I was very touched by a recent exhibition at LSE, ‘Picturing life as a Young Carer in Africa’ which really brought home the reality of life for children who look after ill parents.
The exhibition is part of a research project conducted by Dr Morten Skovdal of the Institute of Social Psychology. Here, he introduces some of the poignant tales he uncovered.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has had a devastating impact on millions of families in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a phenomenon that has rocked family units to the core, particularly those who live in communities with fragile social support networks. In such settings, it is the children who take on the responsibility of nursing their sick parents and earning a living for the family.
Picturing life as a Young Carer in Africa portrays what life is like for a care-giving child in rural Kenya and Zimbabwe. The exhibition features drawings, pictures and written narratives produced by children between the ages of 10 and 17 between 2007 and 2010.
Here are some of their stories:
In this world there are many ways of living. Some are happy and some people are suffering.
In this story I am writing about a child whose parents are suffering from AIDS. Luasi is a small girl whose father died from AIDS. She is now living with her mother. Her mother cannot do anything. She spends the whole day sleeping.
Luasi spends the day working. She wakes up early every day and cooks for her mother. She helps her mother out of the house. She is always lonely and her friends treat her badly. They are depending on their small field where they grow cabbages, beans, maize and vegetables.
Luasi never has time to play. Her mother thanks her every day and she will be given blessing from God. I advise people to help children like Luasi, after all she is only a young girl.
Alice, age 12, Zimbabwe
I want to talk about this picture because it will help me in the future and I love this kind of work.
This photo tells us that we should do what we do well. We usually have our needs met by the produce of this garden. My grandmother cannot dig and go to the farm because of a wounded leg. We need to buy most of the things for her, so I decided to work hard on the farm to get food.
I want to plant vegetables such as Sukuma Wiki, peas and other vegetables, onions, tomatoes. The money which we could otherwise use for these, we can save up, add more to the savings from sale of our produce, which I can use to purchase drugs for my grandmother. I can also help my sister with many things. It makes her happy, like when I paid for school fees of £5.
What you see on the picture really helps me, I get money from the sales and the community benefits from the vegetables, onions and tomatoes.
Jane, age 17, Kenya
I want to talk about this photo because these schoolchildren have formed a group which I am a part of. We help each other.
I once had a problem and they helped me through a difficult time. They regularly came to visit my mother and they also help me fetching water and firewood. This photo shows us that we should love and visit each other because if we respect one another we can assist one another. If we have problems, my fellow children can help me.
Friends are important to one’s life. These friends of mine can help me in various ways. Some of them cultivate vegetables that I don’t have and if I go to them and ask them if they can help me, they can give me some vegetables. This picture shows that while some have plenty of things, a friend may have less and we can always join hands to help someone through a situation.
Millicent, age 15, Kenya
I want to talk about this picture because of this child whose father has been in the hospital. The mother is in the hospital taking care of her husband, but the child is left alone.
This photo tells us that we should show love to those who have problems and painful feelings. We should talk to them, encourage them, this will help them be together with others and forget the pain that they are experiencing.
I took the photo of this child because I help him in certain ways. I love him and assist him by washing his body, giving him food, buying him clothes and play with him to make him happy so that he doesn’t think of the situation of his parents.
He sleeps in my room and I wash his clothes. The child helps me in various ways; he helps me wash the dishes, looks after the goats, welcomes people and gives them water when visiting. I love the child, the community loves him too because he loves people.
Jane, age 17, Kenya
As you can see on the drawing, Karren is crying because her father is dying because of AIDS.
She is also crying because she is lonely. If she wants to go and play with her friends, her father may suddenly say ‘Karren, give me some water for me to drink’. So that’s why she is crying because of loneliness.
Her mother died three years ago. Now Karren is left alone with her father. Karren is tired of being busy all the time. If her father wants water she always runs fast to get it. Some people want to help her and kids want to play with her but because they don’t know whether she has AIDS or not, they don’t play with her.
Austine, age 11, Kenya