Grannies who bear burden

Skinny and gap-toothed, her nose smudged with black dust, grandmother Kanotu Mumo sorts charcoal into small pots for sale on the stoop of her slum hut.

Skinny and gap-toothed, her nose smudged with black dust, grandmother Kanotu Mumo sorts charcoal into small pots for sale on the stoop of her slum hut.

Mumo is an Aids granny in Kenya's Kibera, one of Africa's biggest slums. Like grandmothers all over Africa, she has been left to fend for orphans after her own children and husband died.

She shelters four grandchildren, two great grandchildren and the child of a dead relative.

According to UN figures, at least 12million children in Africa have lost one or both parents to Aids. This is 80percent of all Aids orphans in the developing world.

The number of orphans in Africa has increased by 50percent since 1990 while falling in other regions.

The burden of this disaster is borne by extended families, most often grannies.

Unlike many of the grannies, doleful and worn down by their fate, Mumo smiles and jokes. She says she cannot remember her age. As she talks, two teenage granddaughters come and go.

Her story is typical of the everyday tragedies of Kibera. Two daughters and a son died of Aids. Another son was stoned to death by a mob after he was caught stealing.

"I am embarrassed to talk about it, but it was due to the unemployment," Mumo says.

She sells charcoal - the slum's primary fuel - for a small profit, after buying from a nearby wholesaler who delivers it to her hut.

Mumo cleans the Stara school in Kibera twice a week to supplement her charcoal income. Her grandchildren attend the school and are fed steaming maize porridge and beans from huge vats.

The Stara project, supplied and funded by Dutch charity ChildsLife International, the UN World Food Programme and Feed the Children, a Kenyan aid agency, was started seven years ago by a group of Kibera mothers after friends died and left them to look after their children.

The school houses more than 500 lively children, 70percent of them orphans.

More than 30 of them are HIV-positive and receive antiretrovirals from a nearby clinic in the slum.

The school, headed by dynamic Kibera resident Josephine Mumo, has proven skilful in raising support.

Singer Harry Belafonte, Barbara Bush, President George Bush's mother, and actress Drew Barrymore have been backers.

Without their grandmothers and projects such as Stara, many more orphans would end up as glue-sniffing street children or child prostitutes.

Many of the grandmothers are themselves weakened by HIV as well as old age, making it even harder for them to care for their charges.

Grace Atema, 65, looks after three grandchildren and her daughter. She washes clothes twice a week to raise money.

"I put everything I earn towards the children. But I worry what would happen if I died. How would the children survive?" Atema asks. - Reuters

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