Mercelyn is one of six children, three older daughters and three sons, who have been orphaned by HIV outside Nairobi in the Kitegela community. Unfortunately, Mercelyn's situation is similar to that of many vulnerable children. Of the estimated 15 million children orphaned by HIV, over 11.5 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.
After the deaths of her mother in 2010 and her father in 2014, Mercelyn and her younger siblings were taken in by her church, Gospel Centres International Kitegela. In addition to community and spiritual support, the church provides housing, occasional meals and school needs for Mercelyn and her three brothers while their older sisters tend to their jobs and families.
Mercelyn, and millions of young people like her, are much more likely to drop out of school. Balancing school responsibilities can seem impossible while lacking the necessary supports to pay fees, access transportation, and secure family necessities like food and shelter. A study by the National Institute of Health connects school dropouts to early sexual behavior, making these adolescents even more vulnerable to HIV. Ultimately, an education gives Mercelyn and her family the greatest chance to escape the cycle of poverty facing them.
Side by Side is excited to announce Mercelyn's acceptance into the Embakasi Children's Project so all of her school needs will be provided for. The Embakasi Children's Project is a joint effort between Side by Side and our partner organization, the Royal Diadem Centre, a Kenyan public charity. The same NIH study found that such educational interventions, rather than financial handouts, led to higher retention rates in schools. Students who received supports to keep them in school were less likely to accept domestic violence in relationships, more likely to feel appreciated or cared for by adults in their families, and more likely to put off sexual behavior until later into adulthood.
By partnering with Royal Diadem, the Embakasi Project meets the financial and tangible needs of these children in a holistic and hands-on approach. Side by Side is proud to work through the local church and Royal Diadem Centre to present our support through the community surrounding Mercelyn and her brothers. As Mercelyn approaches her national exams this year, she is not alone. She will have the time and materials necessary for acceptance into higher education because she has found a community to come alongside.