Raising young children was not part of 65-year-old Angeline Abuga's retirement plan, but after her son and daughter-in-law died from HIV-related complications four years ago, she found herself the sole carer for their five children.
"I struggle to give them food," she said. "I try to guide them because they are teenagers and I don't want the girls to get into prostitution, and I don't want these young men to take alcohol. I lost their parents to HIV and I don't want the same fate to befall them."
Abuga has been lucky; she has a mentor, Lucy Adhiambo, who helps her navigate the challenges of raising her grandchildren. Adhiambo works for Speak for the Child, a programme of the NGO, Academy for Educational Development, which trains mentors to assist caregivers in various areas, including children's health, nutritional support, education and emotional wellbeing. The mentors make three visits per week to their households.
"When she comes, she talks to me on how I can teach the orphans good behaviour to help them live well. She reminds me when to take them to hospital, especially for the sick [HIV-positive] one and get drugs, and also keeping good hygiene," Abuga says of her mentor. "She also speaks to the children and she warns them of the danger of getting into things like prostitution or alcohol."
The mentors also monitor cases of child abuse at the hands of foster families, and provide legal training on inheritance rights for widows and orphans. Speak for the Child serves approximately 50,000 orphans and vulnerable children under the age of 15 in Nyanza, Coast and Western provinces.
The Kenyan government estimates more than 2.4 million children are orphans, half of them due to HIV/AIDS.
"Caregivers too can be sick or have health-related issues and because of the pressure to provide, they may fail to seek medical assistance - the mentors therefore not only act as a link between the health facility and the orphans but also for the caregivers," said George Ariya, programme manager for Speak for the Child.
One of the major areas of support mentors provide is guidance in disclosing HIV-positive children's status to them. Human Rights Watch in December 2010 urged the Kenyan government to provide more support and information for parents about how to tell their children they are HIV-positive.
|I don't want the girls to get into prostitution, and I don't want these young men to take alcohol. I lost their parents to HIV and I don't want the same fate to befall them|
According to Ariya, the mentorship programme has had a positive impact on the uptake of and adherence to antiretroviral drugs. It also provides transportation to health facilities for caregivers and orphans with HIV and TB complications.
"Mentors also help them form support groups and savings and loans schemes which help them meet the needs of the orphans they are looking after," he added.
According to Nyanza Provincial AIDS and sexually transmitted infections control coordinator Charles Okal, Speak for the Child's interventions are a welcome addition to the government’s efforts to tackle the problem of ensuring orphans and their caregivers are looked after.
"People talk about how the orphans lost their parents through HIV but what is not talked about and which is also critical, is that even the new caregivers... need constant support," he said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions