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Coping with hardship through friendship: the importance of peer social capital among children affected by HIV in Kenya

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Children living in households affected by HIV face numerous challenges as they take on significant household-sustaining and caregiving roles, often in conditions of poverty. To respond to their hardships, we must identify and understand the support systems they are already part of. For this reason, and to emphasise the agentic capabilities of children, this article explores how vulnerable children cope with hardship through peer social capital. The study draws on the perspectives of 48 HIV-affected and caregiving children who through PhotoVoice and draw-and-write exercises produced 184 photographs and 56 drawings, each accompanied with a written reflection. The themes emerging from the essays reveal that schools provide children with a useful platform to establish and draw on a mix of friendship structures. The children were found to strategically establish formalised friendship groups that have the explicit purpose of members supporting each other during times of hardship. The children also formed more natural friendship groups based on mutual attraction, with the implicit expectation that they will help each other out during times of hardship. In practice, the study found that children help each other through sharing (e.g. schools material and food) as well as through practical support (e.g. with domestic duties, securing food, and income-generation) — thus demonstrating that children are able to both accumulate and benefit from ‘peer social capital.’ The study concludes that a key coping strategy of HIV-affected and caregiving children is to mobilise and participate in friendship groups which are characterised by sharing and reciprocity of support. Development responses to support children affected by the HIV epidemic need to take heed of children's ability to draw on peer social capital.
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Keywords: HIV/AIDS; PhotoVoice; community support; participatory action research; social networks; sub-Saharan Africa; visual methods

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Health Promotion and Development, University of Bergen, Christiesgt. 13 5015, Bergen, Norway 2: WVP Kenya, PO Box 148 40601, Bondo, Kenya

Publication date: 2012-10-01

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