A Swazi story of hope through Neighbourhood Care Points
Majabha Shongwe, 15, is a double orphan. He lives by himself in a dilapidated homestead with gaping holes in the walls and thatch, except for a one-roomed shack with rusted corrugated iron sheets for a roof. His homestead is in the drought-affected Lubombo region, alongside a dusty-dirt road.
Majabha is the only known child from his parents. Three years ago his mother became ill and left the homestead, leaving Majabha with his father. She returned shortly afterwards to die and say goodbye to her son.
Majabha’s father was a migrant mineworker in South Africa, and the main breadwinner. He became ill in 2004, and after being bedridden for months receiving care from his son, passed away. Majabha inherited his father’s homestead and three goats. Though the causes of his parents’ deaths are unknown, it is assumed they died from an AIDS-related illness given the widespread prevalence of HIV in Swaziland. Majabha was 13 years old when he lost both his parents and had never been to school.
With the rapidly escalating numbers of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), in 2003 UNICEF responded by giving basic material support (including cooking pots, utensils and non-formal education supplies) to establish Luhlanyeni Neighbourhood Care Point (NCP). This is one of the 438 NCPs established between 2003 and 2006, and is a place where OVC receive basic nutrition and health, non-formal education and recreational and psychosocial support.
Luhlanyeni community was sensitized on the plight of OVC in their neighbourhood, and mobilized to shoulder their obligations to fulfil the unmet rights of orphans and vulnerable children; the traditional leaders identified a plot of land and five voluntary caregivers to provide daily protection, care and support to OVC.
Majabha started to attend Luhlanyeni NCP in 2003, initially meeting with other OVC under a tree. As there was no regular food supply two meals were provided per week to over 80 OVC in order to stretch the community food donations. These donations were provided by a community already hard hit by the reoccurring drought emergency. In 2004 UNICEF and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) supported World Vision to strengthen Luhlanyeni NCP (and 219 other functioning NCPs) providing food and critical emergency supplies, such as hygiene, structural, educational and cooking supplies. In mid-July the World Food Programme (WFP) took over the regular provision of food aid. The voluntary caregivers also received training to equip them in their care-giving roles.
From mid 2004 Majabha and many other OVC began to daily attend the NCP. Food from WFP and from community donations enabled the caregivers to prepare one hot meal six days a week. Non-formal education and recreation activities were provided and Majabha was able to benefit for the first time. In 2005 Government OVC Education Grants enabled Majabha to attend primary school. He enrolled in grade one at Maloyi Primary School, and enjoys considerable support and encouragement from the teachers who say he is very attentive. He was promoted to grade two, and regularly attends school and the NCP in the afternoons.
The NCP helped to make Majabha ‘visible’ to community members, instead of leaving him isolated and alone in his scattered homestead. The caregivers were able to encourage him, and advocate on his behalf with the school headteacher for him to attend school. Majabha is fortunate, because he also has a caring neighbour who looks out for him, and allows him to draw water from his compound. The caregiver, in charge of activities at the NCP, lives close to Majabha’s house and acts as a surrogate mother. Majabha has learnt to become innovative and breeds chickens and goats, using the proceeds to buy essentials such as soap and candles.
Because of the circles of support around him, sustained largely through the NCPs, Majabha is able to live on his own property and has a hope for the future. He says that when he is an adult, he wants to become a policeman. The NCP has demonstrated the fulfilment of children’s rights in rural Swaziland in a drought-affected poverty-stricken area where communities have come together in partnership with UNICEF’s humanitarian support. Majabha is however only one of the more than 33,000 OVC receiving care, and one of the estimated 100,000 children who have not yet been reached by NCPs.
© UNICEF Swaziland/2006