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Silent killer cruelly robs a generation of opportunity

By Zhang Yuchen (China Daily)

08:22, May 30, 2012

This 2011 photo shows pupils from a primary school in Longchuan county in Yunnan province watching a theater performance in Beijing. It was part of a trip to the capital at the invitation of Beijing Concord College of Sino-Canada. Many organizations have given a helping hand to those in need, particularly children in poverty-stricken or remote areas in China. Provided to China Daily

Ethnic group's AIDS orphans forced to face adult responsibilities, reports Zhang Yuchen in Sichuan.

Waqi Wuji is reluctant to talk about her father. He died two months ago from an AIDS-related infection and the 14-year-old from the Yi ethnic group is still struggling to reconcile herself with the new situation.

The AIDS orphan, as youngsters such as Waqi Wuji are known, is not an isolated phenomenon in her home region. Children whose parents have died of an AIDS-related illness, or have been abandoned by the remaining parent after their spouse has died, make up a large proportion of the population.

She is not technically an orphan - she has an 11-year-old sister and a 16-year-old brother as well as their mother, 45, whose poor health prevents her from supporting her family - but circumstances mean that she has lost her only real chance of formal education and, therefore, a decent standard of living.

Waqi Wuji's educational career ended when she finished her Grade 4 primary schooling, immediately after her father was diagnosed with HIV\\AIDS three years ago. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she talked about missing her education. "I would like to support my family and I would like to go back to school," she said.

Her daily jobs include helping her mother and brother work the fields and raise a pig that was donated to her family a year ago. Unlike other Yi households in the county, Waqi Wuji's family can't afford to raise a cow or an ox because they can't afford to pay the 3,000 to 7,000 yuan ($473 to $1,104) required to buy livestock.

"Oxen are important and precious property in a Yi household," said Zike Lame, the head of the county authority.

The flat house where Waqi Wuji and her family dwell is practically empty. The combined kitchen and living room contains little furniture, but it still qualifies as a typical middle- to lower-class Yi household.

Jida Geguo, Waqi Wuji's mother, barely understands Mandarin and cannot even pronounce her name in the language. Nihao, or "hello", is the only word she can say in Mandarin, so she always thanks the strangers who visit her home to offer advice and provide help with Kashasha, which means "Thank you" in the Yi language.

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