OVC tell their stories at a unique conference
Tuesday 3 August 2004
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SWAZILAND: OVC tell their stories at a unique conference

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  IRIN/James Hall

Orphan Sifiso Nhleko with his crutch that he made

MBABANE, 26 July (PLUSNEWS) - Faced with a growing population of orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC), Swaziland's policymakers have turned to the children themselves to assess their needs at a conference outside the central commercial town of Manzini.

"I am happy they are asking me about my life, because it is hard, and I think they should do more for orphans," said Sifiso Nhleko, a form three student from Siteki in the eastern Lubombo district near the Mozambique border.

Nhleko, who has hereditary dwarfism, is a resourceful teenager who crafted his own crutch when he grew weary of hobbling about on an iron rod he discovered beneath a bridge - "a carpenter gave me wood and screws and he showed me how to make a crutch," he said.

Nhleko and his two siblings inherited the condition from their mother, who was born with the same handicap. "My father got angry and he left us. He said my mother could only give birth to children who are worthless to him and could not help him. Every day I wonder how he wanted us to help him," he said.

With the death of his mother this year, he is now one of thousands of children who head households due to the AIDS crisis.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), prime mover of the conference, assembled impoverished OVC from the eastern Lubombo district last week to hear their views.

"Because of the orphans crisis, all the stakeholders – three involved government ministries, and social and child welfare NGOS – are compiling a Rapid Assessment Analysis and Action Plan for OVC ... It is important not to have adults put words into their mouths about what they need," said UNICEF Swaziland's Mathew Darling, the conference organiser.

At the conference about 25 children broke into small groups to script and act out short plays. Each child assumed the role of a familiar person in their lives – a grandparent, caregiver, brother or sister – and addressed issues like child abandonment, abuse, hunger and AIDS through this persona.

"If we find that the granny is the one most involved in children's lives, we must come up with programmes to empower grannies," said Darling.

The children also voted on the issues they felt were most important: emotional abuse topped the list, an issue often overlooked by adults, who prioritise food, medicine and the material needs of the OVC.

"The food people [World Food Programme, which distributes basic foodstuffs to about a third of Swazis] give us what we eat, but my guardian is cruel. She berates me. She says, 'Don't eat so much! What did you do to deserve food?'" said a seven-year-old girl before bursting into tears.

Fourteen-year-old Nhlanhla Dlamini, who is HIV positive, lost his mother to AIDS this month. He has never known his father and now lives with his grandmother, who is cruel to him, he said. "She chased away my sister, who is 18, because my sister wanted to get a job; she chased away my cousins. Now I am alone. She is always mad at me - she says I do not fetch water from the river; she says I don't cook, and I don't tend cattle," Nhlanhla said in a barely audible voice. He coughed frequently and rapidly grew short of breath.

His grandmother does not help him with his medication. "I must take three tablets a day. I take two other pills at six in the morning and six at night, and five ml of syrup two times a day. I know the dosage - I have a measuring cup. I am scared that if I get sick, I may not be able to get my medicines and forget the times," Dlamini said.

"These are concerns that a 14-year-old boy, faced with a life-threatening illness, should not have to worry about," said UNICEF programme officer Pelucy Mtambirweki. "It just adds to stress, which is bad for anyone with HIV."

Surrounded by other children seated on the floor, Dlamini recalled his mother's last words. "We slept together in the bed, every night. She came back from the hospital. She was sick for some time - she was very weak. I went to bed, and she came to bed and lay down beside me. She said, 'My son, I am sorry but I am dying.' The last thing she said to me was, 'Go and sleep with your cousins, because I am leaving this world.'"

Vumile Dlamini, a conference adjudicator, said: "These children reminded us of one very basic thing - beyond a safe and secure environment, food, clothing and education, these children desperately need somebody to love them."


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
Rising HIV/AIDS among truckers will impact on costs,  30/Jul/04
Bishops find lack of governance and human rights,  12/Jul/04
Order needed in chaotic ARV programme,  1/Jul/04
Debate over male circumcision,  25/Jun/04
Pregnant school girls no longer face expulsion,  21/Jun/04
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Youth against AIDS
Making A difference for Children Affected by AIDS
Children and AIDS International Non-Government Organisation Network (CAINN)
AIDS Orphans Assistance Database

PlusNews does not take responsibility for info in links supplied.


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