The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 08/04/2005 9:05 AM | LifeAnton Muhajir, Contributor/Singaraja
Eleven-year-old Gede Edi Suantara was once a happy and healthy boy. His life turned dark and miserable when his beloved mother Kadek Widiasih died a year ago following his father who also died two years ago.
Raised by his uncle, Komang Sunetra, the orphaned boy is a depressed teenager. “”He was once a very smart boy who often got the top grade in his class. But since his mother died of HIV/AIDS, he drastically changed,”” the uncle said.
Living in the remote village of Goris in Kerokgak district, Buleleng, North Bali, around 200 kilometers north of Denpasar, Sunetra said that nobody here had heard about HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) which causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) until a number of villagers contracted HIV.
According to Sunetra, his sister-in-law Kadek Widiasih was just a modest and ordinary housewife who had never engaged in any high-risk behavior, such as sexual relations with more than one man. She had never injected drugs that would require her to use shared needles. “”She acquired the disease from her late husband, painter Wayan Sulatra,”” Sunetra said.
Sunetra’s late brother was known as the “”Don Juan”” of the village who flirted with many women in the village and other places. Sunetra’s other brother Made Yasa also died of AIDS. “”I have two brothers and a sister-in-law who died due to the disease and I have to take care of their son,”” Sunetra said.
Goris village is in the middle of a busy transportation route linking Gilimanuk harbor, the gateway to Bali from Java island, with Singaraja, the capital city of Buleleng regency.
Despite its strategic location, the village is poor, hot and dusty. A number of cafes and food stalls standing along the route aid the village’s economy, but not without any social side effects. Some poor but attractive girls are currently working in those cafes offering not only food and beverages but also sexual services to passersby, especially truck drivers and local men.
According to a study conducted by Citra Usadha foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of HIV/AIDS in Bali, the number of people with HIV/AIDS in the village is 11. In Buleleng regency alone, there are about 75 people living with HIV/AIDS.
“”Many of the people with HIV/AIDS contracted the virus because of sexual activity,”” said one volunteer. Edi Suantara is just one of the orphaned children whose parents died due to AIDS-related illnesses. There are many more young children who have lost their parents to AIDS. Gede Sunanjaya, six, and his sister Kadek Susanti, four, live with their old grandmother. Their parents also died of AIDS a few years ago.
Suryakanta foundation is currently providing support and counseling for as many 14 children whose parents or one of their parents have died due to AIDS in Goris, Pemuteran and neighboring villages. Their ages range from between one and 14 years and they are both mentally and physically devastated,”” explained Kadek Carma Wiratha, a volunteer at the foundation.
Wiratha went on to say that the children are mostly living with economically disadvantaged family members including grandmothers, uncles or aunts who also have their own children. “”Their economic status is very low making them unable to provide nutritious food, adequate education and a healthy living environment for these orphans,”” Wiratha added.
Komang Sunetra, for example, has to work hard to take care of Edi Suantara, his nephew, as well as his own daughter Luh Sri Parwati. “”It has been a big burden economically because I am just a salt farmer,”” explained Sunetra.
The absence of real parental affection during their early years and a healthy living environment will likely have a significant physical and emotional impact on these children.
“”Continuous support for these children is urgently needed to help them heal during such a difficult development period,”” said Wiratha. Wiratha and two other volunteers have established a village HIV/AIDS information center in Goris village to provide information, counseling, social and economic support for the villagers, especially children who have been orphaned due to AIDS.
The foundation helps pay the children’s school fees and provides meals, vitamins and a monthly medical checkup at the local community health center.
“”We realize that the assistance we provide is far from adequate but we have been trying hard to support these children during their vulnerable years,”” he said.