Young children's lives in the context of HIV and AIDS : listening to the voices of grade 3 learners in KwaZulu-Natal.
Since HIV/AIDS is closely connected with adult sexuality, children in early schooling are often overlooked in debates around the pandemic. However the growing number of children who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS cannot be ignored. This qualitative study gives voice to young childrens' experiences and understanding of HIV/AIDS in Savannah Park, province of KwaZulu-Natal. The study also explores how HIV/AIDS intersects with other barriers to learning and development and the effect this has upon childrens' lives. Twenty learners between the ages of 8-9 years who come from low income families were selected as participants in this study. They were interviewed using focus group interviews. During the focus group interviews, various participatory research techniques such as drawing, story telling, projection, games and movement evaluation exercises were employed. One of the key findings that emerged was that the participants consistently identified HIV/AIDS as a deadly disease. There was also a deep sense of fear amongst participants that their family members will contract HIV/AIDS rendering them vulnerable to the devastating impacts of the disease. Another important finding was that many participants were able to correctly identify symptoms of the disease revealing intimate knowledge and personal experience of the disease. Some modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS were also particularly well known amongst participants such as touching blood and sharing infected needles. This study however highlights the need for children in early schooling to be given accurate information on the sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS. Participants were also restricted in their knowledge of preventative measures against the HIV/AIDS virus and did not have any specific knowledge of anti retroviral drugs. Another key finding was the high levels of awareness amongst participants of the challenges experienced by HIV/AIDS infected and affected children. Lack of money, food, clothing and support coupled with sickness and high rates of absenteeism within a HIV/AIDS context impeded learning from their perspective. The views participants express also reveal that HIV/AIDS affected and infected children are still subject to prejudice, isolation and stigmatization within educational settings. However there is hope in that many participants expressed warmth and friendship towards HIV/AIDS infected children. Support structures such as family members, neighbours, teachers, social workers, church and medical personnel were also regarded as having a positive effect on the lives of HIV/AIDS affected and infected children.