A community partnership that works – In Mathanjana, SOS Children’s Villages and Isibindi work as one team
In front of an SOS Children’s Villages administration office, erected from repurposed shipping containers, young boys and girls gather under a tarpaulin for their weekly youth meeting. Not too far from them, among the fat cacti and succulents, parents and grandparents gather for their caregiver meeting. In Mathanjana, everyone is connected to SOS Children’s Villages and Isibindi.
Mathanjana is in South Africa’s north-eastern Mpumalanga province. In this community, the SOS team is the local implementing partner to a so-called national intervention. Bobby Bogopa, SOS programme director, and his team provide support, training and counselling to families, to help them become stronger in the face of adversity, but mostly, the team ensures child rights are upheld. However, they do not do this alone. Here, the SOS team partners with a national initiative, Isibindi, to prevent families from breaking down.
During the height of the HIV and AIDS crisis in South Africa in the 1990s, the National Association of Child Care Workers – a South African NGO – developed a community-based care model to respond to the crisis. “Too many children lost their parents or were at risk of losing them. This intervention became known as Isibindi, the Zulu word for courage,” said Bobby.
More than 20 years later, the situation is very different and families have challenges beyond HIV and AIDS. Mathanjana is an area that includes two villages or 31 municipal wards and is home to about 45,000 people. Employment and access to basic services are hard to come by, and in many cases, families do not have the essential documents for either.
“Beyond community outreach like the youth and caregiver workshops, together with Isibindi, we directly work with 165 families,” said Bobby. “The reason we’re still needed here is that, even though at first it was more about ensuring that families and children would survive the plight of HIV and AIDS, I think we have moved to where it is not really anymore about the survival of children and families -that has been successfully dealt with. Now it’s more about development,” explained Bobby.
With families surviving in this community, SOS Children’s Villages realised that families had not been empowered to use national social grants, to meet the developmental needs of their children.
“Sometimes when we visit families, in terms of follow-up, you ask them, ‘Can I look at your children’s situation?’ Then you realise the children are actually malnourished. When you try to find out why, you realise the mother has bought herself new clothes instead of using the money for the developmental needs of her children. So the money might be there, but what is of critical importance is moving them from ‘money to meet my needs’ to ‘money to meet the developmental needs of my children’. That is what we are focusing on now,” said Bobby.
Maria Mtimkulu is the programme manager for Isibindi in Mathanjana, and she and Bobby have been working together for five years. Their combined team will often have families referred to them, either by community-based organisations or other NGOs that work in specific fields, such as health. The team will decide together on whether a family needs their support.
“In most cases, families need essential documents to access services, including education and health. We are very remote here, and if people cannot afford the transport money to the nearest centre to apply for these documents, they simply don’t have it,” said Maria. Whilst the SOS team will focus on what the family needs, Isibindi will specifically look at the individual children and young people’s needs within a family.
“SOS works with a family on a family development plan, and Isibindi will work on developing individual plans for the family members. But we always do home visits together. In fact, our teams consider themselves one Mathanjana team,” said Maria. “I think that is part of why we are making an impact here. People know that there is someone else – us – who is there for them,” adds Maria.
The Isibindi team are community workers that live in the very community that they serve. According to Bobby, it is for this reason that the SOS team were able to integrate so easily into the Mathanjana community.