Original Articles

Breaching cultural silence: enhancing resilience among Ugandan orphans


Abstract

Cultural silence is frequently the outcome of deep-seated taboos regarding adults talking to children about sex and death. This paper examines the impact of cultural silence on the resilience of children orphaned by AIDS in Uganda. Cultural silence is often linked with denial. This article explores the complexities of cultural silence in terms of its causes, justifications and impacts. The findings from two small, in-depth qualitative studies among orphans who were being supported by community-based organisations in Kampala illustrate the impacts of cultural silence and disclosure on the coping ability of orphaned children. The first study involved 11 children orphaned by AIDS (four boys and seven girls, aged 12 to 17 years) and four parents widowed by AIDS (two men and two women) who were themselves living with HIV. (None of the parents interviewed were related to the orphans in the study.) In the second study, 10 HIV-positive mothers (aged 25 to 40) and nine children (six boys and three girls, aged 11 to 18) with HIVpositive mothers were interviewed. The discussion examines the findings by using a model of resilience, centred on the concepts of closeness and competence as conditions for coping. Cultural silence emerges as a risk factor that increases children's vulnerability through undermining both closeness and competence, while disclosure and openness — the breaching of cultural silence — are revealed as protective factors that may enhance resilience among children.

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