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Malawi: Poverty afflicts children orphaned by AIDS

© UNICEF video
Brenda Phiri, 22, lost both her parents to HIV/AIDS. As the eldest in the family, it’s up to her to take care of her five brothers and sisters.

By Kwakwarhi Mwanamai

BLANTYRE, Malawi, 2 November 2005 – In the shanty slums of Ndirande Township in Blantyre City, living conditions are hard. Brenda Phiri, 22, lives here. She lost both her parents to HIV/AIDS. This has plunged her family – now consisting only of herself and five other children –  into abject poverty. As the eldest, Brenda has assumed the daunting task of heading the household, a responsibility that has forced her to drop out of school.

All six of her family sleep in one room, having been forced to rent out the rest of the house. The rental income is not enough to sustain them; the children skip meals to save money, and often don’t know where the next meal is coming from.

Brenda says she herself can cope but feels badly for her brothers and sisters.

“It’s not for myself I am worried, but for the little children who need a lot of things like food, clothes and care. I wish I could do some more,” she laments.

© UNICEF video
Brenda (far left) and four of her siblings outside their home in Blantyre, Malawi.

Breaking rocks to earn money

Today, Brian, 5,  has refused to go to school because he did not eat on the previous night. Brenda is worried that he may lose all interest in school and eventually drop out.

Bizwell, 13, is still in school. But in order to earn a little extra money, he hauls sand from rivers and breaks rocks to sell to people who are building houses. The manual labour is gruelling, and he often doesn’t have enough time to read or prepare for the next day’s classes. He has just written his standard eight exams but doesn’t see himself attempting to remain in school much longer.

“I will not continue with school mainly because of a lack of school fees, clothes and other basic necessities,” he says. “It was easy with the primary level because it is free but for the secondary school one has to pay. If I continue with school my family would be disadvantaged as there would be no one to earn money.” 

Brenda’s sister, Thoko, is ill with tuberculosis and is on TB medication. Both Brenda and Bizwell are deeply concerned about Thoko’s illness. Nevertheless, Thoko continues to miss meals, along with all her siblings – they simply don’t have enough food.

A helping hand

With some international attention on Malawi now, there is a ray of hope for the Phiri family. The Ndirande Churches and Mosque Community Based Care Group – a neighbourhood organization supported by UNICEF – seeks to mitigate the psycho-social problems faced by orphans and other vulnerable children. The group also advocates for government and civil society to raise the level of material support provided for orphans like Brenda and her family.




October 2005:
UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports on how hunger and HIV/AIDS are affecting orphans in Malawi.

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