WINDHOEK, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- It was 2 p.m. and the sun was at its peak. Escaping from the scathing heat, a group of elderly woman in the far flung village in Namibia's northern Omusati region gathered under a tree.


Here, a weekly "caucus" of a support group is ongoing to update members on progress made on AIDS projects and strategize on strengthening trade activities under their wing.


"The group was started as a helping hand and shoulder to cry on by and for elderly women who lost their children to HIV and AIDS-related diseases, to ease the burden of the impact of HIV and AIDS," said 65-years-old Leenola Shigwedha.


AIDS-related deaths have created a generation of orphans in Namibia. Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Social Services shows that the number or AIDS orphans increased from 54,000 in 2006 to 182,000 in 2014.


Started in 2013, local elderly women, mainly pensioners, saw the need to stand together amidst social difficulties and grief after their children were claimed by AIDS.


"We all had something in common -- we are raising children orphaned as a result of HIV and AIDS. As unemployed elderly women, we therefore needed a platform to support each other," said Shigwedha.


According to Shigwedha, after the death of their children, the elderly women saw the need to support each other. "Our food basket was drastically reduced due to the loss of income. We were dependent on my daughters. But after they passed on, I had to seek ways to generate an income to feed and care for my grandchildren," she said.


Today, the support group has a membership of 12, up from four members when it was started in 2013.


Through the support group, the elderly women managed to establish a market for hand-made commodities such as baskets and traditional food products.


Moreover, the members were also able to raise the orphans through a strong support system.


Anastacia yaSemba can attest. At 66, yaSemba knows too well about the benefits of being in a support group.


"AIDS robbed me of my two daughters, who passed away five years ago. Today, I have four orphaned grandchildren under my care," she said. Faced with difficulties of raising the orphaned children, she joined the group.


"At my age I got the chance to unleash my potential to trade and negotiate. In addition, instead of going through grief alone, I now know what unity means and I never feel alone following the support of my group members," she said.


Namibia's political leadership is also calling for strong systems to combat infections.


"HIVAIDS infects and affects indiscriminately. It thrives on ignorance, on conditions of poverty and stigma. We should therefore combat stigma and create an environment in which all can feel comfortable to be tested," said Prime Minister Saara Kuugongwelwa-Amadhila during the World AIDS Day commemoration held in Swakopmund Thursday.


Meanwhile, according to Shigwedha, the group members are also integrating children under their care in their activities. "We want them to gain hands-on skills so that they are able to work for themselves given that we are old and that they are parentless," said Shigwedha.


The elderly also gather information from clinics, radio and other support groups on how to take care of children who are HIV positive. "This include ensuring that they take the right doses at a consistent time, as well as liaising with teachers for enhanced care at school," said Shigwedha.


Although caucusing away from the National AIDS Conference recently held in Swakopmund, under a tree, the group of women are playing their part in the fight against HIVAIDS.


According to the 2015 HIVAIDS report, Namibia is among countries with the highest infection rates, although the number of new infections has shown signs of stabilization. Enditem


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