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UGANDA: HIV-positive people learn the value of leaving a will

Photo: Eva-Lotta Jansson/IRIN
Wills help safeguard the property rights of children orphaned by HIV
BUSIA, 14 September 2009 (PlusNews) - Discussing the prospect of death is taboo in many African cultures, but a new Ugandan programme is encouraging people living with HIV to secure their families' futures by leaving wills.

"Orphans are often left behind, groping in the dark without knowing what they are entitled to," said John Engole, a community social worker who has been teaching will-writing to people in the Uganda-Kenya border town of Busia. "Many children are left to care for their siblings, but how can they do this from scratch yet no adequate protection was left behind for their parents' property?"

The programme, part of the Regional Outreach Addressing AIDS project of the NGO, Family Health International, involves teaching will-writing skills, as well as giving older children the skills to manage their parents' property in the event of their death. It also has a “memory book” component, where parents are encouraged to record information, thoughts and messages for their children to read after their death.

But it has not been easy to persuade locals that writing a will is the best course of action.

"It is difficult to convince people that it is important to leave a will, especially those living with HIV, because to many of them it meant that you were simply telling them you had lost hope on them," said Engole.

"Writing a will does not mean you will die once you are done writing it," he added. "If anything, it is a process that gives a feeling that at least those you have left behind will remain stronger in your absence."

A sense of security

Vivian Omusi, a mother of two daughters and living with HIV, said she decided to write a will after witnessing the suffering of orphans whose family property had been snatched from them by greedy relatives. Her husband passed away a few years ago, and she is not taking any chances.

"When you look around and see many children suffering yet you knew their parents and what they owned, you realize that writing a will - even if you do not have much - is worth it," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "The memory book even avoids abuse of children because you are able to tell them which relative would be most trusted to care for them."

People are encouraged to let their friends and relatives know about the existence of a will, and to entrust the wills to dependable local institutions and people such as banks, local government officials, churches and mosques.

"Those who do not know how to write are helped through the process by a trusted family member or a friend, but without any influence," Engole added.

''The process involves counselling - you do not expect to convince somebody at the first chance.''
The memory book involves putting down the family's history and leaving life lessons that a parent may feel are important for the child to know.

"The memory book helps children to know and understand the family tree and who to turn to for help when the parents are no longer there," he said.

According to Omusi, the memory book has given her an important avenue to teach her children about relationships.

"It is difficult to discuss certain things with your children, but because of the training I have received, I have been able to open up to my children on the topic of sexuality and HIV," she said.

The memory books and wills mean parents must disclose their HIV status to their children, as well as friends and relatives named in the will and memory book as guardians. The programme gives parents the skills to do this sensitively.

"The process involves counselling - you do not expect to convince somebody at the first chance," Engole said.

A study by the Ugandan NGO, National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda, found that will- and memory book-writing had benefits that went beyond protecting children's property rights; the process brought parents and children closer, equipped children with crucial life skills, encouraged HIV-positive people to be more at ease with their HIV status and reduced stigma within the community.

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Theme (s): Arts/Culture - PlusNews, Care/Treatment - PlusNews, Children, Early Warning, Education, Gender Issues, Health & Nutrition, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

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

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