Making care count in Southern Africa

Making care count in Southern Africa

Date: December 2, 2011
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In Southern Africa, a cadre of committed community caregivers – such as teachers, community health care worker, and sometimes community volunteers – are the cornerstone of the region’s care and support network. While the global economic situation will likely force organisations to make tough support decisions in the next years, a situation worsened by the most recent Global Fund crisis shock, tapping into this important social workforce must remain a priority, especially when it comes to children.

Care work tends to be the socially understood domain of women, whether it be in the home, on a voluntary basis, or as paid employment. However, high HIV/AIDS prevalence in the region, along with a host of other health issues that contribute to high mortality rates, means the numbers of children needing support outweigh the demand.

Care workers fill a crucial gap on a continent where most social services ministries and departments across are critically underfunded. For instance, in Tanzania, the Social Services annual budget is just 1% of the overall Ministry of Health and Social Welfare budget.

Care workers are the people who make care count in communities. However, they are usually equipped with limited skills or training in the complex field of emotional care and support (psychosocial support) of children facing different life challenges.

Within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, governments have adopted regional frameworks meant to strengthen and harmonise service delivery for vulnerable children and youth. These frameworks are the SADC Minimum Package of Services and the Psychosocial Support Framework for Orphans, Vulnerable Children and Youths (OVC & Y). A key objective of the regional documents is to ensure that countries have national care and support frameworks for OVC & Y that will translate into families and communities providing holistic care and support to children.

A strategic priority in the implementation of these regional frameworks is the development of a social workforce with the capacity to ensure efficient service delivery in health, education, nutrition and psychosocial support at community level.

To strengthen capacities of such community based workers to provide better care for children, the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI), in partnership with the Centre for African Studies, UNICEF and the University of Kwa Zulu Natal, developed an innovative capacity building certificate that is delivered as a situated supported long distance program.

This unique Certificate Course allows community workers to gain the skills they need to provide missing social services. The REPSSI/UNICEF Certificate Course in Community Based Work with Children & Youth is being delivered in ten countries in east and southern Africa.

The certificate programme is transforming community care work traditionally viewed as voluntary into professional work. This is a significant contribution to the implementation of the SADC regional care and support policies and frameworks that seek to improve child and youth well-being.

While women in the region have traditionally done care work, men’s participation in the certificate programme is breaking known gender barriers.

“Community workers usually take the volunteer form, with mostly women championing reproductive work. The Certificate, however, is transforming community child-care work into productive work, thereby attracting men to volunteer work,” says Noreen M Huni, director of REPSSI. “For instance, one in 8 certificate graduates who started off as volunteers have been absorbed into the government and NGO formal employment.”

The Certificate programme is also helping to broaden the scope of who is considered to be providing care, involving men, women, traditional leaders and the police – all of who provide care and support children in communities. According to Kathleen Okacha, director of Kenya Orphan Rural development Programme, students have “become militant about children’s rights.”

Men and women who interact with the vulnerable boys and girls in their daily lives are crucial sources of love, care, protection and support. “I used to round up the street children. Now I talk to them, I am their friend,” stated a policeman from Zimbabwe.

In Tanzania, the Certificate has prompted Winfrida Mwashala to transform her institutional orphanage for 30 children into a community care programme reaching more than 9000 vulnerable boys and girls. In Zimbabwe, community nurse Mercy Chikurura is now involving HIV-positive children in their treatment and care, and thereby improving adherence to ARVs. In Kenya, the head of an Early Childhood Development Centre, Pamela Dlwande, is now conducting home follow-ups on the vulnerable students at her centre.

The Certificate has ignited the community worker’s capacity to refer where they cannot help, utilising the available linkages and resources. Jacklyme Kayugira, programme Assistant with Hope Worldwide Kenya and a student of the Certificate programme, explained. “Rather than leaving a child go without being attended to, I’ve been able to gain skills and know that I need to support this child, I need to be able to refer if child if I’m not in a position to help the child get their needs.”

It has also awakened a sense of togetherness, with communities dialoguing and learning together about children’s issues. “I’ve seen the community take ownership of the programme,” sais another student, Cathia Dehwe who is the project outreach officer with Batanai HIV AIDS Service Organisation in Zimbabwe. “Now they feel it’s our own project, it’s our own programme, it benefits us.”

Professionalising care work through the certificate programme has helped student realise the importance of children’s right to love, care and protection given the vulnerable circumstances of death of parents and loved ones, atrocities during conflict, deprivation, exploitation and abuse, stigma and discrimination that they are experiencing. Yet, making care count calls for even greater expansion of skilling the social workforce so that they can provide better emotional care and support to children and families in contexts of HIV and AIDS, violence and abuse, deprivation, stigma and discrimination.

Tapfuma Murove is the Head of Advocacy at REPSSI. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.



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