THE CHILD BEHIND PROJECT
A Photo Essay by David Mutua
At 14 years of age many young boys and girls spend most of their time socializing and having fun with their peers. It is their time to go to school and in their free time indulge in extracurricular activities such as playing football, taking strolls around the village area, gathering with their friends in the village video dens (which emulate the typical movie theatres found in big cities) to watch their favourite action movies and/or soaps. Meet Abraham, Ochieng, Michael, Gabriel and Victor, five brothers who were suddenly robbed off this luxury of leading a normal childhood when both their father died in 2000 and their mother followed soon in 2001 both due to HIV/AIDS.
At only five years of age at the time, Ochieng (the second born) had not learnt a thing about providing for himself, leave alone the rest of the family. His elder brother Abraham was also not in a position to assist either. The fact that their parents had died of a disease that the society treats with utmost abhorrence, unjustifiable discrimination and shameful dissociation (not only to the infected but the affected) did not help matters much. As one would expect, life took a bitter and unfortunate turn for the five siblings. Victor, the youngest of the siblings, was taken into the care of a close Aunt as he was barely a year old. The other four brothers relied on the help of well wishers and kind neighbors who ensured that they had food to eat, and that their schooling needs were met. Things got tough and soon, what the well wishers and neighbors were providing was no longer sufficient and thus, the responsibility of providing fell squarely on the shoulders of Abraham the eldest brother who had to drop out of school in late 2007. He started a charcoal burning business that helped him fend for the rest of his brothers. His younger brothers were not left out in assisting as they were charged with the responsibility of carrying out menial jobs around their home.
In 2007, the Orphan and Vulnerable Children - The Child Behind Project (O.V.C-T.C.B Project) learnt about these five orphaned brothers. They decided to offer their assistance and enrolled them to their program. The program aims at taking care of orphaned children and grandmothers. Ochieng, Michael and Gabriel are enrolled in the program except Victor (who was away at the time of enrollment, but is now back in the family) and Abraham who had dropped out of school. The family has benefited from this program immensely. This program not only ensures that the children get nourishment through the provision of grains like maize and beans, but also that they have blankets to sleep under, have access to safe drinking water, sleep under mosquito bed nets, have access to school uniforms, as well as the provision of school levies and maize seeds for planting. The program caters for 8000 such affected children in the area plus many other grandmothers who lose their children to the disease and thus leave the responsibility of the grandchildren to the grandmothers. The only help that this program does not provide is that of a monetary nature. To bridge this gap, Abraham supports the family through charcoal burning, riding boda boda and local poultry rearing. They also do small scale agriculture with the support of their Aunt who occasionally lends them an oxen-plough as well as oxen to plough their small farm during farming seasons. Apart from that they receive food support from neighbors and well wishers who visit their two-roomed shack occasionally. However, some of the neighbors take advantage of the lack of a figure-head in the family giving the boys tasks to do for them with no pay or appreciation.
HIV/AIDS is prevalent in Central Gem. This is due to low sensitization on the disease, its risks, how it is transmitted and how to deal with it. The villagers see the disease as a chira
(curse) or some sort of witchcraft at play. They believe that such ill fate befalls those who are meant to be punished for their wrong doings by the Supreme Being. A Community Health Worker assigned by the O.V.C-T.C.B Project to the five siblings makes frequent visits to their household and offers psychosocial support, guidance and counseling and health education sessions to them. The siblings also get a lot of help in terms of counseling from their teachers and from the elders and catechist in the church.
The future now seems bright for the five brothers. Abraham is still doing his charcoal and boda boda
business which requires him to borrow a motocycle from his friends. Ochieng is a Form 1 student at Rabango Secondary School located in Central Gem, Nyanza. He will join Form 2 in the coming year. Michael, Gabriel and Victor are proceeding with their studies and they are working very hard. During the holidays and weekends they play their favourite game which is football.
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