A ray of hope for Malawi’s lost and forgotten childhood
On the veranda of a grass-thatched mud hut, Enelesi cooks a watery porridge for her five siblings on an open fire.
Although it is 10 a.m., the whole family is home. None of the kids has gone to school. There was no food in the morning and the six kids had not enough energy to brave the 10-km walk by foot to the nearest school. The eldest Enelesi, 14, and Clement, 13, did not have sufficient strength to carry the youngest two Ireen, 3, and Agnes, 3, on their backs to the community-based child-care centre.
“I feel sad when I have no food to give my siblings,” says Enelesi, whilst stirring the porridge, the only meal they will have today.
Their mother died in 2005 after a long illness (most likely AIDS). Soon after she was buried their father disappeared and the four children moved to their mother’s sisters’ house. Six months later the aunt also died (of AIDS) leaving two children aged six and three.
“I don’t sleep most of the time because Ireen and Agnes are always sick,” says Elenesi. During the month of February, Ireen spent three weeks in hospital but the doctors did not say what was wrong. They only told Elenesi to make sure that Ireen gets enough food.
“The piece work I do is not enough to buy three meals a day,” adds Enelesi, who makes on average 50 cents a day carrying water for her neighbours. Most women need water in the morning and Enelesi has to choose between work and school. More than half the time, work wins.
When asked what she wants to be in the future, Enelesi says it is too far away. “I only think about today and my family,” she says. She last attended classes three days ago.
Enelesi is just one of a million orphaned children, half of whom have lost their parents to AIDS. At 14, she has forgotten what it feels like to be a child, as she has to assume the roles of a mother, caregiver, bread winner and big sister, all at once, to her siblings and her two cousins.
How UNICEF helps
Through a local NGO, Namasimba Community-Based Child-Care Centre (CBCC), UNICEF provides support to orphaned children and others made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS in the area of Traditional Authority Kapeni in Blantyre district. Namasimba CBCC provides protection and care to orphaned children through early childhood care, food assistance and psychosocial care.
“Thanks to UNICEF’s support, most orphaned children are able to go to school. They can leave the younger ones here knowing they will not only be looked after but also fed,” explains the Director of Namasimba CBCC Mrs. Mary Chunga.
On average, at least 90 children attend Namasimba CBCC on a daily basis. The Centre looks crowded, but the children seem to fit and enjoy their stay. UNICEF has provided play kits including toys, crayons, colouring books, skipping ropes and music instruments. “For most of these children, these are the only toys they have ever seen. They learn to share and play together. They come here as early as 6 a.m.,” adds Mrs. Chunga.
The Centre opened in 2003 to cater for an influx of orphaned children due to the AIDS pandemic in the area. In Malawi, 14 per cent of the population is HIV-positive, while 1 million children are orphaned, half of them by AIDS.
Other areas of UNICEF support include training of the volunteers who come to the centre to care for the children and training of the home-based volunteers who go to the communities to provide basic care for chronically/terminally ill people living with AIDS. UNICEF supplies the volunteers with kits containing non-prescription medicines as well as hygiene and infection control products.
In Namasimba CBCC, there is a ray of hope for Enelesi, the hope that when she goes to school her siblings are in safe hands.
© UNICEF Malawi/2006