RWANDA: Giving AIDS orphans a say in their care

Photo: Corinne Dufka
Rwandan children – orphaned by the 1994 genocide
MUHANGA, 9 October 2006 (PlusNews) - A new participatory method is empowering Rwanda's orphans to take on parental responsibilities and keep child-headed families together.

Some 270,000 children have lost one or both parents to AIDS-linked illnesses and the devastation wrought by the 1994 genocide has given Rwanda the highest number of child-headed households on the continent.

"Most importantly, we have to understand that over 60 percent of these children are AIDS orphans. They need some form of parental support," Elie Nduwayesu, director of Nkund'abana [I love children in Kinyarwanda], an initiative run by the US-based nongovernmental organisation (NGO), CARE, told IRIN.

Over the past three years, Nkund'abana has been helping children who have become the sole caretakers of their younger siblings in Gitarama, 35km south of the capital, Kigali, to cope with the responsibilities they have had to shoulder since their parents died.

Nkund'abana involves local communities in the upbringing of the children, but "the difference here is that the children have veto powers over which member of the community takes care of them, and they also draw the terms of reference", said Nduwayesu.

Claudine Uwamariya, 13, lost her father to an AIDS-related illness four years ago. Her mother died two years later, and "within six weeks after my mum's death, my three siblings and I had [moved] to different places" with new families, where life was not easy.

"Food was scarce and since we are not related to these people, it seems they took care of their children first before considering us," she said. After a year Claudine decided she and her siblings should move back to what remained of their family, but "none of us was going to school or doing anything else like most people do."

A neighbour "told me about a place where they helped children living in conditions like ours to build good homes", she said. They were also given training in "looking after a home".

At Nkund'abana Claudine and her siblings were asked to identify someone in their community they could trust to act as their parent and, with assistance from the counsellors, prepared terms of reference for the relationship with their chosen parent.

Once a choice is made, the guardian chosen by the children is contacted and receives training in childcare and basic trauma counselling. "We equip them to be the best parents that they can be," said Nduwayesu.

The children live in their own homes, where they are visited and helped by their new guardians. They are also assisted to enrol in school, either for a regular curriculum or specialised training such as carpentry, masonry, driving or tailoring.

"Some people have chosen the system of giving handouts to child-headed families or paying school fees for the children... [But] without guidance, the children sell off the materials they get, and those that have been enrolled to school simply don't show up in class," Nduwayesu said.

"The entire system is centred around the children, they take every important decision. Every individual child-headed home has the right to discontinue their guardian once they feel he or she doesn't meet their expectations," he added. "Fortunately we have had few cases of that type."

Over 2,600 child-headed families are being assisted by Nkund'abana, and CARE has started rolling out the programme in other parts of the country.

The children have returned to school and her younger sister says Claudine has now completely taken over where her mother left off. "But the most important benefit for us is that we have someone to visit us, and give us some guidance," said her younger brother, Pierre. "That makes us feel like a family again."

Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews,

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

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