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Nkosi's Haven a home for women, children, struck by AIDS

July 15, 2000
Web posted at: 3:39 p.m. EDT (1939 GMT)

Nkosi
Eleven-year old Nkosi was "adopted" by Gail after his own mother, dying of AIDS, had to give him up  

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- From the moment of his birth, Nkosi Johnson has had to fight.

As one of Africa's millions of AIDS-stricken children, he had to battle those who didn't want to let him go to school. And when he is sick, his own body turns traitor.

But Nkosi has a real advocate in Gail Johnson, the woman who adopted him from a care center at which she once worked. The boy's mother had to give him up because she herself was dying of AIDS.

Now, Johnson has begun a project she calls "Nkosi's Haven," a home for women and children with AIDS who have nowhere else to go.

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VideoCNN's Eileen O'Connor looks at a woman who offers a home to some HIV-positive mothers and children who are pariahs in their South African communities
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"A lot of women are left destitute, or they are ... the lover rather than the partner," explains Johnson. "I target the lover, the woman who is left behind."

Because of Johnson's efforts, women like Feroza Mohamed can keep their children for the little time they may have together. There are 10 women living at Nkosi's Haven with their children now.

"The moment you ask her, she is there for you," said Mohamed. "Oh, please. I am dying of this disease, but I know she is making it better."

Mohamed's son, also HIV-positive, stays with her at Nkosi's Haven. Another son who was born just the week she arrived did not survive.

Gail Johnson
Gail Johnson has opened a haven for mothers with HIV  

An outcast in her home village, Mohamed says she can now die in peace, knowing that Johnson will not turn her son out to fend for himself.

Johnson also has "adopted" other AIDS orphans by taking food to them in the townships and paying for their schooling.

"Yesterday, Nkosi was asking me what my dream was," Johnson said. "I'd love to see Nkosi's Haven Project caring for 15,000 women in two years' time."

Johnson's daughter, Nikki, helps to run the project. Forty-four women are on the waiting list for places there. And the need is growing.

"It's beg, borrow and steal at the moment," said Johnson. "I need to raise a lot."

Another dream Johnson has is to raise $2 million in the United States. With the favorable exchange rate, she believes she could easily open and fund three more care centers.

"I need to know that I am offering comfort and ... a life of substance to people who've been rejected," Johnson said. "I'd like to think I've given them some hope -- and a reason for just carrying on."

CNN Medical Correspondent Eileen O'Connor contributed to this report.



RELATEDS AT WebMD:
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Attacking AIDS with a 'Cocktail' Therapy
RELATED STORIES:
AIDS strategies fall short, experts say
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New public-private partnerships to hasten testing of AIDS vaccines
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Peace Corps volunteers to expand fight against AIDS in Africa, elsewhere
June 27, 2000
South Africa's Mbeki appeals for quick action in AIDS fight
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Pharmaceutical firms to slash cost of AIDS drugs for Africa
May 11, 2000
Report: AIDS pandemic declared threat to U.S. national security
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RELATED SITES:
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
WHO Initiative on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (HSI)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
CDC -- Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention (DHAP)



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