Child Rights Support in an HIV/AIDS-Project in South-West-Uganda

Double Trauma: Land grabbing from AIDS orphans when the parents pass away

Von Frank Mischo / Kindernothilfe Schweiz

A double traumatic experience: AIDS orphans loose their homes just after the parents have passed away. Community based support for AIDS orphans and vulnerable children focus on mediation as prevention of land and property grabbing. The article reports from field experiences of an HIV/AIDS-project with a holistic approach in the rural context of the Masaka and Rakai districts in South-West-Uganda.

Gertrud Namaganda and her family are typical for a lot of personal stories collected by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Kitovu Mobile. The family got medical and food support from Kitovu Mobile since 2003. Gertrud’s husband passed away 2004. Since then, her husband’s family threatens to drive the family out of their home.

The story of Gertrud Namaganda and her family

Gertrud Namaganda married her husband Joseph in the year 1998. In that time he was already severely sick, but nobody diagnosed his illness. Gertrud also started to get the same disease. From a community member, who works as a volunteer for Kitovu Mobile, she heard that she can get testing, counselling and medical support from Kitovu mobile. That was in 2003. She went to the next church community, where the Car of Kituvo Mobile comes by every week with a nurse and a social worker. After her first meeting, Gertrud gets medicine and she was invited for an HIV-test. Her test results were HIV-positive and since then, she went regularly to the meeting point. Immediately after her test, her husband passed away, probably because of Aids. Since then Gertrud had to work alone for the family, even when her illness got more difficult to work regularly. Another problem started by the elder brother of her husband. He blamed her for bringing the disease in the family and accused her for letting her husband die. Then he demanded to get her house. Gertrud managed to defend herself to stay in the house, but the uncle kept on threatening the family since then. Gertrud has four children. Winton, the eldest son, is from her first husband. When Gertrud is severely sick, Winton takes over her responsibilities for the family and misses school.

Counseling of Gertrud

Gertrude’s physical condition got worse and worse. When she talked to the social worker of Kitovu Mobile she was looking for support for the struggle against her husband’s brother. When Gertrud passed away in 2007, her husband’s uncle immediately chased the children away from their home. The children stayed with another neighbour and informed Kitovu Mobile. Kitovu Mobile tried to mediate within the family.

Winton’s new home and work

Even after 3 month Kitovu Mobil didn’t manage to get back the home for the children, but they organised a new house with the help of the community. And Winton goes now to the farm school of Kitovu Mobile and has an income by the fruits of his new garden for the children headed family.

This is one case of the growing need of mediation and support for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) out of a small survey of Kitovu Mobile, one Ugandan partner of the children’s relief organisation Kindernothilfe. Kindernothilfe aims to reach with its partners a world, where children and adolescents have the chance for a life in dignity, to be able to make use of their potentials and to take their development together with their families in their own hands. Principles of Kindernothilfe are participation, self help- and child rights approach. Kindernothilfe cooperates with local partners, like Kitovu Mobile in South-West Uganda.

Since 21 years Kitovu Mobile is a Partner of Kindernothilfe. Both organisations experienced the Aids pandemic from the beginning till now. Kitovu Mobile started as an organisation taking care in the improvement of health care. Since 1987 Kitovu Mobile faces the Aids pandemic, in the beginning as the unknown disease with illness and deadly end, after a time, as the burden on the family structures increased, by caring for the ill and taking care for the children of the weakened parents. Kitovu Mobile concentrated itself on people with Aids since then. Counselling, testing and medical support is an increasing part of the work. Today a rapidly growing number of patients receive antiretroviral drugs (ARV).

Kitovu’s motto is “We Care”

Kitovu Mobile’s vision is to see an empowered community with the ability to cope with HIV/Aids and its impacts. The aim of the work is to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV/Aids through working with communities in the area of prevention, care, support and capacity building.

Kitovu Mobile started with caring for people living with HIV/AIDS in their homes. Counselling and HIV-related prevention programs were added. Kitovu Mobiles concentrates also on motivating volunteers. Now there are more than 700 volunteers active for Aids orphans. Educational support for orphans became increasingly important. Thousands of orphans have received support with school fees, uniforms, and scholastic materials. Kitovu Mobile also supported the community’s construction and rehabilitation of school buildings, teacher trainings, and income-generating activities. To minimize both the short and long term psychological problems, Kitovu Mobile provides individual, group and family trauma counselling. Community participation and involvement in orphan care and support through regular community meetings with the beneficiaries is one important part of the work.

In 1998 Kitovu Mobile introduced Mobile Farm Schools to train teenage school drop outs in modern, sustainable and integrated organic farming skills. Till today more than 2.000 teenagers have benefited directly with approximately 12.000 indirect beneficiaries in their families. The children learn to sustain themselves and by giving their knowledge to their neighbours it works against discrimination and isolation of Aids orphans. Additional Self Help Groups have been formed. Home Care and Palliative Care are a component of Kitovu Mobile, where people affected by HIV/Aids are visited in 121 small centres in 4 districts by nurses and social workers every fortnight for counselling and medical support.

In the Beginning of the Aids pandemic the families could take care for the children of the missing parents. Today 1 million Aids orphans live only in Uganda. The most productive generation between the ages of 15 to 49 years is mainly affected by HIV/Aids.

