Six orphans from the Muroemba family walk the long distance (approximately 7km) through the bush from their school to the home of their grandfather where they live, near the village of Rupisse. Their grandfather is responsible for a total of 11 orphans, the children of his two daughters who had died from AIDS-related infections.
“I do what I can to help my brothers and sisters, and because I am the oldest I must sometimes be like a mother to them. They might be crying just because we do not have enough food to eat and maybe we do not have soap, and I have to console them.
“I go to school and I am doing the standard six class. My favourite subject is Portuguese. Every day we walk together through the bush. It is a long way and I arrive at school very tired. My dream is to finish school so that I can get work and help the others. I would like to see all my brothers able to get jobs and look after themselves,” Tsitsi Muroemba, age 13.
“In my life, I have had eight children and five have died. It was very difficult for the children when their parents passed away, because they did not know what the future held for them. Now that they are living with me, they have forgotten the past and always think of me as the person in charge. At first they really cried. To comfort them I would tell them when people die they never come back again so the only thing you can do is forget the past. If we stay together and work together the crying period will shorten.
“It was also hard for me when they died because I am the one who gave birth to them. I was questioning myself. What was happening in my life? Why am I the one who God has chosen for such problems? But I decided I am the only one who can be looking after their children so I must be strong. It is a big responsibility, but I have no choice. Now I am used to it and I no longer think about these questions,” Peter Muroemba, age 57.
The Children Left Behind
This is a series of portraits of AIDS orphans and those who care for them in places along the Beira Corridor, Mozambique.
One of the most distressing impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is its effect on the lives of children who are left parentless, often at very young ages. In some cases, relatives or family friends take them into their homes, but in others, they are left to fend for themselves in orphan-headed households.
I chose to take these pictures in a panoramic format to highlight the crowded circumstances in which these children live, yet the lonely spaces that surround them.
Linda Nota has been responsible for her two orphaned grandchildren, Emilia, 7, and Carmen, 4, since the death of her daughter. They live in a small mud house.
“I do not know my age. My daughter got sick and I could not help her. She passed away, and now I have to look after these two girls. It is difficult for me to look after them because they often cry for their mother and I am handicapped with my leg. I have no income, so it is difficult for me to find food to cook for them, but we get some help from Kubatsirana [a local charity] and the church. They like to eat maize or rice and I cook for them.
“The youngest one, Carmen, is very ill. She often has sores all over her body and I am worried for her future. My dream is for these children to be healthy all the time, because if they are healthy they can play and when I look at them, it reminds me of their mother.”
Elisa, 12, takes care of her brother Tomás, 8, in this orphan-headed household.
“My parents got sick and they passed away. I was still very young and now I am with just my brother. We stay here, the two of us, in this house of our parents. I have to take care of him. I wash him, change his clothes and clean our house. Our neighbours give us some food. It is hard for me to be the one to look after him as I also have a young age, but it is no longer a burden. My dream is to stay at school and keep on studying. I also want my brother to go to school.”
Esnati Inácio, 13, has taken care of Janet, 10, Evelina, 6, and Tomás, 4, in this orphan-headed household since their mother died in 2001.
“After our mother died, I had to be the one to look after Janet, Evelina and Tomás. I have to try and find food for them and wash them. We have a father but he is not here and does nothing for us. His mind is not right. When my mother passed away I dropped from school because this one was very young and I had to look after him.
“Now none of us go to school, I just stay here with these children, and I am sorry I can’t buy anything for them, I would like to buy clothes and shoes as no one has shoes. The most painful thing is not having food. The youngest one is sometimes able to get food from our neighbours. Today we have nothing, so we are not going to eat anything.”
Gladys Ayugi poses with her two children and the seven orphans for whom she cares. They are standing at the back of her rough tin house where she brews and sells local beer.
Masindi Port, central Uganda
Sole Araújo, 15, and his sister Rebecca, 13, look after their younger siblings Luis, 11, and Elias, 7. Their situation is very difficult and they live alone in their family house with some support from their neighbours. Their youngest sibling, Elias, is frequently ill with AIDS-related infections.
“Together with my older brother we care for the younger ones. I wash all the clothes, do the housework and cook for them. When they cry and miss their mother I take them so they can play and forget about it. Sometimes I do hold them and comfort them. If they wake up and are sick during the night I have to stick with them and stay with them until the following morning when I can look to the neighbours to give us assistance. I like school. My favourite subject is natural science. I want to be a pilot when I grow up,” Rebecca Araújo, age 13.
