Bringing Play to Children Living with HIV/AIDS

Students listening to Storyteller in Kenya

Bringing Play to Children Living with HIV/AIDS

In Kenya, many children are living with HIV AIDS. ChildsPlay International (CPI) worked at two AIDS orphanages in Kenya.

Share This Post

The global push to treat HIV has made significant progress, but there are still many children in sub-Saharan Africa who are being left behind. In Kenya, there are numerous AIDS orphanages that provide care and support for children with HIV/AIDS. Learn more about the challenges these children face and the efforts being made to improve their lives

ChildsPlay International (CPI) worked at two AIDS orphanages in Kenya where children are living with HIV/AIDS. We brought play and storytelling, and organized our “trademark” “Olympics of the Body and Mind.”

Many Children with HIV/AIDS are Left Behind

Girl at orphanage in Kenya where many children are living with HIV AIDS. Girl is attending a storytelling event and painting he impression of the story told.


Our object (to the extent possible) was to restore these kids’ childhood and some of its joys. Play-based learning is included in all the workshops CPI conducts.

Children Orphaned by HIV/AIDS

In 2014, CPI began working with Edward Kabaka, whose NGO (Reiko Kenya) works in Migori. Located seven hours by car from Nairobi, it’s one of many HIV/AIDS hotspots in Kenya. Many of the children are living with HIV AIDS. St. Goretti is a residential, privately-funded school, devoted to children orphaned by AIDS. Many of the children ( 11 to 16), are themselves HIV-positive. 

These kids are not only dealing with being HIV orphans but also with the medical and psychological issues of HIV-positivity.

Kenyan children living with HIV AIDS playing


Children at AIDS orphanage in Kenya playing during our storytelling workshop.

Our object (to the extent possible) was to restore these kids’ childhood and some of its joys. Through play-based learning, we wanted play to become as routine as carrying water cans. Children are born to play, to sing and to dance,  and we wanted play to become integral to the their lives. CPI wanted play to continue animating their lives even after we had left.

The New York Times Article on Children living with HIV AIDS

Earlier this year, the New York Times ran an article with the dispiriting headline “Global Push to Treat H.I.V. Leaves Children Behind.” Focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, the article observed that while effective HIV treatment now exists, and has reached many adults, children are chronically left out – and are getting sick – due to problems involving the drugs’ accessibility. The New York Times stated:

“It has been two decades since efforts to prevent the transmission of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, from mother to child during pregnancy and birth began in earnest in sub-Saharan Africa.  Yet some 130,000 babies are still becoming infected each year because of logistical problems, such as drug shortages, and more pernicious ones, such as the stigma that makes women afraid to seek tests or treatment. Then, many of the children who contract the virus are failed a second time: While the effort to put adults on H.I.V. treatment has been a major success across the region, many children’s infections are undetected and untreated.”

Despite 20 years of work by the US government, the U.N., and NGOs, the region’s children are missing out on basic healthcare. They are living through their own epidemic. The situation is often aggravated because many children are HIV orphans, notably in Kenya, which as recently as 2019, there was an adult infection rate of 21,000 deaths per year.

We Organized Our Trademark “Olympics of the Mind and Body”

CPI went twice to St. Goretti’s and organized an Olympics of the Mind and Body, which spotlighted local dance and singing, local games, drawing, mask-making, even kite-flying (which was new to most of the children).    

Children at AIDS orphanage in Kenya drawing after storytelling session

We engaged children in activities that brought joy to their physically and emotionally demanding lives. There was gospel singing, traditional dance, games, and storytelling.

Storytelling is a Popular Program

Storytelling and learning how to use a video camera were popular amongst the children. The children were introduced to professional video-making by CPI co-founder Sarwar Mushtaq. 

Children at AIDS orphanage in during video workshop

In our workshop, the children wrote, acted in and shot videos of their lives.

The Importance of Play 

CPI advocates for the  importance of play. A few children who were particularly interested and adept became apprentices, but all the children saw that making simple videos was within the range of possibility. 

When CPI departed St. Goretti’s, we left all the equipment behind — worth about $800 — so that the trained apprentices could work with their other children to create their own movies on an ongoing basis.  The children starred in movies about their real and fantasy lives. The tie between making films and story-telling proved to be organic —when a child is on camera, the sense of performing and telling a story is heightened. A simple truism: children shine on camera.     

The children told stories about their lives and experiences. Some children’s stories were literal and factual, reflecting their lives and experiences. Others were imaginative but still “real” to the young storytellers

Storytelling allows kids to be heard by – and show off to – friends, teachers, and members of the community. Our partners in Kenya observed that this type of event, and the liveliness it generated, was new.

Telling stories also opened the door to being slightly more open about all the secrets surrounding living with HIV/AIDS.  

Storytelling Manual by CPI

CPI is offering a Storytelling Manual (available on request) helps NGOs and schools to create permanent storytelling circles and sessions. During these events, young and old get together around the exchange of stories. Such circles are a wonderful means of preserving a culture. Storytelling gives children the means to interpret the culture in new directions. 

ChildsPlay storytelling manual

ChildsPlay is expanding its Storytelling Program and creating instructional manuals. We now have off-site programs in Haiti and the DRC, as well as Pakistan.

PEPFAR’s Kenya Report

The New York Times continue to throw light on the kids’ persistent need, we hope that the situation will improve, and that these kids’ enthusiasm will ultimately be justified.  Therefore, we’re encouraged by President Biden’s State of the Union speech, which cited the bipartisan effort to fight HIV/AIDS around the world through PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, launched by President George W. Bush), which was established twenty years ago and still continuing the fight. PEPFAR recently published a detailed report on its efforts in Kenya, emphasizing the need for equity by addressing infections among adolescents, children, and young women. This is great news.

Mikei, Kenya: Children at St. Gorety High School singing. Girls and boys each had separate choirs, though these choirs were hardly staid. Kids would stand up, bust out of their places, sing and danc


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates on our activities

Related Blogs

Cover photo boys embracing storytelling in the home

Introducing Our New Family Storytelling Guide

Discover how CPI’s Storytelling Manual is spurring requests for home storytelling guides, addressing the needs of displaced children, refugees, and families impacted by trauma.

Thank you for subscribing to ChildsPlay International's newsletter

ChildsPlay International does not share our mailing lists or member information with any agency or organization. We will only use your contact information for the purpose for which was submitted, such as sending announcements, replying to inquiries, and processing memberships and responding to requests about our programs.  You can change or remove your information from our list at any time by contacting us at