By Kerry Sanders Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/30/2005 3:01:52 PM ET 2005-06-30T19:01:52

In the far reaches of eastern Africa, miles from paved roads and running water, the Samburu tribe is facing what so many on this continent fear: A societal collapse due to AIDS.

As fathers and mothers die in Africa at an alarming rate, left behind are children who can barely eke out survival.

In Lorubae, AIDS, or ukimwi, as they say in Swahili, has touched most everyone's life.

Eighteen-year-old Caroline Kateri, a 1-year-old baby on her hip, recently stood in the heat of the day, colorfully festooned in beads and wearing a bright blue skirt.

She said she knows four people with AIDS and is doing her best to make sure she does not become a victim.

"I am faithful with just one person, my husband," she said. In a society where polygamy is widely practiced, when asked if her husband is also faithful, she laughed. "My husband, yes, he's faithful. I hope."

Cultural changes
With Western leaders gathering for a summit of the Group of Eight major industrial nations in Scotland at the beginning of July, hopes are high that the developed world can help solve the AIDS crisis here.

Job Laquencha, 42, explained that not all solutions are expensive.

As he sat in the shade, his thin bare chest covered with a simple collar of red, blue, white, and green beads, he said, "All we need are clean knives."

Asked how clean knives would help stop the spread of AIDS among the Samburu tribe, he explained a ritualistic custom: tribal circumcisions.

Up to 100 tribal members gather at a time, some as young as 12, others as old as 20. The men are circumcised by one man who uses the same knife over and over again.

Laquencha explained, "People think AIDS is transmitted by sex only. We tell them not to share a knife, but what should we do? We don't have 100 clean knives."

Societal breakdown
Laquencha offered one possible solution to prevent the spread of the AIDS virus, but the problem is so all encompassing that there are no easy answers. One of the tragedies of the crisis is how it has broken down the very fabric of society to such a degree that it perpetuates the disease.

American lawyer Marilyn Tebor Shaw and Becky Hudecek are working in Kenya to try to help young children continue their education past primary school.

Hudecek summed up how AIDS impacts life here with one simple word: "orphans."

"The impact is kids who can't go to secondary school," explained Hudecek, and therein lies the societal breakdown.

AIDS, marriage and pregnancy explain why at one school here, last year's third-grade class had 25 female students, while this year there are only seven girls in the fourth grade.

"I feel it's vital the Western world accept responsibility to help ease the poverty that's due to AIDS," Shaw said.

Change of tune
The nomads of this area understand the gravity of the AIDS crisis and how it affects them. They're simply wondering if anyone can help stop it.

Perhaps most revealing of what AIDS means to daily life here is how traditional songs now include a new tune.

As the women bounce in unison, their leather sandals pounding in the dusty soil, they sing, "This disease has no cure. Look at the graves of those who have died to know: This is a serious disease. I have a headache. I am cold. I have AIDS."

The song ends with a final stomp in the dirt, as the singers, some as young as 8 years old, say, "I don't want to be an orphan."

Kerry Sanders is an NBC News correspondent currently on assignment in Kenya.


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