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Tuesday 27 December 2005
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AFRICA: UN farming school initiative brings relief to HIV/AIDS orphans

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

JOHANNESBURG, 10 May (PLUSNEWS) - A UN project is helping to sustain farming know-how and other life skills among African children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Many of the region's children are unable to farm because their parents die before they can pass on essential skills, prompting the UN, in collaboration with a number of NGOs and local institutions, to set up 34 field schools to assist 1,000 young people in Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

Particular attention has been paid to Mozambique, where a total of 28 training facilities are up and running in the central provinces of the country.

The specially designed 'Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools' aim to recover knowledge about indigenous crops, medicinal plants and biodiversity.

Marcela Villarreal, the director for gender and population in the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said the training programme would be an important starting point in lifting AIDS orphans out of hunger and poverty.

In a statement Villarreal noted: "The objective of the schools is to empower the orphans through knowledge and self-esteem, and to give them essential elements for their long-term food security."

The training acquired by orphans - aged between 12 and 18 - will also help them develop positive values regarding gender equality and human rights.

After the death of a parent from AIDS-related illnesses, many orphans have to take on adult responsibilities as head of the household, forcing children to find ways of making an income to support their siblings that expose them to a high risk of sexual exploitation.

"[The schools] will offer survival strategies in often very difficult environments," Villarreal pointed out.

More than 11 million of the 34 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa have lost one or both parents to the AIDS pandemic, a number that is expected to reach up to 20 million by 2010.

At least 120 parentless children in the four southern African countries have completed training, and 840 more are currently learning how to work the land with hands-on lessons in farming techniques, nutrition and medicinal plants.


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