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SWAZILAND: AIDS orphans helped by traditional customs

Mbabane, 6 May 2004 (IRIN) - The impact of HIV/AIDS on children in Swaziland is being mitigated by an innovative project that draws its inspiration from traditional customs.

This week crops throughout the tiny mountain kingdom were being harvested for the exclusive benefit of AIDS orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).

"The traditional concept of 'Indlunkhulu' is being revived. This is a SiSwati term referring to the provision of food from the chief's fields for members of the community who are unable to support themselves," Director of the National Emergency Response Committee on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA), Derek Von Wissell, told IRIN.

Swaziland is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis. Acute food shortages and soaring HIV rates mean that close to 40 percent of Swazi's are living with the disease, while the number of AIDS orphans is expected to reach 120,000 by 2010.

Given the huge challenges facing the impoverished country, Swazis have turned to traditional customs to strengthen coping mechanisms.

"In Swazi law and custom, chiefs are responsible for the welfare of orphans within their area, and although this concept has fallen away in many chiefdoms, it provides a basis on which to build a sustainable mechanism for the delivery of food to orphans and vulnerable children," Von Wissell commented.

Indlunkhulu means "big house", and symbolises the shelter and protection offered by the chief and the community to vulnerable members. In the past, orphans moved into the chief's homestead; today, they are likely to be cared for by community members, who volunteer their services.

Last year, the first of the Indlunkhulu project, 129 fields were set aside by chiefs for cultivation. This year, 305 fields are being harvested in about 350 chiefdoms. With the financial support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the ministry of agriculture provides the seeds, fertiliser and pesticides, and the use of leased or government tractors.

A project committee comprising a broad spectrum of representatives, including the clergy, police and NGOs, is appointed in each chieftaincy to undergo training in identifying orphans and their needs.

In the Mvuma chiefdom in the mountainous northern Hhohho region, 94 children have been registered under the Indlunkhulu scheme.

Every morning, Shumba, an orphaned nine year-old boy, milks one of the cows donated to provide milk to vulnerable children. After his parents died, the family's small herd of cattle were sold and the homestead fields lay fallow. He and his two older sisters sometimes received food from relatives. "I like the emasi (sour milk). I know how it is made. I know about cows," he told IRIN.

"The participation of the children in the preparation and harvesting of the fields ensures that important life-skills, central to the rural local economies of the chiefdoms, are shared through the elders sharing their experiences," said Von Wissell.

"Without their active participation, many of these children would be denied the knowledge of their communities," he explained. "In the context of modernisation, many indigenous knowledge systems have been lost - a process that may be accelerated by the increasing numbers of orphans and children denied the guidance of their parents or community elders."

Theme (s): Food Security, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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