|Tiyamike, 15, shown here with one of his younger brothers, is the head of a household of four orphaned siblings in Tiwasamale, Blantyre District, Malawi.|
By Gaelle Sevenier
LILONGWE, Malawi, 30 April May 2008 – At just 13 years of age, Tiyamike was already a veteran caregiver responsible for looking after five younger siblings. Tiyamike’s father had died the year before, due to complications from AIDS, and soon after, when his HIV-infected mother took ill, Tiyamike left school and started working.
Now 15, Tiyamike struggles every month to find work in a poor area. Sometimes he makes bricks for modern houses. Other times he works in the field, working nine-hour days for $5 a month. When he comes home in the evening, he takes care of the little ones. There is no time for him to play with his friends.
In addition to these burdens, Tiyamike’s five-year-old brother is also living with HIV. But even with his heavy responsibilities, Tiyamike says he never thought about giving away his brothers and sisters after his parents died.
“I am used to being like a father to the kids. They respect me for it,” Tiyamike said. “It was clear I had to be the breadwinner in the family. I had to be strong for the kids, because it is important for them to grow up well.”
Help from community organizations
The number of child-headed homes like Tiyamike’s is on the rise in Malawi. The country has 1 million orphans, about half of whom have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
“UNICEF makes sure the Malawian Government provides support, through community-based organizations, to the child-headed families,” said UNICEF Early Childhood Development Officer Chalizamudzi Matola. Without this support, orphaned children face discrimination, economic and sexual abuse, hunger, homelessness and poverty.
A year and a half ago, the Tiwasamale Community-Based Child Care Centre identified Tiyamike’s family as a child-headed household in need of urgent assistance. Since then, the UNICEF-supported centre has provided them with supplies of Soya flour, rice, soap, sugar, Vaseline, beans and cooking oil. The local organization also gives the two younger siblings a plate of nutritious porridge on a daily basis.
“The food programme really helps us out,” said Tiyamike. “Even if it is not a lot of food, at least my family can eat once a day.”