Reaching out to orphans and vulnerable families
By Marie-Consolée Mukangendo
MAPUTO, Mozambique, 26 April 2012 - On the 17th of April 2012, I travelled to Chibuto in the province of Gaza with IKEA co-workers from Denmark to visit some of the projects supported by IKEA Foundation and implemented by UNICEF.
We visited three households. The Chief of the Social Action at the district level and social workers came along on the visits. They knew all the families living in vulnerability in the area, and explained recent cases of children abandoned upon the death of their mother and father from AIDS.
In one of family we visited, a mother of four was expelled from her house with her four children, when her husband died from Aids six years ago. She lost all she had. Her house, her belongings, her status in society and she was even abandoned by her two eldest children. I could sense fear coupled with the stigma in her eyes while chatting with her. This is sadly a very common practice in this part of the country. Available studies and data suggest that the existing patriarchal culture and male-dominated social order is strong in the country.
The last household visited was caring for a seven month old baby whose mother had died from Aids a month ago, leaving behind three more siblings. The father had passed away a couple of year before hand, succumbing to Aids. These siblings were each placed in separate families who volunteered to care for them as no immediate family’ members were available. However no one in the bairro wanted to care for the baby. Social action explained that it was mainly due to stigma and fear as the mother of the child was a victim of HIV and Aids. Ultimately the child was placed in the hands of the head of an old matriarch of the bairro.
When we first arrived the baby was crawling in the dusted field, looking lonely and disoriented. He looked weakened by the lack of food and his eyes were lifeless. We sadly noted that the child was not being taken care of by the old lady accordingly.
Social Action later informed me that she was not interested in the child who apparently was the fruit of a relationship between her husband and the late mother of the child. Social Action had been alerted by local activist the day prior to our arrival. By the time we left Chibuto, the baby was being taken care of by a nutritionist of the local hospital and all was being organised to place him in a more caring and loving family.
In this part of the country, families are torn apart by AIDS. It is the number one cause of prime-age adult mortality and prime-age mortality of children. One third of the children have lost one or both parents to the disease. Life expectancy rates are dramatically low, weakening family support systems already stretched thin by extreme chronic poverty.
Chibuto district is one of the seven Child Friendly School (CFS) district benefitting from the UNICEF programme. On area of intervention is the protection of children and vulnerable families reached out to by the District Social Action Department. In the afore mentioned cases, the local government provided the mothers and their children with a shelter and facilitated school uniform, basic basket for the children that remained under their care. If it wasn’t for the help she is getting through the District Social Action Department, she wouldn’t probably be able to care for herself other children.
In each visit l felt powerless and saddened by the level of poverty and misery in which these mothers and their children are living. I was encouraged by the work the government together with the support of local activists are doing to help these vulnerable households.
The Government of Mozambique has clearly demonstrated its commitment to addressing these challenges and helping the poorest families to better manage risks and ultimately move out of poverty through its on-going support to Social Protection programmes, and, more recently, the passage of the Social Protection Law in 2007 and the Basic Social Security Strategy in 2010. The Ministry of Women and Social Action is one of the key Government ministries in Mozambique responsible for caring for vulnerable families by building, strengthening and sustaining a child protection system. It receives support key partners including UNICEF.
After my visit I understood the relevance of Social cash transfers (CTs), “small predictable sums of money to poor and vulnerable families”, to reach out to the families. Alternative targeting schemes are a necessity to support families that care for orphans and other children affected by AIDS.
Social protective efforts like the ones provided by UNICEF and our partners is vital to helping mitigate the impact of AIDS and helps families cope and care for their families without being dependent. Programmes like the one mentioned above offer vulnerable children and families a renewed sense of self-worth in an otherwise harsh social environment.
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