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© UNICEF video
Prime Minister Absalom Themba Dlamini helps launch the UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS Campaign in Swaziland.

By Sarah Crowe

MBABANE, Swaziland, 27 October 2005 – With a brand new yellow campaign bus leading the way, traffic stopped as thousands of children launched the UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign in Swaziland.

On board the bus, music blared out and teenagers grooved in their seats. On the streets, more than 5,000 children from around the country wearing bright yellow campaign T-shirts held up posters reminding people of the deadly reality lurking behind the day’s fun events. “Children are missing out: put children first,” said one banner.

HIV/AIDS looms over the future of this small landlocked kingdom on the border of South Africa and Mozambique. Swaziland has the dubious distinction of having the highest percentage of HIV-positive people in the world. Almost 39 per cent of people ages 15-49 here are HIV positive; in just five years AIDS has helped cut average life expectancy from 58 years in 2000 to 39 years (source: SOWC).

In the middle of the road show, surrounded by yellow shirts and banners, Swaziland’s Prime Minister Absalom Themba Dlamini added his voice to the campaign cry and spoke about how devastating AIDS had been for his country. But there were, he said, some hopeful signs.

“At the beginning it was such a difficult thing for people to come out and admit they had HIV. Now everybody is talking about it. Even grandmothers in rural areas understand the dangers of this disease,” he said.

Inside the stadium where the campaign launch took place, children had the blue and red ribbon of the campaign painted on their faces and jived to the sounds of local bands promoting safe sex through their music.

© UNICEF video
Orphan Vuyisile Mavuso, 19, plans to finish her schooling and become a nurse.

One orphan’s story

At her simple homestead away from the fanfare, Vuyisile Mavuso, 19, talked about how hard it is for an orphan like her to stay healthy, to stay in school and to create a future for herself.

When her parents died more than five years ago, Vuyisile was left in charge of her two brothers and one sister. Local church groups helped them out with food and blankets and an NGO helped the children plant their own vegetable garden. But at night, robbers would take whatever they could.

Vuyisile said she felt afraid and vulnerable to the charms and comforts offered by older men who promised much.

“That person who tells me that he loves me... when I’m inside in his house and there are no condoms what am I going to do? It’s obvious you are going to have sex without a condom,” Vuysile explained. “We are the youth and we fail even to control ourselves. I am young. I have feelings. What am I going to do? It’s obvious.

“As children, when they say we must abstain it’s true – we must abstain until we get married because at this age we do have sex. We even forget to protect ourselves and that means it’s possible we can [get] HIV,” she said.

And that’s exactly what happens to all too many young Swazi women. The infection rate in the age group between 8 and 18 years of age is 5 per cent, but once they reach their twenties the infection rate among young Swazi women jumps to a staggering 50 percent, according to surveys conducted in two constituencies. 

Vuyisile said she had been tested and she was free of HIV. She said she plans to stay that way and finish her schooling until she can become a nurse, an ambition prompted by taking care of her sick parents.

But Vuyisile will not be able to carry out her future plans and dreams alone. She will need a schooling system that understands her responsibilities looking after her siblings, provides funds to help her study, and offers willing and caring helpers to help her get her house in order.

The UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign will not rely on any one agency, any one NGO or any one donor. It is going to take years to turn the HIV epidemic around, especially in Swaziland, a country truly on the frontline of the global battle against AIDS.




27 October 2005:
UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports from Swaziland on the launch of the UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS Campaign. This report was filmed and produced by David McKenzie.

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