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Solutions from Within

According to the 2004 global report, Southern Africa is home to 25 million people living with the HIV virus and an estimated 12 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Given the scope of the pandemic, there is consensus amongst government and childcare organisations that solutions to the problems in childcare will only be sustainable and widespread enough if they are based on strengthening the capacity of families and communities to improve their ability to protect and care for their children.

Building a relationship with the community

Our support programmes are based on two premises: A child's natural family is usually the best place for him/her to grow up in. And: community members best understand their own situation, are best placed to identify their needs and priorities, and to design and implement appropriate responses in keeping with social and cultural norms.

In developing our programmes, we promote community ownership over development activities. The confidence in the community, their attitudes, knowledge and skills are supported such that they are able to plan, implement and manage their own development initiatives. In particular, we facilitate and support self-organisation processes within the community that seek to address the plight of vulnerable children. Initially, SOS may assume a more active role but the target envisioned is the community taking full responsibility for leading its own self-reliant development.

In this sense, SOS Malawi has been very successful in mobilising communities surrounding the SOS Children's Village in Lilongwe to recognize their responsibility in caring for orphans and vulnerable children.

In a first step we met with the traditional chiefs and village leaders in order to introduce the SOS Children's Village organisation and to learn what has already been done in the communities.

The next step were meetings with all relevant stakeholders (City and District Assemblies, Social Welfare, other NGOs) with the goal to exchange ideas, to explore possible areas of cooperation and to find out what kind of support they expected from our organisation. These meetings were a turning point for many community members. A baseline study on orphans and vulnerable children was conducted and the results were shared and discussed in meetings with the respective communities. Eventually, a Village Development Committee (VDC) consisting of 10 elected community members was founded in order to manage the initiative and to form a direct interface between the community and SOS Children's Villages. This committee is the referral point for any development activities undertaken in the villages. In order to facilitate the creation of this network organisation, SOS organised appropriate leadership training focusing on the concepts of development, community participation, mobilization, empowerment, leadership, self-reliance, communication and children's rights.

Key to identifying and selecting beneficiaries who benefited were community members themselves based on what they saw as constituting vulnerability.

Building a relationship with the family

Besides the community as a development partner we also recognize the families we work with as the focal point. We strive to strengthen the family structure these children live in, so that they are able to better care for them. Whatever support we provide to families through our programmes, it must be given with a view to bringing about self-reliance within the family. With this in mind, SOS will only provide support if the family itself is also willing to make a contribution.

Southern Africa II has developed a family development plan as a tool that helps to carefully consider each families needs, priorities and their potential to achieve self-reliance.

Firstly we ensure that the children identified as our beneficiaries have access to essential services, such as food, medical care, education and psycho-social support. Secondly we aim at ensuring the qualification of the caregivers. This is enhanced through various support groups, workshops and training sessions. As some of our caregivers are HIV positive, we assist them to make long-term plans for the care of the children: We encourage them to identify alternative care-givers for the future and ensure that these are accepted by the children. We also encourage the parents in passing on memories and putting together scrap books with their children.

Last but not least we help the families to generate income thus ensuring that they have sufficient family resources. For example in South Africa we help families to access government foster care grants. We assist families to set up vegetable gardens, by providing seeds and tools, we provide material for sewing projects and link them up with micro finance partners.

Because of their desperate situation, people in need often tend to be passive instead of making a genuine effort to contribute towards their own development. It requires a lot of dedication, patience and perseverance to guide the families and communities on this development road towards self-reliance. But it is worth the effort as the following example from our social centre in Mamelodi demonstrates:

This programme runs in partnership with a local home-based care group that is providing care to terminally ill people in the community and, two years ago, referred to SOS Children's Villages two children aged 4 and 12, who have been living alone after the death of their mother. We searched for relatives who might be prepared to foster the children and traced down a maternal uncle. However, he was reluctant to take the children in because there was no source of income in his family of six. After we assured him of our support, he and his wife agreed to take the children into their family. We provided support in the form of food parcels and school uniforms for the two children and helped the family to apply for a government foster care grant. Also, SOS linked them up with small businesses so that the family was enabled to start a small business selling food in the township. Through our interventions the living conditions of the whole family have improved tremendously and they have sufficient family resources now. However, what's most important is, that this family has been given hope and a vision for the future because they have proved that they are capable of making a living on their own and do not depend on charity hand-outs.

"I have always believed in the capacities of a community to find their own solutions to problems, all they need is some advice, guidance and support. Due to harsh economic circumstances, people have lost their confidence in themselves, they have lost that sense of capability and we must bring back that lost confidence to the communities." Franciwell Phiri. The project coordinator of the social centre Lilongwe in Malawi has been instrumental in setting-up community-based support programmes for orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS.

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