Strengthening communities and families

In 2007 12,1 millions of children in Sub-Sahara Africa lost one or both of their parents. The Number of Aids orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) is rapidly growing. Often when one parent is passing away, the other is already sick. It is important to strengthen communities and families, whose role is crucial to every aspect of a child centred approach to Aids. The health, education and social welfare systems have to be reinforced to ready to make effective key interventions to support children with HIV and Aids.

Aids orphans often have to take over the home based care of the parents and they try to find any small income for the family. In that time the children often miss the opportunity to go to school. When the parents pass away, it is always a shock and a traumatic experience for the children. Many of the children stop schooling from that time on. Some mainly work for living others are so traumatised that they just don’t know what to do best next. If there is a helpful family, children manage often to go back to school. But if not the children families are extremely vulnerable for abuses.

The example of land and property grabbing shows that there is a need of support and protection of Aids orphans. Aids orphans experience more often an extreme double trauma: Directly after the Parents have past away, mainly the family and sometimes neighbours grab the land or the property of the orphaned children.

The Ugandan Project Partner Kitovu Mobile of Kindernothilfe works on this issue. Another case of the survey shows how important it is to include the prevention of land grabbing in the work of supporting Aids orphans.

Second Case Study: Simon and Jessica

Both parents of Simon and Jessica passed away 2005 by Aids. Kitovu Mobile heard of the 7 and 10 year old orphans. A nearby neighbour reported regularly to Kitovu Mobile and helped the children in the garden or to go to school. One day in 2006, the landlord, an uncle of Simon and Jessica, came and asked for all properties and that the children have to leave the house. He said, he would need the house for his sister who is also in need now.

Kitovu Mobile’s intervention

Kitovu Mobile heard from the helpful neighbour about the problem and a social worker talked to the landlord. A mediator of the Community who was elected by the community organised a meeting with the landlord, his sister, Kitovu Mobile, the neighbour and the children.

The result of the meeting: the children can stay in their home! The uncle has to take care for the needs of the children and the sister gets another house from the Landlord. The neighbour monitors that everything is all right for the children.

Changing land laws

Traditionally children would live within extended families instead of living as child headed households. Caregivers assumed control of orphans parental properties and were expected to provide for the orphans needs. Today the increase of property- and land grabbing and neglected children are the result of the growing poverty and the high death rates in the families. Children living alone are more vulnerable for exploitation and different kind of abuses. The Government of Uganda tries to establish local authorities to protect the children and to adjust by law the inheritance rights, that children can keep their homes and the belongings of the family.

Mediation as prevention

For Kitovu Mobile the main focus of the work will be home based care, medical support, counselling and testing. The main methods of property grabbing are taking away moveable property already when a parent is sick or after the death of the parents. The family gains access to all moveable and immovable property by burial order. Also guardianship for orphans is used to get the property of the children. Because of the growing problem mediation will play a bigger part in future than today.

Kitovu Mobile has developed a four steps approach to minimize the land and property grabbing:

1. A lawyer is hired part-times.
2. All volunteers are sensitised on looking after the children and if people threatens to chase them away. In case they go immediately to Kitovu Mobile or a responsible and cooperative person from the local government.
3. Teachers are trained to ask for which reason pupils are missing in school and also to report it directly to Kitovu Mobile.
4. A small fund was established to buy a piece of land for child headed households who were chased away for example. Because of the very few resources for the fund, it is used only for the worst cases, when no other solution is possible.

Perspectives of mediation

In cooperation with organisations like Kitovu Mobile the Government of Uganda also supports the mediation against land and property grabbing. But it is still a growing problem because of the vicious circle of poverty and Aids: Anyone becoming ill with immune deficiency cannot continue to work without undergoing expensive treatment. Children have to take over the work of ill parents and look after the whole family. That means they have to stop going to school where they would receive instructions on the dangers of HIV and how to avoid infection. The lack of knowledge leads to a situation where the number of people, which are HIV positive, is continuously growing.

Kituvo Mobile reacted on the changing main problems of the families. It started a programme with self help groups and volunteers to reorganise the support for the affected families.

Farm schools for adolescents from 14 years on were there from the beginning. But now they are one main tool to reach the Aids orphans who missed schooling and who need educational support and life skills. Often children headed families miss the knowledge to work effectively in the own gardens. An increased income strengthens the child headed families and they start to manage their life themselves in working together with other farm school participants.

*Frank Mischo is Political Scientist and works in the Department for Awareness Raising in the German Kindernothilfe. He is responsible for the HIV/Aids-Project and lobby work and additional he is one of the speakers of the Uganda Forum in Germany. He numerously worked in Uganda on field studies f.e. on the Issue of HIV/Aids.
Contact: frank.mischo@knh.de, www.kindernothilfe.org

References

Kitovu Mobile 2007: Survey about Land Grabbing from Aids-Orphans in Masaka-Rakai, Masaka

UNICEF 2008: Children and Aids. New York. The Second stocktaking report is a review of progress on how AIDS affects children and young people. Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS, which was launched in October 2005 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), UNICEF and other partners, was a call to action around the impact of HIV and AIDS on children.