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Real lives

Heading a household at age 14

© UNICEF B-roll HIV/AIDS 2001
Justin is responsible for his 10-year-old brother, Ashwel, and his nine-year-old sister, Future.

Justin, a 14-year-old boy from the Ndirande Township on the outskirts of Blantyre, Malawi, has a lot of responsibility for a boy his age.

His father died from what he believes was an AIDS-related illness in 1999. Six months later, his mother died as well and Justin found himself the head of his household, responsible for his 10-year-old brother, Ashwel, and his nine-year-old sister, Future.

Normally, children who lose their parents would be taken in by aunts, uncles or grandparents. But Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been so ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, that often the extended families are overwhelmed and unable to cope with the sheer numbers of orphans. 

About 16 per cent of Malawi’s population is HIV-positive and every day 237 people are infected and 139 people die from AIDS-related illnesses. The average life expectancy in the country has dropped from 45 to 39. In Ndirande Township, the prevalence of HIV is even higher, with one in five people infected with the virus.

As a result, there are somewhere between 800,000 and 1.2 million orphans in Malawi and the number is growing. Many of them, like Justin and his siblings, have nowhere to go, so they stay in their family’s house, fending for themselves as best they can.

When Justin’s parents died, he dropped out of school and now earns a living carrying food for merchants. “The main problem we have without our parents is finding food,” he explains. “We never have enough money for food or school fees or basic things we need like clothing. When our last parent died, the first thing we had to do was to go looking for work to make some money to buy food.”

UNICEF funds a community-based group called Ndirande Churches and Community Home-based Care. The group has about 300 volunteers from nine local churches and three mosques who look after Ndirande Township’s 3,000 orphans and care for people dying of AIDS-related illnesses. Soon, more volunteers will be trained in providing home-based care and psychological and social counselling.

Every couple of days, a volunteer form the organization visits Justin’s family to give them food (a bag of maize) and a little money.  “I advise them on how to use the money and I also give them advice about their way of life: how to live and how they should look after each other,” says Mercy Sunday, a volunteer.



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