Summarised from the article Does early intervention improve orphan support programmes? in Horizons Report Spring 2000.
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More than 1.5 million Ugandan children have been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic; throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the number soars to 9 million. Despite the clear need, there are few programmes to help families affected by HIV/AIDS plan for the future or to support young people who must cope with the death of parents. Those that do exist may have limited impact beyond immediate provision of food and shelter for children already orphaned.
In response to this crisis, Horizons collaborated with PLAN International to design an intervention study that tests a unique approach to orphan care and support. Working with a Makerere University research team in the rural Tororo and Luwero districts of Uganda, the project seeks to determine whether enhanced services that begin while parents are still alive are more effective in improving the long-term well-being of children than those that respond only after parents die. Researchers are currently analyzing baseline data; final results should be available in late 2001, after two more rounds of data collection are completed.
The primary enhancement within the intervention is a succession planning component to help HIV-positive parents plan for their childrens future. This includes assistance in choosing a guardian and in acclimatising children to the new guardian, will-writing workshops, legal counselling to avoid property grabbing, and income generation programmes for both parents and guardians.
Perhaps the most compelling element of the succession programme is assistance to parents in creating memory books that contain photos, family trees, anecdotes and other important family information. This is a concept inspired by a programme for women sponsored by the National Community of Women Living with AIDS. These binders are used to break the news to children that their parents are HIV-positive, and later become cherished mementos. In a culture where there are taboos about discussing death, the memory books may provide critical psychosocial support to families facing a difficult future.