by Paula Beauchamp (pbeau AT hotmail.com)
Where one would expect only sadness, an inexplicable joy clings to the
walls of Teddy Namanda's home. Five children sit on the grass-laid floor
of their crumbling mud hut in rural Rakai District, smiling but alone.
Little Agnes, 4, is on Teddy's left. Her small hand rests timidly on her
sister's upper thigh. Scovia, 9, the shyest of them all, nestles gently
against her sister's upper arm, her purple vest a polka dot of tears and
Normally one would fill with delight at such a tableau of maternal
warmth and unconditional love. Normally, but not now.
Teddy, you see, is barely 13 years old and two years have passed since
AIDS claimed her parents and swallowed her childhood whole. Aged 11 then,
her youngest charge, little Agnes, had barely turned two.
"My father died in 1996. My mother followed in 1998," says Teddy in
her quiet, mature way.
Originally Burundian refugees, the children were left without relatives
once their parents died. Teddy says her responsibilities immediately became
"I quit school to look for food for my brothers and sisters the moment
my mother died. Mostly I dug in other people's gardens in exchange for
some little food."
Teddy has since learned to weave mats and does odd jobs around the
village in return for food. In this way, she keeps her four younger
siblings in school.
Their performance, given the circumstances, has been astounding.
Richard, the second eldest, placed third last year in his class of 75. His
replies, sharp and precise, evidence an intellect as keen as his sister's.
"I am growing in thoughts and planning," says Teddy. Everyone
co-operates and that is good. It makes me happy."
James Monge, Manager of World Vision Kyotera, the office that stumbled
upon the family six months ago, is impressed. "These children challenge
me," he says. "They are such good children, doing so well and yet they
Fearing the children's dilapidated home would not survive another wet
season, World Vision set about building them a new home.
"I can't believe I'll sleep in a house that doesn't leak," says Teddy.
With the house almost complete, the children won't have to wait long.
"A secure home and better bedding will make school easier for them,"
says Monge. "Now we want to find a way of getting Teddy back to school."
Like the period spent nursing her parents through illness, Teddy bares
no resentment towards her siblings in her de facto "motherhood" role.
"It is not their fault," she adds casually.
But Teddy admits to feeling lonely and bored with her siblings and
peers away at school. When asked what she most wants, her response is
unequivocal. "To go back to school."
For the 56 child-headed households registered with World Vision's
Kyotera Division, the greatest challenge is finding a way to make them
self-sufficient while keeping the eldest child in school.
"Aids is a nasty disease that causes many social imbalances. It is
worst if it takes parents when the children are still young," says Innocent
Centurio, a Development Facilitator with World Vision.
In Rakai, where AIDS has gnawed through the extended family's safety
net, the phenomenon of child-headed households raises unique and
Orphan families headed by girls tend to work better, but the burdens
cast upon them are often more onerous.
"We have to find ways of assisting these children to maximise their
time because they each have so many responsibilities and so much to do," says
Grace Mayanja, the Manager of World Vision's Kabuto Office where 100
orphan-headed households are registered. Examples include helping the
children establish low-maintenance, high-yield projects and providing them
with bicycles to cover long distances quickly.
In the meantime, as Teddy smiles askance at her burgeoning new home,
her happiness and pride are unmistakable. The smile she wears says,
"Things will be ok." Looking at how Teddy has coped, there
is little question that she is right.