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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | SWAZILAND: Grassroots approach to orphan care | Children | Focus
Sunday 14 January 2007
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SWAZILAND: Grassroots approach to orphan care

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


OVC at a neighbourhood care point in the Manzini region

MBABANE, 22 September (PLUSNEWS) - The Swazi government and the United Nations Children's fund (UNICEF) are canvassing the country's 55 rural districts in a novel initiative to collect ideas for developmental programmes aimed at orphans and vulnerable children.

Key to these grassroots-generated ideas is the identification of responsible volunteers and authorities who can be counted on to implement them.

"We are taking a human rights approach to meeting the needs of children, but we don't say 'human rights' because that may be misunderstood," said Pelucy Ntambirweki, acting country representative for UNICEF, who is also programme coordinator for the Community Action Programme on Children's Rights.

The office of the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) is the project's government partner and is generating widespread awareness of children's rights issues.

Beginning with the central Manzini region, UNICEF and DPM representatives are meeting with community groups to find out specifically what a growing population of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) require. The town of Manzini is Swaziland's most populous urban centre, and the transportation hub has bred the highest HIV infection rates in a country.

"Street children are flocking to Manzini like no other place, and migrant workers hopeful of work are enlarging the informal settlement slums ringing the town," said AIDS activist Pholile Dlamini.

Out of a national population of 970,000, Swaziland has an estimated 50,000 orphans - a figure expected to climb to 120,000 in the next six years, due an adult HIV infection rate of 38.8 percent.

The list of OVCs' needs presented by community groups begins with food: the first proposal is to establish vegetable gardens in towns tended by OVC and community volunteers, both to feed the children and generate income when surpluses are sold at town markets. In rural districts, whole fields should be cultivated for OVC.

"As long as our target is keeping children in their home communities, where their friends and familiar surroundings are, we need a capacity to provide them food," said community representative Thab'sile Nxumalo of Hhelehhele, a rural crossroads east of Manzini.

"Clothing is the second need," said Sue Godt, a UNICEF programme manager meeting with the community groups. Programmes proposed for providing children with clothing include setting up a systematic and sustained infrastructure for people in the town to donate used clothing, coupled with an awareness campaign to canvass schools, neighbourhoods and shopping centres for donations.

"The idea is that people will always think of donating their clothes to the OVC system, so it becomes second nature," said Nxumalo.

Government and private programmes that raise funds for OVCs' school fees is returning children to school, but there are other school needs yet to be met.

"It's sad, but some of these children are made fun of by the other school children, because they don't have proper school uniforms or shoes. The other children say, 'Oh, those are the (charitable organisation) kids!'"

One idea put forward is for the DPM's office to coordinate, and UNICEF to finance, a women's sewing cooperative to produce school uniforms for OVC.

Going out into communities, identifying OVC and bringing them to clinics would improve health access. "Orphans, street kids, or any child really has to be taken by the hand and brought in for check-ups and treatment," said Nxumalo.

"Protection of property is one area where work is needed, so the property of children's deceased parents goes to benefit the children, and is not lost to them," said Ntambirweki. "This is representative of the human rights approach to the task of caring for OVC."

Community groups highlighted the need for water services, to ensure that orphans and vulnerable children, some of whom are left alone to fend for themselves when their parents die, do not end up with cholera from consuming water from contaminated rivers in urban areas, or bilharzia from water in tainted rural streams.

"People were also concerned with curbing all the forms of abuse that children are subjected to," said Ntambirweki.

These include physical, mental and sexual abuse inside and outside the home, but also the use of cheap child labour, which is in danger of becoming more widespread as Swaziland's economy deteriorates. Residents also noted that stigma is a form of abuse suffered by some OVC, who may be shunned as being HIV carriers if their parents died of AIDS.

The grassroots approach to ferreting out problems faced by OVC is yielding new information that is only obtainable from residents who daily interact with poverty, crime and government bureaucracy.

UNICEF and UN Development Programme representatives learned that when clothing donations are distributed at schools, some headmasters take the best clothing for their own children.

"The caregivers who volunteer to assist OVC in the communities may be well intentioned, but they sometimes have so many of their own children they cannot give adequate attention to the OVC - there needs to be better vetting of volunteers," suggested one woman.

"Do you know that when a child's immunity card is lost, the health ministry does not issue a new one? We no longer have a record of the child's immunisations," said another woman.

Rural residents were nearly unanimous in their worry that health clinics are too widely scattered, and transportation is time consuming, costly, and burdensome when people are most stressed, when they are ill.

"These comments are important for showing us what are the real concerns of people, and what is preventing the delivery of services to OVC," said Ntambirweki.

A preliminary action plan for the Manzini region has been compiled as a result of submissions, centering on food, clothing, health, education and child protection services.

The resulting initiatives will rope in other UN agencies and government ministries who have not been previously involved in children's welfare, such as the Ministry of Natural Resources to drill boreholes for clean water supplies, and chiefs and traditional leaders, whose integrity will ensure proper distribution of donated clothing to OVC.


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
Nurses fleeing the HIV/AIDS frontline,  11/Dec/06
Has Swaziland turned the corner in the fight against AIDS?,  5/Dec/06
Giving parentless children an identity,  21/Nov/06
Students ignore safer sex practices, survey finds,  17/Nov/06
AIDS campaign induces behaviour change,  27/Oct/06
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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