Although the impact of AIDS-induced mortality and morbidity is well-researched, few studies explore the interaction and reciprocity of care between children and their households. Drawing on participatory research methods (interviews, focus groups, photo-essays, story writing and observations), we bring together the findings of two qualitative studies from rural communities in Ethiopia and Kenya involving 94 orphans and their households. We argue that children's contributions to household livelihoods are pivotal to the coping of households affected by AIDS. Despite various socio-economic constraints placed on their childhood, orphans' access to the household-based resources of extended families enhances their ability to obtain long-term means for their livelihoods. Care for orphaned children is also influenced by reciprocity in terms of household labour contributions, the care of sick family members and generating and contributing income in return for adult protection and provisions. We conclude that a one-dimensional view of orphans as “burdens” not only overshadows the meaningful contributions they make to their families, but also diverts attention away from interventions grounded in their felt needs and capacities
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