It’s estimated there are between eleven and thirteen million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. Experts say because many are poor and have no skills, they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
That’s why the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has launched a program to set up what are called “junior farmer field and life schools.” Currently there are 34 such schools in Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. About one thousand children – aged 12 to 18 – attend the schools.
Gabriel Rugalema is the FAO’s senior officer on HIV/AIDS and food security. From Rome, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the risks faced by AIDS orphans.
He says, “The problems of orphans includes the following: exclusion from education. We have studies saying if you are an orphan, especially an AIDS orphan, you are likely to attend school less. There are problems of nutrition, or I should call them malnutrition, particularly among young orphans. There are problems to do with the shelter and clothing because of lack of parents and the carers. There are also problems of health because I mean if you don’t have a carer you can’t really be expected as a child to send yourself to the hospital and pay for yourself. But most important, there are also problems of socialization, especially in terms of training kids to be future farmers, have agricultural knowledge and entrepreneurial skills.”
The children are taught both modern and traditional methods of agriculture. While modern methods help increase crop yields, traditional wisdom teaches why local plants or animals are important.
Mr. Rugalema also says the children are also taught AIDS awareness. He admits with millions of AIDS orphans the number attending the schools is small. But he says the project is only a year old and he expects it to expand.