By Steve Felton
XANGOGO, Angola, 5 October 2010 – Large bulldozers removed river sand as workmen rolled fresh tar over the new bridge in Xangongo. The small town is home to little more than a bakery, a gas station and a small hotel for the truckers who haul South African goods into southern Angola. Development has arrived in Xangongo.
|VIDEO: UNICEF's Steve Felton reports on a local partner's work in a region hit hard by HIV and AIDS. Watch in RealPlayer|
Simione Justino Chiculo is the project coordinator for the Angolan Association for Rural Development (ADRA), a non-governmental organization doing agricultural work in the country’s Cunene province. He recently led a visiting team from UNICEF Angola, which is working with local partners to develop a comprehensive social protection package for Angola’s most vulnerable children.
Among other topics discussed during the visit, Mr. Chiculo spotlighted nutrition and HIV and AIDS as some of the major challenges facing the area.
Visit to the field
On the morning of UNICEF’s visit, Mr. Chiculo gave the team a first-hand look at ADRA’s work. He took them into the countryside, where thousands of people had lost their homes due to recent flooding of the Cunene River and thousands more had lost their crops.
|© UNICEF Angola/2010|
|Edwina Nahama is caring for 16 children, some of whom have been orphaned by HIV and AIDS, in Xangogo, Angola.|
The landscape was deceptively lovely. The ADRA team left the vehicle and approached the wooden palisade of a homestead, where greetings in the local Kwanyama language are formal – there is a proper way to enter a village, including calls from outside the village and responses from within.
The Angolan Ministry of Social Welfare keeps a list of vulnerable families in the area which it shares with ADRA, and Mr. Chiculo’s team does checks on the ground to assess the situation.
"We go from hut to hut, checking how many children there are, if they are in school, how much food there is, and what the fields are like," said Mr. Chiculo. When asked to explain what is meant by a ‘vulnerable family,’ he summed it up bluntly: "Not enough to eat."
"We have to look at the food reserves," continued Mr. Chiculo, who checks regularly on the area’s grain store. On the day of the visit, the store was only half filled with pearl millet, the local staple crop.
|© UNICEF Angola/2010|
|Edwina Nahama with some of the children in her care in Xangogo, Angola.|
“There is only enough for five months," he explained, examining the reserve.
For many local residents – including Edwina Nahame, who cares for some 16 children in the homestead, in addition to her own family and a respected village elder – the lack of food is a problem exacerbated by the repercussions of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Many children are orphaned by the virus and living with already-struggling relatives or neighbours.
But things are better here than they once were. Last year, Ms. Nahame’s family survived on food aid provided by the Ministry of Social Welfare. Then ADRA stepped in to help, organizing community members into a cooperative and providing them with two oxen to plough the fields.
"At first the people wanted food," said Mr. Chiculo, but added that instead ADRA gave them goats to raise. Ms. Nahame started with two animals, and now has a herd of bleating kids that provide funds for food and children’s schooling.
Beyond financial and nutritional challenges, one of the most urgent issues facing the area is the spread of HIV and AIDS. It is estimated that Cunene province has an HIV infection rate of at least 9 per cent, and perhaps even higher.
"We mustn't forget the HIV work," said Mr. Chiculo. "Communicating about HIV is quite easy, because everybody in the community is affected by it.”
Preventing the next generation from becoming infected is top priority for ADRA, which works to sensitize youth and prevent high-risk behaviours.
For Mr. Chiculo, who lost a sister in Angola’s long civil war, ADRA’s work is deeply felt. But while he is proud of his work, he recognizes that there is still much left to accomplish. “I want to give something back,” he said.