives and achieve their goals," he says. "By doing this I know my mom will rest happily in her grave even if I didn't fulfill my promise."

"Sometimes there wasn't food in the house for up to three days at a time because we usually only ate when one of us worked in someone's garden," Dlamini says.

"My 13-year-old brother dropped out of school because of the hardship but I sat him down and reminded him of our mother's wish and he went back."

Things have become slightly easier for Dlamini since staff at the Thembalethu home based care centre came to the rescue.

"They employed me and with the R500 I earn I can buy food for the family and have even bought a pair of shoes for myself."

"My biggest worry now is that our clothes are old and by next year we are going to need new ones.

"I wish I could invite [Mpumalanga's] premier Ndaweni Mahlangu to our home so he can see the difficulties we face each and everyday of our lives," he adds.

Nearly 1 000 orphans, many of whom lost their parents to HIV/Aids, received gifts from electricity supply company Eskom at the Thembalethu home based care centre last Tuesday.

Eskom also donated uniforms to the centre's staff, medicine and promised to build a structure and donate some equipment for them to start a soap factory.

Eskom chief executive officer Mabel Makibela said: "We gave gifts because we want these children to realise that they belong in society and that there is still a chance for them to have a bright future". - African Eye News Service