Saving Guyana's vulnerable children

Published: 2 October 2002 0:00 CET

"This child is two years old. His mother is HIV-positive but fortunatelly, he has tested negative for the virus," says Matron Joyce Clarke, manager of the Guyana Red Cross children's convalescent home in the Guyanese capital, Georgetown.

Daren, the little boy she is holding, is one of 27 children who are in the Red Cross care home that Didier Cherpitel, secretary general of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has visited during his stay in the Caribbean country.

"There is no doubt that the role of the Red Cross in meeting the needs of these children is an important one," Cherpitel said. "We need to ensure for the future that the authorities also play a full role in meeting the care needs of vulnerable children."

The Red Cross home opened 50 years ago as a clinic for children from the country's remote interior, brought to the capital for medical treatment, but its mandate has changed. Today, it also looks after orphans and the increasing number of children living with HIV/AIDS.

Twenty-three of the Guyana Red Cross' staff of 33 are employed at the centre, providing 24 hour care for the children. They include doctors, nurses, trained care givers and volunteers, who not only look after the children living in the home, but also provide a day-care centre for youngsters from the local community.

Over the years, organizations as varied as the local Rotary Club, the European Union, the Canadian aid agency CIDA, and the Guyanese government have supported the home and helped to expand its facilities. With a monthly budget of US$ 2,500, the Guyana Red Cross is constantly seeking further funding for this vital service.

"These kids really need our support," says Cheryl Morgan, finance officer of the Guyana Red Cross. "The home is one of the key services we provide to the community. Without outside support, most of these children would be left to deal with life on the street."

During his visit, Cherpitel also met the President of the Republic of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, who unveiled a commemorative plaque and cut a ribbon, officially opening the new Guyana Red Cross headquarters. The old one was destroyed in a fire in 1996.

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