|© UNICEF South Africa/2007/ Hearfield|
|Executive Director Ann M. Veneman joins a group of Isibindi child care workers in a rendition of the song 'We will never give up' during her visit to South Africa.|
By Yvonne Duncan
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 8 October 2007 — The smiles at the Davey household (not their real name) were bright as the children eagerly welcomed UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman during her four-day mission to South Africa. The family, which is composed of four siblings and a cousin ranging in age from 8 to 21, has been youth-led since losing both their parents to AIDS.
Ms. Veneman visited the family as a guest of the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW), a UNICEF partner which has developed a unique community-based programme known as 'Isibindi — Circles of Care'. Ms. Veneman was accompanied by United States Ambassador to South Africa, His Excellency Eric M. Bost,and receieved a firsthand account of the lives of these vulnerable youths.
The Daveys are just one of many youth-led families in the township that must now care for themselves. About 40 per cent of the children in the area are orphaned or vulnerable and many have little or no access to basic social services.
Teaching life-saving skills to children
Isibindi, which means ‘courage’, was created as a response to the growing numbers of children who have been made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. The programme trains unemployed community volunteers as child care workers to visit children who have already been identified through a school outreach programme as needing assistance.
The key to the Isibindi programme’s success is that children stay in their own homes. The trained volunteers help older youths to care for themselves and their younger siblings, while giving them the opportunity to remain in their own communities. Youths are taught life-saving skills such as how to prepare meals, how to apply for child-support grants and how to stay in school.
If necessary, youths are also assisted in finding better accommodations and, occasionally, they are taken on weekend visits with volunteer families. This much-needed support provides a critical protection and safety net which helps reduce the daily stress on their young lives.
Training the community to provide support
To date, the Isibindi programme has trained 575 workers and currently provides services to more than 13,000 children in 40 project sites. The programme has been lauded by South Africa’s National Department of Social Development. In cooperation with the Department of Social Development, UNICEF South Africa is providing strategic technical support to train community-based Isibindi workers nationwide.
At the end of the morning’s briefing and home visit, Ms. Veneman shared some heartwarming moments with a small group of Isibindi child care workers, joining them in a rendition of the song, 'We will never give up'.