Dare to Care is the HIV/AIDS program of Mustard Seed Communities that was established out of the great need to provide care to abandoned or orphaned HIV/AIDS-infected children in Jamaica. Dare to Care's first official home was established in 2000 and the Jamaica Dare to Care program now encompasses three homes throughout Kingston. In 2002, MSC was asked to expand Dare to Care to Zimbabwe to help address a growing population of children orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS.
Mustard Seed Communities is committed to the care of abandoned children afflicted with HIV/AIDS ensuring that they have the opportunity to live their lives under the the best possible social, medical, educational, and spiritual conditions.
Philosophy of Care
Dare to Care was established with the firm belief that all persons are entitled to live worthy lives. In the early stages of the program, the focus was to provide hospice care to children at the end stages of the AIDS disease. As treatment has improved, our focus has shifted to giving these children a real chance at life. The government does not subsidize anti-retroviral drugs (HIV/AIDS medication), thus Dare to Care has to bear the full cost of these prohibitively expensive drugs. In addition to the supply of anti-retroviral therapy, the medical condition of the children has to be monitored once they are placed on these drugs.
In both Jamaica and Zimbabwe, the Dare to Care program emphasizes education and spirituality. Most children in the program attend MSC's Little Angels Learning Center and some of the older children attend school in the surrounding communities. It is the aim of Dare to Care to allow all children the experience of being educated in the regular school system. This continues to present a challenge, however, due to the stigmas associated with the disease. The children are baptized as Catholics and participate in regular church services.
As they grow older, our children become increasingly aware of their HIV status. The program provides counseling sessions and other therapeutic activities to ease this difficult process. Psychosocial support has proven to be a significant challenge in terms of resources. As such, MSC is looking into obtaining a full time counselor and pursuing additional support systems such as a mentoring program.
Saving & Prolonging Lives
Dare to Care's biggest success is saving or prolonging the lives of children who had been given a death sentence because they are HIV-positive. Most of the children when placed at Dare to Care are visibly decrepit from their disease. With the intervention of medication and love that the home provides, the majority of the children have made a complete turnaround. Approximately 85% of residents at Dare to Care are living longer and relatively healthy lives. One resident, who came to the home three months pregnant, was immediately placed on the HIV program at the University Hospital and treated with AIDS medication prior to delivery. Once born, the baby was also treated for six weeks after his birth. Miraculously, tests revealed that the baby is HIV negative.
Two of our teenage residents contracted HIV/AIDS through sexual abuse. They are acutely aware of their HIV status but are now able to better accept and process their reality in the safe environment of Dare to Care. They receive counseling, skills training, and education to prepare them for society.
Providing Access to Treatment
In recent times, more and more AIDS medication is becoming available to those infected at a cheaper rate. Lasco Pharmaceutical initiated the supply of generic drugs at a much cheaper rate than the competing brands. Lasco also donates about 20% of these important drugs to the Dare to Care Jamaica program. As a result, 32 of the children who were not doing well clinically could be placed on treatment.
Dare to Care now receives free antiretroviral drugs for all of the children on medication from the Global Fund which distributes aid from the US government for persons infected with HIV in the Caribbean. This will allow us to start treating the other children as well as sustaining the treatment for those who are already on the medication. Dare to Care strives to provide worthwhile and sufficient care for the children by consistently learning more about HIV/AIDS. In order to gain further knowledge, Dare to Care works as closely as possible with the relevant state bodies, such as the Ministry of Health, National AIDS Committee, and the Child Development Agency.
Increasing Awareness & Sensitivity
The stigmatization of individuals infected with HIV or AIDS remains a central issue to Mustard Seed Communities and the Dare to Care program. Children living with HIV/AIDS are usually mistreated and isolated from society. They are barred from schools if their status is known. They are treated with disdain and disregard by their communities and even by family. They are often orphaned by parents who have died from AIDS and/or abandoned by relatives who do not want to have any association with them. As a result, these children often suffer from developmental delays and psychological damage.
At Dare to Care the children are treated like typical children in that they are schooled to help with the developmental aspects of their lives. Most importantly, they are given lots of love and attention by staff, volunteers, and visitors. Children who were once withdrawn and sad are now happy and willing to fight to live. Dare to Care helps to break down any barriers or walls created against them by society by showing the community that they are loving, caring children who love to laugh and play like any other.