Mbali is eleven, but she takes her responsibilities very seriously. Whether looking after her seven-year-old brother, caring for her desperately ill father, or preparing to go to school, she rarely smiles. Since her mother died of AIDS four months ago, she has been in charge but the strain is showing on her young face.
Mbali’s greatest fear is what will become of them if her father does indeed die.The extended family has already taken in all the AIDS orphans it can cope with, and at 11, there is a feeling that she should be able to cope.But at night she lies awake, terrified that ‘bad men’ will try to come into their hut. She is well aware of the superstition that having sex with a virgin girl cures AIDS.That superstition has taken a terrible toll in terms of rape and child abuse.
Several million children have already been orphaned by South Africa’s AIDS epidemic. In most cases, extended families intervene and take responsibility for raising the orphans. But in areas like Kwa-Zulu Natal, there just aren’t enough living adult relatives left to cope. Two of Mbali’s aunts have already died from AIDS, a third visits them every now and again. But the only consistent adult presence in their lives is Sister Hedwick.
Sister Hedwig visits Mbali and Sne whenever she can – her smiling eyes set behind large round spectacles on a jet black face, which in turn is framed by the pure white nun’s habit.She does all she can, although in actual fact this is very little – even replacing Sne’s ragged t-shirt stretches her resources. The little money her order gets from abroad goes on “Pap”, a vitamin enriched mealie meal that she gives Mbali to feed to her father, in the hope that it will give him a little strength to fight the AIDS virus that saps him even of the strength to get out of bed.
As an AIDS counselor, Sister Hedwig visit villages all around the Nkandla area offering free AIDS tests. Up to half of those they test are HIV positive. Women, particularly young mothers, often want to be tested so that they can make plans for their children. If they test positive, Sister Hedwig will do all she can for them: bitter experience has taught her that if a mother dies, the children might as well have lost both parents because all too often, fathers just disappear. If she is to avoid another Mbali lying awake at night, she must keep the mothers alive. As well as exploring the individual plight of South Africa’s AIDS orphans, this moving film tackles the global injustices that make up the AIDS story.
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