Cover Image
close this bookInvesting in Our Future: Psychological support for children affected by HIV/AIDS. A case study in Zimbabwe and The United Republic of Tanzania (UNAIDS, 2001, 77 p.)
close this folder“Everyone’s child”: Educating the community on the child’s needs
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentEducating teachers - HUMULIZA, United Republic of Tanzania
View the documentEducating peers - FOST, Zimbabwe
View the documentLearning life skills through adventure - The Salvation Army’s Masiye Camp and YOCIC
View the documentInvolving youth in solutions - HUMULIZA and VSI

Involving youth in solutions - HUMULIZA and VSI

“There is something else which causes AIDS. That thing is Sugar Daddies. They may come to you with their cellular phones and cars and also nice clothes. Maybe at home you have a problem so when these old Sugar Daddies come to you and ask you to be their wives, you just say yes, especially young girls. THINK BEFORE YOU ACT! I tell you, when you are pregnant or you have AIDS, they are going to leave.”

Loraine, Masiye Camp,
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

The donation of food and money is not enough in order for children to survive on their own. They must also acquire certain skills, such as hygiene, interpersonal skills, self-esteem, and responsibility, in order to maintain a healthy and successful lifestyle. These skills often seem foreign to orphaned children, who tend to feel powerless to affect their situation and lack the strength and courage to make independent decisions.

HUMULIZA’s Vijana Simama Imara Organization (VSI), Swahili for “adolescents stand firm”, is an example of how orphans can utilize the skills they learn in order to grow and empower themselves for the future.

VSI receives financial support from HUMULIZA but is entirely youth-run. In VSI, orphaned youth learn skills to make empowered decisions and cooperation, and have the opportunity to put the skills to use. The members of this organization are older and the elder ones serve as a resource for the younger orphans in the area.

A belief that has been maintained at HUMULIZA is that if an adult introduces an idea a child’s performance may be poor, but if the child introduces an idea, it is more likely to succeed. The leaders of VSI run the meetings while attendants from HUMULIZA sit in the back of the room, listening and waiting for their turn before they can contribute to the discussion. Below is the list of goals the youth themselves have set for the organization, as well as VSI’s criteria for membership.


· To support each other during times of difficulty and pleasure
· To create, plan and promote income-generating projects
· To build unity and mutual cooperation
· To help the elderly
· To support each other by emulating good manners and behaviour

Criteria for membership:

· 13-20 years old (i.e. must be old enough to walk long distances to meetings and to use a bicycle to help in the case of an emergency)

· Self-motivated (i.e. will clean the house without being told)

· Has lost at least one parent

· Trustworthy (i.e. if sent to wash clothes, will bring back the extra soap)

· Unmarried

Qualification for membership is strictly adhered to, as is the moral standard of the organization. The age restriction for joining was established because it was feared that the younger children would not be able to perform jobs as effectively and the older ones would not take VSI seriously. Although orphans under 13 years old do not participate in the work aspect, they are invited to the meetings and to participate in planning activities. VSI members bathe the younger ones, cut their hair, and assist them with reading and writing. They help to buy school supplies for the younger orphans when they cannot afford them.

Before VSI was launched, orphans in the area discussed with HUMULIZA what their needs were and how these needs could be met. The main characteristics of their parents that they missed were love and guidance, and the goals of VSI meet these needs. When a member gets sick, the others take that person to the hospital. When a member is bereaved or has difficulties at home, they face the situation together.

These youth leaders have found strength through unity and skills to build their future through VSI

In one effort of cooperation, VSI members constructed a house for an 18-year-old member who was chased out of his home by an elder sibling after his parents died. He had inherited part of the family’s homestead so the members of VSI collected poles, banana fibres, water, and prepared mud, and constructed the house for the member themselves. The construction of this house can be seen as a symbol of unity that VSI stands for as a whole. “Your problems are no longer for you alone,” one VSI leader explained, “Building the house was hard, but because we were many, we managed.”

Despite facing stigma from other children and difficulties at home, the orphans say that the best part of being a member is the feeling of family. “We identify with each other as if we were brothers and sisters,” one member said.

The youth have undertaken many income-generating projects, including growing and selling tomatoes, selling small fish, and planting trees and coffee. Another major emphasis is on helping the elderly. Small tasks completed by members are rewarded with 150 TZ shillings (US$0.20) each by HUMULIZA.

The funds generated are divided between individual day-to-day cash expenses and bank accounts. Personal and group savings accounts have been started. One account assists individuals in initiating a new project. Another savings account assists members in emergency situations. For example, the death of a Tanzanian family member requires a large-scale meal with relatives and friends, which is provided by the remaining immediate family. For orphans, such extravagance is nearly impossible. VSI decided that when a member has such a loss, the bereaved member receives a donation of 1,500 TZ shillings (US$2) for expenses and members of the organization contribute food and assistance in preparing the meal.

As in any organization, there have been a few problems. For example, some members spent their time earning money by helping non-related elderly people, while neglecting their own grandparent. For others, it was their first time to handle money so they spent their 150 TZ shillings (US$0.20) on sweets. However, this first experience of handling and saving money is the basis for their ability to deal with money in the future.

The community has responded with interest to VSI. Sometimes visitors from the community observe their meetings to see what they are doing. Reported instances of abuse by caregivers are fewer, as they say they can see the positive results of belonging to the group and respond accordingly. The elderly are grateful for the help and said that VSI was bringing back the fading tradition of helping other people that are not related.

Members of VSI say that there are other youth with parents who wish to join the organization, but were turned down because it is intended for orphans only. This could be viewed as a positive result of the programme as the other young people have seen the cooperation and strength of the group.

However, it could also be seen as an example of one of the drawbacks of orphan organizations in general. Because being a member of VSI is dependent on the person’s orphan status, it isolates others who are both financially and psychosocially in just as much need as the orphans.

The fairness of orphan programmes can also be questioned as they exclude children and youth with terminally ill parents. It is not until the actual death of the parent that the individual will qualify for assistance.

In addition it ignores the plight of other young people in households that have taken in additional orphaned, related children that are just as dramatically affected by HIV/AIDS. The money and support given to communities from AIDS NGOs often excludes poor families with children who are not directly influenced by HIV/AIDS. For example, a Tanzanian donor who gave new school uniforms to orphans in one school the donor decided that the new uniform would not only include skirts, shirts and pants, but also socks and shoes. Previously all pupils in the area went to school barefoot because no one could afford shoes. When the orphans received shoes, the rest of the students were jealous and a counsellor from HUMULIZA remembers one student saying that if he could get new shoes if his father died, then maybe he would rather his father would die!

Members of VSI have been given the opportunity to organize themselves and make decisions. They have been exposed to invaluable lessons in decision making and life skills, such as handling money, work ethic and cooperation. Although there have been a few drawbacks, this combination of material and psychosocial support will benefit them long after their teenage years.