Africa’s Orphans

To understand the challenges faced by African orphans, one must first appreciate the difficult conditions in which a majority of African children live. Often existing in a region where disease, armed conflict, erratic climate and natural disasters largely exist, these children face an upward struggle to simply to live.  Malaria – the largest killer of young children gnarls constantly.  HIV/AIDS – over any other high-mortality infectious disease, claims a life every few minutes.  A life more often than not, belonging to a young adult.

Did you know that in Sub-Saharan Africa an approximate 2.6 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2009 alone? Or that this region accounts for two-thirds (67%) of the total global number – 32.9 million – of HIV infections?

Statistics are what they are – a set of numbers that tell a story often times in a removed, detached manner.  But what of coffins?  And orphans?  Accordingly to UNAIDS, three quarters (75%) of all AIDS deaths in 2007, occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa mainly among the young: those between the ages of 15-49 – the young high school students, the young parents, the farmer, teacher, the military man.  The breadwinner.

HIV/AIDS is killing and it’s leaving behind a generation of orphans!

In an unstoppable way.  Did you know that NINE out of every TEN children who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS lives in Sub-Saharan Africa? In countries such as Zimbabwe, Bostwana, Malawi and Rwanda, ONE out of every FIVE children is an orphan thanks in large measure, to HIV/AIDS.  Hold tight, we’re told, it’s going to get worse…much worse.   By 2010, it’s estimated, the AIDS orphan population in sub-Saharan Africa, will have risen to 20 million with a majority of these children condemned to poverty, disease and death.

Kenya, like most African nations, is a country at war with HIV/AIDS. Despite reported declines in the national HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, the nation, recent statistics say, shows that 1.4 million Kenyans (or 7.4 per cent) aged between 15 and 64 are infected by the virus and that 83 per cent of them do not know their status.

The country has so far over 1.7 million orphans* (see below) with a prediction that by the year 2010, it will be home to no less than 1.9 million orphaned children.  These numbers are staggering!

Estimated number of children who have lost their mother or father or both parents to AIDS and who were alive and under the age of 17 in 2001 and 2007.
Estimated number of orphans 2001 2007
Current living orphans
Low estimate 560000 1100000
High estimate 850000 1300000
Maternal orphans
Low estimate 87000 65000
High estimate 98000 61000
Paternal orphans
Low estimate 70000 51000
High estimate 79000 48000
Dual orphans
Low estimate 36000 30000
High estimate 41000 28000
Source: UNAIDS/WHO, 2008

*AIDS orphans are children under the age of 18 who have lost either one or both parents to AIDS. Many of these children come from homes now headed by grandparents or, in some extreme cases, by the children themselves. In countries such as Kenya, where the majority of the population resides in rural areas, most orphans are rural residents.  It these children, far away from the city and ignored, that Twana Twitu supports.


The orphan households we support are all very impoverished and generally with a larger number of dependants surviving on a much lower than average income.   Some of these households are child-headed.  A majority of them are under the custodianship of elderly grandparents most of who have little if any income.  Unfortunately for our orphans, family inheritance is bleak.  First, as their parent(s) get sicker in the later stages of AIDS, there is the drastic reduction of income, resulting from illness. As HIV progresses into AIDS and goes through its various stages, most adults, weakened by the illness, can hardly work. This reduced productivity translates directly into a reduced level of resources and increased poverty. In agricultural households for instance, this means that there is a drastic reduction of crop production and therein, less food.

On top of this, families dealing with HIV/AIDS are faced with a myriad of increased medical expenses incurred from HIV/AIDS related treatment which, notwithstanding some government subsidization in Kenya, remains a challenge.  A study by UNICEF estimated that an average household spends up to four times as much on health care as unaffected households. And then, at the end of the road, there are the funeral costs!


When it comes to caring for AIDS orphans, Twana Twitu’s position has always been simple; marginalized children are our twana twitu…our children and alongside the extended families and local communities, they are our responsibility.  We believe that unless it is absolutely necessary, these children must be kept away from orphanages! And our reasons are simple:

1. First, these children have homes – homes built on their parents sweat. These homes, dilapidated or not, symbolize a past, a present and a future for these children. They are, when no other space is welcoming, the one place that these orphans seek refuge.

2. Security. Many African families live in what is known as a “boma setting,” an existence whereby families reside on the same plot of land but in private dwellings. While in their homes, our orphans are surrounded in many instances, by immediate relatives such as cousins and grandparents. How can you substitute this? It is impossible. This proximity to immediate loved ones provides a sense of self and, notwithstanding a myriad of challenges, security and grounding.

3. The graves. Did you know that most Africans are buried on their private lots and in many instances, the property on which their homes are built? With this being the case more frequently than not, it is important for us to be sensitive towards this fact. With graves being one of the few reminders of their parents, it is important that these orphans remain close to them for the comfort and many warm memories they provide.

Additionally, the graves serve as a reminder of the consequences of irresponsible or unprotected sexual relations – a fact that might prevent our orphans from becoming a statistic themselves.

So on which community shall these children rely? We are the community – us; the relatives, the villagers and the readers of this site; us – the people who contribute both on large and small scale. We are the people, the family on whom orphan future depends – let us rally behind them and offer them the empowerment they need. With AIDS orphans totaling approximately 5% of Kenya’s total population (and 4 million in Sub-Saharan African alone), we cannot afford to ignore them. Their current existence threatens Africa’s future stability.


“Unless society really is mobilized to take these children (AIDS orphans) in to try and support them so that they can become productive adults, you really are talking about the whole stability of societies being threatened,” said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director for UNICEF The International AIDS Conference 2004 was held in Bangkok.