KENYA: A little money goes a long way to help orphans

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
More than 700,000 Kenyan children have lost at least one parent to an HIV-related illness
KWALE, 31 December 2008 (PlusNews) - Dressed in her neatly pressed school uniform at her home in Bangladesh, a slum in the Kenyan coastal district of Kwale, Winnie Adhiambo's sunny disposition belies the difficult conditions the teenager has had to overcome to stay in school.

When her father passed away in 2003, no one told her his death was AIDS-related but she drew her own conclusions. "There are many other people in this slum who are ailing, and their symptoms resemble those of my late father," she told IRIN/PlusNews.

In the months after his death, it looked increasingly likely that she would have to drop out of school to look after her two younger brothers, especially when her mother also tested positive for HIV.

Fortunately, a local social worker helped her enrol in a direct cash transfer programme for orphans and vulnerable children, started in 2004 by the Kenyan government, with support from the UN children's fund, UNICEF.

She now receives 1,500 Kenyan shillings (US$20) per month to help her stay in school. "My mother buys food and ensures I have enough supply of sanitary towels, and can afford to go to school without disruption," Adhiambo said.

The 1,500 shillings per household per month takes into consideration the national average per capita monthly income of about 2,800 shillings (US$37). The cash is intended to help a household cover a child's basic food, health and education costs.

"The criteria used for a household to benefit from this fund is absolute poverty, and a member of the family having succumbed to HIV/AIDS," explained Stephen Gitau, the Kwale district children's officer.

Every month, the money arrives at the Kwale post office and is picked up by the children's caregivers. The programme now supports more than 1,300 orphans in the district.

''I have food on the table every day and also go to school - I count myself to have a future''
Since the success of the project in Kwale, other regions of the country have adopted similar schemes. Pascal Odhiambo, 17, who lost both his parents to HIV-related illnesses three years ago, lives just down the road from Adhiambo.

He is fostered by a local woman who receives the allowance and makes sure he goes to school. "I have food on the table every day and also go to school - I count myself to have a future," he said. 

The project has not always run smoothly. District officials said its success had been somewhat overshadowed by difficulties in monitoring the use of the funds.

"I have handled an ugly incident where two different men who are caregivers to orphans have used the money to marry additional wives," said Rose Mumbo, the district children's officer for Kilindini, near the coastal city of Mombasa, where 3,363 children are benefiting from the project.

Despite such difficulties, direct cash transfers are increasingly being viewed as a feasible way of helping low-income families escape poverty.

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The Regional Network on AIDS, Livelihoods and Food Security (RENEWAL), which facilitates the response to the interactions between HIV/AIDS and food security, said projects like the one in Kenya "generally work smoothly and provide a basis for consensus rather than conflict, and do well with respect to reaching the people intended, including AIDS-affected households".

Kenya has an estimated 1.8 million orphans, 700,000 of whom have lost parents to AIDS-related illnesses. More than half the country's population lives on less than $1 per day.


Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, Children, Food Security, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

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

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