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AIDS Orphans Learn to Stand on Their Own Feet
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Fifteen-year-old Nie Yong song has exceeded the expectations of himself and his community with his admission into a vocational school in central China.

He is among the first of a generation of Chinese children orphaned by AIDS, who have overcome public prejudice and an absence of hope, to come of age and learn to stand on their own feet.

"I never expected that I would have the opportunity to come to a big city to study," says Nie, who began his new campus life on Monday in the Tourism School of Zhengzhou, the provincial capital,200 kilometers from Shangcai County.

Nie's parents died from AIDS three years ago in Nandawu Village, in Shangcai, a county with a high incidence of AIDS since the mass contamination of blood donors and recipients in the years before 1995 in Henan Province.

Nie's village has reported 415 HIV/AIDS cases, including 45 deaths, out of a population of 2,600. He is one of 728 children orphaned, but not infected, by the disease in Shangcai, which had reported 6,925 sufferers by July.

In September 2003, after their parents died, Nie and his sister Nie Juan moved to the "Sunlight Home", a government-funded charitable institution that looks after healthy AIDS orphans. The county has five such homes and a house funded by public donations housing a total 186 orphans.

"Without the care and support of the home staff, I would still be an ignorant rural boy," says Nie, who graduated after three years at middle school this summer.

The Sunlight Home will provide living expenses and the tourism school has exempted Nie from the three-year tuition fees, says Nie, who chose hotel management as his major.

With an estimated 650,000 HIV/AIDS cases, China has 76,000 AIDS orphans, whose numbers could pass 150,000 by 2010, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNCF).

Like Nie, other AIDS orphans aged 15 to 18, who either have finished their nine-year compulsory education or dropped out of school, are having to learn skills in order to make a living.

A pilot vocational training project started in July in Henan, southwest China's Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, aiming to help AIDS orphans find jobs by acquiring skills.

Xu Wenqing, the UNCF national project officer on HIV-AIDS in Beijing, told Xinhuas the UNCF is cooperating with China's Civil Affairs Ministry in the project, which includes skills such as sewing, car mechanics, catering and hairdressing.

Training lasts around two months, with an average cost of 3,000yuan (US$375) per student, said Xu. The training will be mainly funded by the UNCF and local governments, with the UNCF investing 200,000 yuan (US$25,000) this year.

Beneficiaries include both AIDS orphans and children whose parents are AIDS patients, said Xu.

A policy on training for both groups of children is expected to be drafted on the basis of the pilot project by the Civil Affairs Ministry at the end of next year, to assist in finding employment, Xu said.

China will improve its relief and assistance system for orphans, and provide more aid for their education, medical costs and employment, said Li Liguo, vice minister of Civil Affairs.

In Shangcai, the first group of 11 AIDS orphans aged 18 or above have completed a three months of free training in animal husbandry or computers this year, said Li Haizhou, chief of the county committee of the Communist Party of China.

Under the county's policy, living subsidies from the local government end when the orphans turn to be 18 years old.

The county government still tries to raise money to pay for tuition fees and living expenses of any orphan enrolled in a college, said Li.

The county's labor and social security department will also organize more training programs for AID orphans, who have finished their compulsory education and left school, Li added.

Wu Guosheng, whose parents died when he was 13, another former resident of the Sunlight Home, has found a job as an English teacher in a primary school after graduating from a local teachers training college in 2005.

Wu, 18, was exempted from tuition fees for his three years of study.

"Now I can stand on my own two feet," said Wu.

(Xinhua News Agency September 5, 2006)

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