Overcoming the orphan curse with ICTs
By KW for APCNews for APCNews
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, Uganda, 02 April 2007
In developing countries around the world, the spread of HIV/AIDS is contributing to a growing number of orphans who prematurely assume responsibility for their siblings. In Uganda, it is not unusual to find children – usually boys – as young as eight years-old acting as household heads. Boys tend to head households because Ugandan culture prescribes that they adopt that responsibility, even if they have older sisters. Also, relatives are often restricted in their ability to provide support due to limited resources and choose to take in girls, who are seen to be more vulnerable, rather than boys.
DSI.ORG, a small non-profit located in the western Ugandan district of Kabarole, has recently created the Diary Project. Implemented to strengthen the so-called Awareness Sharing Group Network of that same organisation, it assists boys from child-headed families affected by HIV/AIDS to cope with grief, stigma and discrimination, share experiences and knowledge, and work together. The project will add to the knowledge base shared through the network, and develop the capacity of the network to employ information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural settings.
During the first month of the six-month project – set to start in May 2007 – members will receive training designed to impart skills required of managing network activities – in particular, village phones (inspired by the Grameenphone experiment) that the boys will operate to generate income. Taking place on weekends so that the boys do not miss school, training will cover ICT and knowledge sharing techniques; use of telephony for personal and business development; reproductive health rights; as well as teamwork and conflict management.
The Diary Project is so-named because the members’ knowledge and experiences in applying their training will be documented and made available to the broader community. During the sixth and final month of the project, all members will attend a major awareness sharing group forum. The information shared at this meeting will be recorded on an audiocassette and used to create brochures, expanding the reach of the network. Thus, not only will network members gain information for personal and professional development, but they will act as information points, spreading knowledge to secondary beneficiaries including other children, relatives, schools, and community leaders.
Faridah Namutebi, director of DSI.ORG, notes that the Diary Project stands out from other initiatives because of its sustainability and long-term vision. The project provides the boys with skills that will last a lifetime and exposes them to various viable income generating opportunities, allowing them to forge a better life. Moreover, as the boys learn about reproductive health rights and are encouraged to adopt positive masculine traits as part of the project, it will enable them to become more responsible “fathers of tomorrow”. They are encouraged to have smaller families, share financial and decision-making responsibilities with their spouse, and love faithfully and positively. Also, participating in the Awareness Sharing Group Network and the Diary Project should raise the boys’ self-esteem and the level of respect that they receive from community members, weakening the myth that orphaned children are a curse to society.