Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
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Community caregivers fill gap in South African social welfare system


Aids Alliance

As South Africa faces a critical shortage of social workers, the Alliance is supporting training of community caregivers who play a unique role in frontline services to vulnerable children.

South Africa has 4.3 million orphans, of which at least 3.4 million have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The workload for the professional social sector is overwhelming, with an average of 266 orphans per social worker. This means it is often untrained community caregivers who provide a lifeline for vulnerable children and fill a gap in critical social services.

The nature of the work can have a huge impact on caregivers, resulting in stress and burn out from facing issues of abuse, violence and extreme poverty. Thogomelo is a unique project preparing caregivers better for this work and training them in how to deal with child protection issues and mediate within families in crisis.

Through its accredited national capacity building programme, the project supports the diversification of the social service workforce by building the skills of caregivers in the community. The Alliance provides technical support to the five-year programme and its consortium partners are Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health, and Health and Development Africa.

Vital role of community caregivers

Rita Muyambo, project team leader, said: “Community caregivers are more accessible to households because they are from the communities they serve and have intimate knowledge of conditions and risks facing children. Their familiarity with the language and cultural contexts also enhances the relevance of their support.  

“In rural, under-resourced communities they are often the only available advocates of children’s rights in the face of systemic failure of the judicial system. Our project equips caregivers with knowledge and skills to respond to child protection violations, and contributes significantly to the capacity of the social development workforce in South Africa.”  

The three accredited training programmes offered by the Thogomelo project help improve the psychosocial wellbeing and child protection responses for children by community caregivers, supervisors and organisations. They are the first such programmes to be accredited on the National Qualifications Framework.

Story of a community caregiver

Dumizile Theodora Malatjie, 48, lives in Sedibeng, one of the poorest districts in Gauteng province, where she works for Emthonjeni Awareness Centre. Children in the province, and across the country, face high rates of physical and sexual violence and high levels of poverty, including poor access to nutrition, education, healthcare and housing. The impact of HIV on children and their families intensifies these problems.

Dumizile is well aware of these challenges as she supports 168 children aged 2-16. After she attended Thogomelo training in 2012, Dumizile shared what she had learnt by conducting three workshops with 30 colleagues in her organization and assisted in implementing a de-briefing programme. In April 2013, after five years as a caregiver, she was promoted to orphans and vulnerable children coordinator and is responsible for supervising eight community caregivers.

She said: “The Thogomelo training helped me, because now I am a coordinator and I can teach others how to identify vulnerable children in my community so we can give them the support they need. I am so proud at how I’ve grown. I wish everyone could get the training.”

Recognising practical skills

The Thogomelo project offers caregivers who have acquired practical skills but have not been formally trained the opportunity to complete its skills development programme through oral assessment. Oral and pictorial assessment tools were developed to break the barriers of literacy and language (English) for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, so they can be accredited and recognised for the skills they have gained through their work over the years as caregivers as well as through Thogomelo training.

Rita said: “This addresses an issue of access to skills and knowledge for the disadvantaged and at the same time contributes to care, support and protection of vulnerable children. We also hope it opens avenues for a career path for caregivers as this move has been welcomed by the government and the social sector.

“However, there are still plenty of challenges ahead. So far we’ve trained 2,700 people, yet there are almost 60,000 community caregivers in South Africa. How do we scale up the programme in a context where donor funding is being cut? The programme should be owned by the government. How do we transition a project of this magnitude to country ownership?”

These are all questions the Thogomelo project will tackle as it goes forward with a three-year extension grant by USAID. The funding will support development of a mentoring plan to embed the project within government and ensure implementation and scale up of the work beyond the project’s lifetime.