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Community group helps Kenyan orphans affected by HIV/AIDS

© UNICEF Kenya/2005/Cameron
Florence receives nutritional support which helps offset the side effects of anti-retroviral drugs.

By Jane O'Brien

NEW YORK, USA, 9 November 2005 – Eleven-year-old Florence Kangai is one of over 3,000 children in the Kenyan town of Isiolo who have been orphaned by AIDS. Like many in this town, she needs anti-retroviral drugs to stay alive. But poor nutrition leaves her vulnerable to infections and illnesses.

“When I lack something to eat and am taking the medicines, I feel so awful and my body gets so weak that I can’t even go to school,” she says.

HIV/AIDS is the legacy of years of tribal conflict in the region. Women were raped and victimized and girls in the poorest households traded sex to survive. Cultural practices and superstitions, including blood exchanges, extra-marital affairs and the rape of young girls by HIV-positive men mistakenly looking for a cure, have also contributed to the spread of the disease.

But there is some help for children like Florence. Pepo La Tumaini Jangwani (Wind of Hope in the Desert) is a community-based HIV/AIDS support group providing medical care, education, food and a referral service to the local hospital where UNICEF is supporting ways of preventing mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

© UNICEF Kenya/2005/Cameron
At Pepo La Tumaini, Florence leads children in singing a song about HIV/AIDS.

Nutritional support

Florence was brought to Pepo La Tumaini when her parents died. “Madam Khadija (founder of Pepo La Tumaini) took me in. She bathed me, applied medicine on my wounds, gave me food and even took me to hospital,” she says. “She took me in as her own. It felt like home and I felt like she was my mum.”

UNICEF provides nutritional support through the group for hundreds of households affected by HIV/AIDS. In these homes, food consumption can drop by more than 40 per cent, putting children at risk of malnutrition. Adequate nourishment can delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some of the illnesses associated with the disease.

Along with medicine and nutrition, Florence is also able to go to school at Pepo La Tumaini, where she has learned to sing. “When I sing with other children I feel my spirit uplifted,” she says. “Even though they are HIV/AIDS songs I am happy that I’m educating other people to be cautious about the disease and know that it’s killing lots of people. Hence, be careful.”




9 November 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on Florence Kangai’s struggle to stay healthy.

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