But while the future is looking brighter, the losses the orphans' suffered can resurface, particularly when class lessons are about family or medicine, said Winnie Joseph, the deputy headmaster at the village's elementary school. Kitheka says she tries to teach the kids how to love one another and how to cook and clean. But older kids sometimes will threaten to hit her after accusing her of favoring her biological grandchildren, she said.
For the most part, though, the children in Nyumbani appear to know how lucky they are, having landed in a village where they are cared for. An estimated 23.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have HIV as of 2011, representing 69 percent of the global HIV population, according to UNAIDS. Eastern and southern Africa are the hardest-hit regions. Millions of people — many of them parents — have died.
Kitheka noted that children just outside the village frequently go to bed hungry.
Paul Lgina, 14, contrasted the difference between life in Nyumbani, which in Swahili means simply "home," and his earlier life.
"In the village I get support. At my mother's home I did not have enough food, and I had to go to the river to fetch water," said Lgina, who, like all the children in the village, has neither a mother or a father.
When Sister Mary first began caring for AIDS orphans in the early 1990s, she said her group was often told not to bother.
"At the beginning nobody knew what to do with them. In 1992 we were told these children are going to die anyway," she said. "But that wasn't our spirit. Today, kids we were told would die have graduated from high school."
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