The sickness called AIDS has left millions of children orphaned. While AIDS can be found around the world, areas of the continent of Africa have been especially hard hit. Children left without family face tremendous problems with hunger, education, housing, grief and loneliness. Organizations to help AIDS orphans are bringing hope to many of them.

My name is Beverly. I am sixteen years old. I am both mother and father to my two younger brothers and little sister.

Often at night, when they have finally fallen asleep, I sit by the window, looking out at the darkness. I cannot sleep because, like the others, I am hungry. I am also sad. And very worried.

In the dark, I can remember the face of my dying father. “Take care of them,” he had said to my mother. We could barely hear his voice, it was so weak. “They are good children and will need you to be both father and mother.”

My mother had stroked his thin face and kissed his bony hands. Tears flowed down her cheeks and onto his.

That day, he died.

He had had a sickness that scared people. They called it ‘AIDS.’ No neighbors helped us bury him.

In our sadness, we worked very hard so we could eat and I could go to school. My mother worked constantly, being both mother and father. At first I thought her tiredness and weight loss was because she was working so much. I did not want to think she too could have this terrible disease.

Then, the little sicknesses started. As the months went by, she spent more and more time in bed. I left school to care for her and the children.

I held her head and spooned water into her mouth. “If only my mother were still alive,” she whispered.

I knew what she was thinking: she wanted my grandmother to take care of us. In our country, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins lived near and helped each other. Because of our great poverty and sicknesses, we now had a small family. I looked at my mother in her suffering and knew it would soon be a smaller family.

So now, I often sit in the darkness, praying that I can find a way to keep us together and not starve. Never mind school, clothes to replace our worn ones, or toys for the little ones. I just pray for food. I miss my mother’s arms around me. I long for my father’s warm smile.

Very early one morning, I heard someone call my name. I looked out our window. There was a neighbor, my mother’s friend. She had been afraid to help my mother, afraid of her illness, but now she often left us some food. I was grateful. She had many children in her own home to feed.

“Beverly, ” she called softly in the gray of dawn. “There are some people from England who have come to our town. I met them last night. They’re helping children who are orphans. I told them about you. They want to help you and the little ones to stay together, but you will go to school again! You will learn a trade and you will all have enough food!”

I stayed at the window after she left, thinking of my nightly prayers. And I watched the sun rise steadily in the sky.