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Child survivors of the AIDS crisis in Africa

Some 20 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have lost both parents to AIDS.

NEW YORK — Demaris Muthoni weighed the same at 4 years old as when she was born.

When Jane Kinuthia found her, huddled beside a shack in the red light district of Gilgil, Kenya, Muthoni weighed 10 pounds.

“In all my years in Gilgil, I had never seen anything like this,” said Jane Kinuthia, who owned a cafe in the area of the Rift Valley, northwest of Nairobi, before she became a child's rights activist.

Muthoni's parents died of AIDS, leaving her to pass the time along the dingy streets of her neighborhood while her 17-year-old aunt and caregiver worked as a prostitute, to bring in about a dollar a client.

That was three years ago. Today, Muthoni is a robust schoolgirl who lives in an orphanage on the other side of town. She has thrived, thanks to a nutrition and education program founded by Kinuthia along with two other women, one a nurse and the other a social worker.

Kinuthia changed her cafe into a children’s shelter and bought the property next door in order to expand her services. Jill Simpson, a retired nurse, solicited funds and helped organize the project. Teresa Wahito, a social worker, provided the day-to-day care. (Eighty-year-old Simpson died this year from heart disease but the Saudia Children’s Home that she helped to found continues to thrive.)

The story of these three women, how they found each other and worked together to help the children of Gilgil, is one of several stories with a happy ending featured in "Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa."

The book stands out among African medical tales because of the stunning photos of resilient children and their grandmothers, who in many cases are left to care for the youngsters when parents are too sick or have died.

Some 20 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have lost both parents to AIDS, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

As Richter points out, that’s roughly the population of Australia.