The Frank Facts

Who’s Bearing the Burden?

“When my mother died, we suffered so much. There was no food, and there was no one to look after us. Some neighbours say bad things about us: “those children are so poor; they don’t even have relatives. They don’t belong. They don’t have a clan.”
– Teddy, AIDS orphan
It might be surprising to most that despite its receiving substantial outside funding to aid this issue, the Kenyan government does not back most of the AIDS orphan programs. Most of Kenya’s orphan programs depend on outside funding from non-governmental agencies based in economically affluent countries. The programs, despite the positive intentions of their initiators, are rarely self-sustaining. There are several national aid programs (the Nyumbani Hospice and The New Life Home, for example), some small community-based schemes as well as international organizations like UNICEF and Save the Children Fund, to mention a few, trying to address the HIV/AIDS orphan situation, but their task is great and their projects are not being carried out on the scale required. Unfortunately, goodwill notwithstanding, they are generally capable of helping fewer than a hundred children at the same time and their assistance has so far been unable to reach the majority of the children who so desperately need help.
Although Kenya has a new government, which has vowed to devote more resources towards the overall HIV/AIDS crisis, including the orphan issue, the government is riddled and burdened by issues inherited from the previous regime, which focused its attention on battles such as dwindling foreign aid, political pressures and a virtual collapse of its infrastructure. However, increased publicity and scrutiny are serving the cause well. The crisis, once in the background, is now receiving some attention. But, its magnitude is just too large for the government alone to handle.
So, who’s bearing the burden? Traditionally, extended families in Africa have taken in orphaned children. While this still largely remains the case, the need to survive seems to be the overriding tradition. Widespread poverty and the ever-growing number of orphans is increasingly overwhelming surviving relatives who, given their already impoverished state, are generally no longer able to adequately support additional children. With many more orphans and fewer working–age adults to support them, relatives are being forced to break from tradition by caring for their own families without extending themselves sacrificially towards the orphans. It is a matter of survival for these relatives who now, most simply can’t afford to help any more! The burden is now being borne by the orphans, the elderly and the streets.

The Streets

As we have highlighted elsewhere, the HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to devastate Kenya and its orphaned children. Resulting from the insufficient amount of support systems in place, more and more children are calling the street home. Metropolitan cities such as Nairobi house thousands of children who are living and dying miserably on the filthy streets because they have nowhere else to go…and the numbers continue to grow. It is estimated that over 160,000 children wander and live on the dirty streets of Nairobi.[1]

Street life, under any circumstance, is harsh and, certainly,the street is the last place any child should live in. Dangers never lurk too far behind. The situation is dreadful and, with every day’s survival a struggle, these children generally resort to desperate measures such as begging, stealing and/or prostituting themselves just to be able to afford a meal. Often, when the pain is too much to bear, they turn to cheap escapes such as glue sniffing. In describing their plight, George Tembo, Director of the U.N. AIDS program in Kenya is quoted as having said, “…it is survival of the fittest”.[2] The fact is, they are barely surviving.

The Elderly

“It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.” Mother Theresa
With nowhere else to go, many orphans are increasingly being forced to depend on their elderly and already impoverished grandparents. It is a daunting and difficult task for them as these grandparents do not have many options. Bound by tradition and a sense of duty and love for their grandchildren, they feel compelled to somehow fend for these children. In our attempts to help some AIDS orphaned children, we were surprised to find the large number of families dependent on grandparents. Currently, most of Twana Twitu’s children fall into this category. We need to help! Just think about it – by virtue of age, most grandparents are physically incapable of nurturing and caring for children, particularly the young. Nonetheless, they try their best and with irregular supplemental assistance from the community, they have, for the most part, been able to prevent these children from starving to death. It goes without saying that we are bound by duty to uplift these innocent victims by helping them in any way we can. The onus is on each of us to change the ills of the world. It starts with each of us doing something…one thing at a time. What? .. How? Very simply, as Mother Theresa put it, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

[1] Alliance for Youth Achievement (AYA) –
[2] The Times Herald-Record, 1998