Getting the commitment of local leaders from the start is key to Catholic Relief Services' success in a community.
The Lusubilo Orphan Care project, a CRS partner, works in the Karonga district of Malawi, where a national HIV incidence of 12 percent means that many children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. While, traditionally, orphans have been taken into the homes of extended families, the needs of these children far exceed the resources of families that survive on subsistence farming and the local mining industry.
Lusubilo, which means "hope" in the local language, begins by approaching village chiefs to see if they would like to work together to start volunteer-run childcare centers. Mwanganda village chief Adam Mwanganda talks about the reasons why he decided to invite Lusubilo into his community.
- Sara Fajardo:
- Why did you see a need to help the children in your village?
- Adam Mwanganda:
In 1987, we began to see a big increase in AIDS-related deaths and a big increase in orphans who needed care. Extended family members were overwhelmed and were having difficulties absorbing so many orphans into their homes.
Without parents to help them, these orphans began to become involved in thefts and were causing problems. Many of the orphans were going from house to house begging for food and clothing. They were malnourished, and many of them were dropping out of school because they lacked school fees. Others were getting married at a very young age, many were getting pregnant and others still were ending up as street kids.
- How did your village respond?
These children became a big concern in our village, and we saw that we needed to keep them occupied. We also saw that the village elders needed to help guide their growth and teach them our ways and our traditions.
In 1997, our community, with the help of the Lusubilo project and later CRS, UNICEF and Coppel Funds, built our first Community-based Childcare Center [for children ages 3 to 5] and Children's Corner [for children ages 6 to 18]. The Lusubilo project helped us with construction materials and training for our volunteers, while our village provided the land, volunteers and labor.
These centers help us avoid discrimination in our village by bringing all the children together—orphans and non-orphans—and treating them all exactly the same.
- What improvements have you seen since this project began?
Our children no longer need to beg for food. They are all cared for and receive meals prepared by the volunteers.
It is now very difficult to identify who is an orphan and who is not. Our children are leaving our childcare centers ready for primary school. Because of the basic early education they receive, they are very active and engaged. What they learn at the Children's Corner also helps carry them through all the way to secondary school.
- You donated your own land for this project, why did you decide to do that?
I was very sorry to see my grandsons and daughters suffering because they were orphans. This land was created by God. I felt that it was necessary as a God-fearing person to provide this land because the children of our village are our future.
If it had not been for the Lusubilo project there would be no centers for the children; we would have just held school under a tree with no expertise on how to teach.
- In what other ways has this project helped your village?
It has helped us in many ways. Our mothers can send their children here and are free to do other household work without worrying about childcare. It has also been really beneficial in terms of monitoring our children's health. When we receive visits from the ministry of health, they know exactly where to go. Before they didn't know where to find our mothers, but now they just come to our childcare center to vaccinate all of our children at once and see how they're growing. Maybe we should charge them [the ministry of health] for making it so easy to locate our children.
Sara Fajardo is CRS' regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa, based in Nairobi.