Schools for life: Training HIV/AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa

On World AIDS Day, FAO profiles one of its activities to help mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on rural communities.

© FAO/S. Maina

1 December 2005, Rome - Combining its popular Farmer Field School teaching methodology, designed to teach adult farmers about the ecology of their fields through firsthand observation and analysis, with the Farmer Life School, which uses similar analytical methods to teach about human behaviour and AIDS prevention, FAO is now addressing the needs of Africa's future farmers, many of whom have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

For these children, the disease has not only robbed them of their parents, but of the essential life skills and knowledge their parents would have passed on. FAO is working to bridge the gap in a number of countries through schools specifically designed to meet these children's needs.

To date, FAO has set up 34 Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools for orphaned children in Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia, targeting a total of around 1,000 young people.

The AIDS crisis

Of the estimated 34 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 11 million lost their parents to AIDS. By 2010, it is estimated that up to 20 million children could lose one or both parents to the disease. Children orphaned by AIDS and living in rural areas are particularly at risk from malnutrition, disease, abuse and sexual exploitation.

The threat of sexual exploitation is particularly high for those left alone to cope with poverty and forced to earn money to support their families. After the death of their parents, the children often become heads of household and have to search for ways to make an income, a difficult task in rural areas with few job opportunities, services and little infrastructure.

Learning by doing

FAO is working with the World Food Programme (WFP) and other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and local institutions, to found the Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools for children and young people in response to the growing numbers of AIDS orphans.

The schools aim to share agricultural knowledge, business skills, and life skills with orphans and vulnerable children between 12 and 18 years of age. The knowledge and skills acquired by the young girls and boys should help them to develop positive values regarding gender equality and human rights.

The schools cover both traditional and modern agriculture. Children learn about field preparation, sowing and transplanting, weeding, irrigation, pest control, utilisation and conservation of available resources, utilisation and processing of food crops, harvesting, storage and marketing skills.

The field schools also help to recover or sustain traditional knowledge about indigenous crops, medicinal plants, and biodiversity.

In addition, the schools address such issues as HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, gender sensitivity, child protection and sexual health, while offering psychological and social support, nutritional education, and business skills. The schools provide a safe social space for the students to develop their self-esteem and confidence.

"The objective of the schools is to empower the orphans through knowledge and self-esteem and to give them essential elements for their long-term food security. These training courses are an important starting point to get AIDS orphans out of hunger and poverty. They offer survival strategies in often very difficult environments," said Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO's Gender and Population Division.


Mozambique is the focus of the project with a total of 28 Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools now up and running in the central provinces. So far, around 120 orphans have successfully completed their training, and 840 more students are currently learning how to work the land with hands-on lessons in farming techniques, nutrition and medicinal plants.

Lessons in dancing and singing help the children grow in confidence and develop social skills. Theatre and discussion groups are used to tackle potentially life-saving issues including the prevention of HIV/AIDS and malaria, gender equality and children's rights.