Tackling HIV: Making memory books in Uganda

Our project in Uganda teaches parents living with HIV how to make a will and create a memory book with their children. The books provide comfort to the orphans after the parent has gone and the wills help protect the family's inheritance from manipulative relatives or landgrabbers.

How HIV affects older people and their families in Uganda

Eliza cooks a meal for her grandchildren Eliza, 72, is among the thousands of older Ugandans caring for orphans (c) Kate Holt/HelpAge International Uganda has 1.7 million orphans, 51% of whom are cared for by an older person.

Older people caring for young children are often the victim of land and property-grabbing by relatives who manipulate traditional inheritance practices.

Our evidence shows that, without the right kind of support, children who grow up in a household headed by an older person are more likely to drop out of school and enter the child labour force.

Evidently, these multi-generational households are vulnerable and struggling to cope.

Alleviating the impact of HIV and AIDS

HelpAge is working in Kasese (which has one the highest HIV prevalence rates in the country) with our partner Uganda Reach The Aged Association.

The project has two strands: preparing a will and making a memory book.

People living with HIV are taught how to write a will to protect their children's inheritance from relatives who may try to disinherit them. This work supports children who are cared for by older people, by helping them keep ownership of the property of parents who have died due to AIDS.

Parents are also taught how to create a memory book, containing pictures, stories and family trees. The books are left to their children when they die, providing a great comfort to children who lose a parent as they often have little memory of them. They also provide reassurance to the parents that they can leave something behind.

Project aims (2008-2013)

  • To train 500 people to write wills and develop memory books.
  • To train 450 paralegals to support households protect their inheritance rights.
  • To provide 6,750 households with free legal advice.

Eliza: Our memory book shows our family ties

Eliza and her grandchildren read the memory book they made together Eliza and her grandchildren read their memory book (c) Kate Holt/HelpAge International

Eliza, 72, cares for 14 orphans and her daughter's five children.

"I had five children but now I only have one daughter left who lives next door to me. My other children all died of HIV and my last daughter is also positive.

"Between them my children have left 14 orphans that need to be cared for. The oldest is 21 years old and the youngest is only one.

"My daughter has five children too. Her husband died of HIV several years ago. We all cook together and help each other.

"I have a stall in the market selling second-hand clothes and this is my only source of income.

"We try to eat twice a day. Sometimes though we don't have any food so we don't eat, or we will have a little that we will give to the children.

"In 2009, my daughter was invited to attend the memory book and will writing workshop - and she has now written a memory book for all of the grandchildren and we update it regularly together.

"It is a very good way for a family like ours in which many people have died, and children have been orphaned, to document the family history and identify who everyone belongs to.

"It is also a good idea because it shows these family ties and helps to identify who should be responsible for people's offspring.

"Although the children may be orphaned by their immediate parents it gives them the knowledge that they are also part of a much wider family structure that they have a responsibility to.

"In our family's memory book there are lots of photographs that the children like to look at but also stories about their tribe and parents that we read to them.

"I only hope that they will all grow up one day to have their own families and be able to share the memory book with them."

Click to see our memory book photogallery


Useful links

Read more on our HIV and AIDS policy.

What we're doing to alleviate the impact of HIV and AIDS in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania.

Fact file

  • Uganda has 1.7million orphans - half of whom are in the care of older people.
  • On average every older carer cares for two people living with HIV or AIDS and three or four young children.
  • 70% of Uganda's older people live below the poverty line.

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