Klaber: Providing Access to Education for Children Orphaned or Made Vulnerable by HIV/AIDS


by Andrew Klaber (IL ’03)

remains one of our generation’s most vicious killers and pressing public health
concerns. The epidemic tragically undermines individuals’ familial and economic
security.  In particular, the offspring
of parents who are ill or have died of HIV/AIDS—AIDS orphans and vulnerable children
(OVCs)—suffer directly and collaterally as a result of the disease.  According to the UNAIDS/World Health
Organization 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, by the end of 2007,
HIV/AIDS had left behind 15 million AIDS orphans,
defined as those youngsters under 18 years of age who have lost one or both
parents to AIDS.  Indeed, nearly 12
million children under 18 years of age have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS in
sub-Saharan Africa alone—a number that is larger than, for example, the entire
population of Greece—and this figure is expected to rise to 14 million by 2015.

While there are currently no
silver-bullet solutions to ending these youths’ distress, education can improve
the lives of these children and combat the epidemic’s vicious cycle. Education
helps children develop the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly
competitive economy and thoughtful schooling has shown to improve youngsters’
self-esteem; additionally, many schools throughout the developing world have
incorporated HIV/AIDS education as an essential component of their curriculum.  As Donald Bundy of the World Bank observed, “Education
is the best vaccine that we have available at this time.”

I founded Orphans Against AIDS
(OAA) in the summer of 2002 as a result of the personal experience that I had
interacting with OVCs in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 
Orphans Against AIDS (www.orphansagainstaids.org)
believes that providing educational funding to these youths is one of the most
sustainable and effective ways to combat HIV/AIDS.  OAA partners with local organizations in the
developing world and provides OVCs with essential funding that covers these
youngsters’ academic, healthcare, and nutritional expenses.  Additionally, OAA works with its local
organizations to develop their capacities for more effective and expansive
operations, including advice on issues of governance and strategy and help with
the implementation of new technologies such as improved websites and
computer-based cost accounting.  By collaborating
with its local partners, OAA helps them attract grants and donations from
larger aid organizations, resulting in greater scale, impact, and a more
diverse funding base.

With OAA’s support, each local
partner organization selects the most vulnerable students to receive funding,
oversees the program on the ground, and works with schools, physicians,
community leaders, and families to monitor students’ progress. The local
partner organizations communicate regularly with OAA and provide its officers
and directors with a current assessment of the participating children’s
psychosocial, physical, and educational wellbeing; an itemized budget of
expenditures; and an analysis of available and needed finances.  Last, OAA strives to be an incubator for
young social entrepreneurs, affording its all-volunteer corps a first-hand
development experience at an early age with the hope that these leaders will
use their knowledge to empower underserved communities throughout their private,
public, or nonprofit careers.  Ganesh
Sitaraman (MA, 2003) and I (IL, 2003) serve on OAA’s board of directors, where
we focus our decision-making on issues of strategy, governance, and

OAA closely tracks its own progress and impact to ensure that
funds are being used as effectively as possible. Of the 600 children whom OAA has continued to sponsor over
the last eight years, 98% are still in school; once OAA makes a commitment to a
child, as long as her or his academic progress is sufficient, we strive to
support the duration of her or his primary and secondary education.  Since 2002, OAA has raised over $750,000 from
institutions like the Goldman Sachs Foundation, the Pfizer Foundation, the
Medtronic Foundation, Google, Rotary International, the Magdalen College Trust
and New College Trust of the University of Oxford, as well as thousands of
grassroots donors such as elementary schools, Parent-Teacher Associations
(PTAs), and individuals.

While OAA trusts its local partners to develop informed selection
criteria and operational procedures that best suit their specific communities,
OAA does request that they follow certain guidelines.  For example, OAA requires that its local
partners not select children who are simultaneously receiving sufficient
support from the government or other NGOs when there are OVCs who are not
receiving such assistance, and OAA requires that its local partners not
discriminate against female children in deciding who should receive
funding.  Following the best-practice of
other NGOs that work with OVCs, we ask our partners to assess the needs of all
vulnerable children—not only those orphaned by AIDS—in determining those youths
who should receive OAA support.  We
require our local partner organizations to maintain thorough records, such as
academic report cards, and provide us with receipts for expenses. 

 Since OAA’s founding in
2002, the majority of our efforts have been aimed at establishing new projects
and developing our fundraising base, which now includes an income generating
venture—Thanda Zulu (www.thandazulu.org)–that
employs 100 South African women who have been affected by HIV/AIDS.  All profits from the jewelry and hand crafts
go to the academic, health care, and nutritional needs of the OVCs whom OAA
supports.  In this vein, OAA represents
the synergies that are possible when the non-profit and private sectors harness
their respective expertise and combine forces for the benefit of society.

On a more personal note, as a 2003 Truman Scholar, the Truman
community gave me and continues to give me the confidence to carry on this work
despite the requirements of my full-time job or simultaneously balancing course
work between two graduate schools. 
Whenever I read an inspiring post on the Truman Scholar Association
(TSA) list-serve, attend a TSA event, or meet potential future Scholars at the
dinner before their finalist interview, I am reminded of the calling to
serve—at home and abroad—that we all have the privilege to heed.  The Scholarship is all about the
community—collaborating and learning from each other and taking pride in the
initiatives, courage, and successes of our peers.  Thank you for continuing to inspire.    

Andrew Klaber (IL ’03) is the Founder and President of Orphans
Against AIDS

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