“The needs of children in Zimbabwe are so enormous and overwhelming that the little I do is merely a drop in the ocean. The response and resilience of these children gives me immense satisfaction.”
Rona Martin has dedicated her life to serving children in Africa who are grieving the loss of a relative and those who themselves are terminally ill. For the past 22 years, Martin has played a major role in developing and running programs for dying and bereaved children at Island Hospice and Bereavement Service in Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa’s first hospice. Amongst other programs, she helped start Grief Work Groups with children grieving the loss of a loved one. These two-day sessions give children an opportunity to work through their grief issues within the supportive structure of other bereaved children.
In the late 1990s, the full impact of the AIDS pandemic and its repercussions started to become apparent. As the AIDS epidemic grew, Martin expanded the Grief Work Groups and developed the Children’s Support Program. This program not only gives direct bereavement care to the children through weekly grief work groups held over a period of eight to 10 weeks, but also improves the care of these orphans by educating their caregivers. She has developed Caring for the Caregiver workshops to improve and continually build upon the caregiver’s knowledge and understanding of children’s needs and help them be more compassionate to the children and to themselves. Last year, Martin worked directly with 115 children to help them cope with their losses, and indirectly helped hundreds more through the caretakers she trained.
With 780,000 AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe as of 2001, and more than 240,000 children infected with the virus (UNAIDS), Martin’s work is crucial in turning the tide in support of child bereavement services.