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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | SWAZILAND: Young heroes website appeals for help for AIDS orphans | Children | News Items
Wednesday 1 March 2006
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SWAZILAND: Young heroes website appeals for help for AIDS orphans

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

©  James Hall/UNICEF

Sihle, an AIDS orphan

MBABANE, 14 February (PLUSNEWS) - The web page is as brightly coloured as a primary school text book, but the images conjure the anxiety of abandonment and uncertainty that any child would feel at the loss of their parents.

"Imagine that you're 12 years old. Your father died five years ago. Two years ago, your mother got sick. You left school to help tend to her, and to care for your little brothers and sisters. You've tried to grow corn on your family land, but there's a drought and you haven't learned enough yet to be a good farmer. Now, your mother has died, too. In the midst of your grief and your fear for the future, questions keep you awake at night: What will happen to us now? How will we live?"

With this introduction, aimed at young people in the developed world, the first internet-based intervention highlighting Swaziland's humanitarian crisis went online this week.

'Young Heroes', [www.youngheroes.org.sz], an initiative by the National Emergency Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA), seeks to inspire teenagers in the affluent West to sponsor orphans in a nation where two-thirds of the population lives in chronic poverty.

"The Young Heroes objective is to motivate young people overseas, both as individuals and in groups like schools and churches, to help orphan families through monthly donations for basic necessities such as food and clothing," said Nana Mdluli, NERCHA's public relations officer.

"Unlike other programmes aimed at orphans, our goal is to offer sponsors the opportunity to keep families together on their homesteads and in their communities. So, instead of supporting one individual child, a contribution goes towards helping an entire family meet its basic needs."

NERCHA, which distributes monies from government, the private sector and the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, is using cyberspace to draw attention to a tragic consequence of Swaziland's AIDS dilemma. With over 40 percent of adults HIV-positive, an upsurge in deaths from AIDS-related illnesses is expanding the population of orphans beyond the coping capacity of the country's traditional family structures.

"Swaziland now has nearly 70,000 AIDS orphans, who struggle every day for the bare necessities of life. The number of these young heroes is growing daily. Already, over 15,000 households in the country are headed by children, who are trying to raise their little brothers and sisters by themselves," the website notes.

A former American Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland, Steve Kallaugher, is the project supervisor. "We are motivating young people in the West to spread word about this site. That is more important than financial donations at this time. We want people to get the site printed in church newsletters, school newspapers, and get people talking about it," he said.

Illustrated with photographs of Swaziland's extraordinary beauty, juxtaposed with images of raggedy orphans in their meagre housing, the site explains why a Swazi AIDS orphan is better served growing up in the familiar surroundings of his or her community than being institutionalised in a charitable facility, of which Swaziland has few, in any case.

Illustrated 'mini-autobiographies' allow three AIDS orphans to tell of their own lives, fears and hopes, connecting dramatically and intimately with the website reader.

One page lists dozens of rural Swazi communities, with a corresponding number of child-headed households that require support. Readers who might be familiar with the country's outsized AIDS problem would be surprised at how few families are listed. Siteki, the provincial capital of the eastern Lubombo Region, an area hard-hit by AIDS, is reported to have only two child-headed households in need.

"For every family listed, there are many more who require sponsorship. But as a new project, we are starting at a manageable level. We need to track the donations to the families for the sponsors. Every family who receives aid will be replaced on the website by a new family," said Kallaugher.

All the listed families were "found" by Peace Corps volunteers living and working in Swaziland's rural communities, government health motivators and schoolteachers. The neighbours of children who have been living alone since the death of their parents, and traditional authorities like chiefs also contributed information.

"There's an old saying that 'there are no orphans in Africa'. With the tradition of the extended family there was always someone to take in and care for a child - an uncle, a cousin, even a neighbour. But the toll of AIDS is growing so heavy in Swaziland that it's no longer true. Families are losing more and more adults, so there are fewer left to care for the orphans left behind. The extended family structure is breaking down, and the children are the victims," the website explains.

The worst is yet to come, and the site is candid about it. The number of AIDS orphans in need is expected to nearly double, to 120,000, by 2010, when the population of children who have lost both parents to AIDS will comprise about 12 percent of Swaziland's population of one million.


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
Campaign to inform women of their legal rights underway,  27/Jan/06
More people but still too few testing for HIV,  20/Jan/06
"Sewage sociology" finds condom use rising,  5/Jan/06
HIV positive Swazis take govt to task over ARV supply,  6/Dec/05
Relief for the elderly as pensions go up,  21/Nov/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

PlusNews does not take responsibility for info in links supplied.

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