“It was in 2000 that my parents started getting sick. I was still very young but because they were very ill, me and my sister Rebecca had to take care of them. We used to cook for them and also wash their clothes. We were doing everything for them. It was difficult. I was feeling so bad, because I was very young. They lost their lives at the end. Before he died my father crawled from his bed to our neighbour Mama Clara’s house to say that he wanted her to care for us and take us to school.
“When the young ones are sad about our mother and father, I invent some place or we start to play together so that they can forget. They are sometimes sad and sometimes happy, but most of the time they don’t think about the past. Even if it appears that things are good, I am responsible for my family on my own and I feel that there is something missing. When I grow up I hope to help people the same way I have been helped. I think I would like to be a manager,” Sole Araújo, age 15.
Mica António is responsible for eight of her orphaned grandchildren. They are Jose, 6, Ilde, 8, Domingo, 13, Juma, 14, Rosalina, 15, Amsito, 15, Frugue, 16, and Santinho, 17. They all live together in a small house in Chimoio. All of the children go to school.
“I don’t know my age. I have got so many years now. I have given birth to 12 children. Only two are remaining, the rest have passed away. Three of them had been in the army fighting in the war, but they became sick when they got out and were back with their families. Some were coughing, others had problems of their faces and bodies being swollen and others had problems with diarrhoea. I know AIDS is a disease that affects the man and his wife and they both die. That is what happened to my children. They just passed away and now the children are coming and I am responsible for those children. What can I do, it’s God who decided. The only thing I can do is just accept.
“I have nothing to give these children. All of them, they are very young, and I have no food for them, I have no money. I can’t say anything. I just look at them sometimes. I am now weak so the older ones do the cooking and the cleaning. Kubatsirana [a local charity] helps us with clothes, sugar, blankets and flour for making porridge. They also gave exercise books and school bags to help with their education. I hope these children can have a better life. For myself all I can think of is dying. When God calls me I go.”
Granny Anis Alfredo, 76, with 18 of the 22 orphaned grandchildren that she is responsible for. They live in a situation of desperate poverty in Chimoio. Most of the children go to school, but they often have to leave without eating in the morning.
This photograph shows Joao, 9, Norman, 22, Lancerd, 17, Mario, 14, Manuel, 10, Ronaldo, 5, Padjito, 9, Maninha, 7, Romario, 6, Eva, 20, Elizabeth, 21, Dinho, 19, Ines, 14, Jalvador, 16, Pascoa, 12, Anasis Domingos, 14, Helder, 16, Maselina, 18, and Belina, 21.
“I had seven children in my life. Four died and three are still living. I am responsible now to care for 22 grandchildren. The youngest one is six years old. Because I am the oldest I have to take care of them. It’s very difficult for me because there are times when they cry if there is no food. They say, ‘if our parents were around we could have had something to eat’. When I hear that I also cry, because I have nothing to give them.
“We get some help with food and school books from Kubatsirana [a local charity]. I also was given 20 litres of paraffin from social welfare for me to sell and get more income. I have nothing to say, because I can only say the suffering which I have. I pray to God that he should give me more life because I am so responsible for these orphan children. My dream is to live for the time being. And for those who pray, pray for me until my orphan children grow up. Then I can go.”
Some of the 200 orphans who are about to start coming to this new care centre in Dondo every day. Most of them come from very difficult home circumstances. At the centre they will be provided with meals and there are activities for them to take part in, such as sports, dressmaking and horticulture.
“Today is the first day that we are opening this centre, which we have built for orphans and other vulnerable children. At first, we expect around 200 children to attend every day. They will receive a meal and there will be vocational training for them. We also want them to come here to play and support each other.
“In the past we have been helping these children in their homes, but we realised that with all the difficulties they face in their home environment it would be a good idea to make a centre like this which would be a safe place for them to come to every day.
“The figures show that around 21 percent of adults in this area are HIV-positive. Many of these children could grow up to be at risk of being infected themselves so we believe that it is important for us at this centre to give these children some regular education about the dangers of HIV and AIDS.
“It is very difficult to meet the needs of the community when there is so much poverty. With this centre, we can offer some help to those who live within a close enough walking distance, but there are many others who live too far away and we have to try to find the resources to help them as well,” Tiago Jaime, coordinator of ANDA, an organisation that works for community development in Manica and the surrounding villages.