Over 20 years ago, Ja Ja day was set up as a monthly outreach by the Mildmay hospital in response to the large number of ‘AIDS orphans’ being brought up by their grandparents (Ja Ja in the local language) because their parents had died from HIV.

Ja Ja day is now run entirely by local volunteers, continuing to provide support for families affected by HIV – Grandparents, children living with HIV and children whose parents have HIV. There is still considerable stigma associated .with HIV and AIDS, and one of the main benefits of this day is to bring families together to share their experiences. It is consistently attended by 80 – 100 people, including 50 – 60 children, with funding provided by donors in the UK.

JaJa Day is held on one Saturday each month in grassy area of the hospital grounds with plenty of trees to provide shade. Everyone arrives for breakfast, and Sister Laheri, who leads the team of volunteers, says that for some of the children this will be the only time in the month when they eat an egg. There is a time of worship and Bible teaching, together with some health education, followed by activities. There is always a football game going on, but on the day I was there everyone was enjoying circle games (rather like Postman’s Knock), parachute games, and something similar to British Bulldogs. There was plenty of singing and dancing, and a substantial lunch prepared by a team of volunteer cooks (again possibly the only meat some children will have in a month). The craft activity was making friendship bracelets out of donated wool, and this was met with great enthusiasm and ingenuity. Soon all the children, including the cool footballers, and most of the adults were festooned with bright bands of colour. Many of the children are under the care of the outpatient department, and a nurse will usually come over (surreptitiously and in plain clothes!) to check up on teenagers who are not attending follow up.

There is a very happy and positive atmosphere, and clearly those who attend get a lot out of this supportive network. I spoke to one young woman in her mid 20s who had been one of the original ‘AIDS orphans’ when JaJa day started. She had herself been infected by HIV (transmitted from her mother at birth), but thanks to the treatment now available she remains well. She completed school, trained as a hair-dresser, and now has her own successful business, as well as two small children of her own, who have not been infected due to effective antenatal screening.

While this happy outcome can’t be directly attributed to the project there is no doubt that local families affected by HIV enormously appreciate the support they receive.

The football players enjoying breakfast
Everyone joins in with the games
Volunteer cooks preparing lunch for 60