Orphans and vulnerable children: story of a respected brother
A child headed household, with five children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, struggles to survive in Tiwasamale, Blantyre district, Malawi.
Lilongwe, 17 October 2007 – Gaelle Sevenier – “I am used to being like a father to the kids. They respect me for it,” says Tiyamike proudly. He is 15 years old and looks after his four younger siblings. Two years ago, a heavy burden fell on the boy’s shoulders; their mother died of HIV/AIDS, leaving five orphans from 3 to 13 years old. The boy had already taken the responsibility of his family immediately after his dad died a year before. When his mother also fell sick, he gave up school and started working. “It was clear I had to be the bread winner in the family,” says the older brother, who had to comfort his siblings while dealing with his own grief. “ I had to be strong for the kids,” he adds “because it is important for them to grow up well.”
The five year old of the family, named Blessings, weighs no more than a three year old. He is HIV positive. When he gets very sick, his siblings bring him to the hospital where he receives ARV treatment. The family does not fully understand what it means to be HIV positive. All they know is that Blessing often has painful diarrhea and fever, and that he often has to stay a long time in the hospital.
The older brother never thought a second about giving away his brothers and sisters to anybody after his parents died. As the head of the family, he struggles every month to find work in the poor area. Sometimes he makes bricks for modern houses. Other times he is being exploited in the field, were he earns less than 5 dollars a month for 9 hours of gardening per day. When he comes home in the evening, he takes care of the little ones. No time for him to play with his friends. Tiyamike has heavy responsibilities on his shoulders, too heavy for a 15 year old.
Child-headed homes, like Tiyamike’s are on the rise in the country. Malawi has one million orphans, of which 500,000 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,” explains the UNICEF Early Childhood Development Officer in OVC and Child protection section, Chalizamudzi Matola. Without care and support, orphaned children face discrimination, economic and sexual abuse, hunger, homelessness and poverty.
One year ago, the UNICEF supported Tiwasamale Community Based Child Care Centre identified Tiyamike’s family as a child headed household in need of urgent assistance. Since then, the Community Centre, supported by UNICEF to buy food supplies, brings them monthly soyaflour, rice, soap sugar, vaseline, beans and cooking oil. The community based organization also gives the two younger ones a plate of nutritious porridge on a daily bases. “The food programme really helps us out,” admits the eldest brother of the family. “Even if it is not a lot of food, at least my family can eat once a day.”