A community-based programme reaches out to orphans
By Victor Chinyama
For her age, Dinah Chalamila has seen more misery than any 14 year-old should ever have to endure. She lost her mother in 2005, probably due to AIDS but she can’t be sure. Her father remarried soon after.
“The death of my mother and my father’s remarriage changed everything,” she says. “My siblings and I suffered mistreatment at home. We were denied food and received no support for school.”
Fed up with the harsh treatment, Dinah and her three siblings left to join their grandparents. Life since then has not been any better, with their grandfather’s income as a cleaner barely enough to satisfy all their food and material needs. Dinah, however, has reason to smile. She has found solace in the Kanengo AIDS Support Organization (KASO), a UNICEF supported community-based organization that provides psychosocial support to orphans and vulnerable children.
Dinah comes to KASO every Saturday. Here, she joins 350 other children in fun activities like song, dance and drama. The children are given hot porridge at mid-morning and a meal at lunch. For many, this is their only full meal for the day.
To deal with their difficult past, the children receive cameras to take pictures of anything that inspires them. The photographs are used to ‘picture hope’’, a concept that enables them to not only showcase their creative talents but to also cathartically vent their feelings and emotions.
“These children come from very difficult situations,” says Martha Mulolo, a volunteer at KASO. “But when they are here, they forget all about their troubles and rediscover the joys of being children.”
Dinah attends the Children’s Corner at KASO. Children’s Corners provide space for those aged between 7 and 18 to meet, receive counselling from volunteers or their peers, participate in memory work, learn from each other, and play. These activities help the children to build a degree of hardiness to enable them cope with adversity.
Founded in 1997, KASO has since opened seven other community-based child care centres, catering for 4,000 children. The centres provide play activities for children aged between 2 to 6 years, home-based care for those living with AIDS, a Children’s Corner, and Girl Guides’ activities. There are 5,700 such centres in Malawi catering for 400,000 children, a quarter of them orphans.