Family Strengthening in Kenya
John is found by the family strengthening programme
Twelve months ago, the first phase of the family strengthening programme (FSP) at SOS Children's Village Eldoret began when social workers went out into the community to look for needy children who would benefit from the programme. That's when they found John. 'We were all very moved by his condition', said Reuben Wachira, the data clerk on the programme. The FSP social workers referred him to the Moi Referral Hospital in Eldoret where the doctor said that if the wound was not treated quickly John might lose part of his leg. The case was taken to the SOS Children's Villages Kenya national office and it agreed to pay for the surgery which took place in December 2008. After the operation, John received nursing care and physiotherapy sessions to help him recover and walk again. Today John's wound has healed and he no longer limps. He can even wear shoes and has returned to school much to the delight of his grandmother, who sings the praises of the SOS Children family strengthening programme to the community.
Others also being helped
Since those early days, the family strengthening programme has now reached its initial target of 250 child beneficiaries who come from 50 families. Criteria for qualifying were that children were either full orphans, or came from child-headed or grandparent-headed families, or lived with terminal illnesses. The family strengthening programme team then assessed the nutritional, shelter and educational needs of the families and categorised them according to need.
Before embarking on long-term initiatives, the family strengthening programme team assisted with urgent material needs, such as iron sheeting for roofs, mattresses, blankets, mosquito nets, cooking pots and school uniforms which would allow children to access free primary education. Then they gave seeds and farming implements to those who had available land. For the first six months, they met the beneficiaries twice per month where they gave nutrition and hygiene talks. The SOS mothers from the village in Eldoret participated in this by giving the talks and training for the beneficiaries during workshops, based on the SOS mother training programme. The very vulnerable beneficiary families receive supplementary food rations of maize, beans, cooking oil, sugar and porridge.
Training caregivers in business skills
Wangui Njuguna, the programme coordinator, says that by 2012 they hope to have reached 1200 children from a 44 sq km of area which includes nine villages. Now in the second phase, the family strengthening programme is running several initiatives to assist families in getting themselves out of the poverty trap. These include showing the beneficiaries how to access micro loans for small businesses (through KREP Development Agency, an NGO that works with people living with HIV/AIDS) and teaching small business skills.
For this project to work the participants have to form themselves into groups of at least 20, choosing a suitable small business type and then accessing the micro loan. However, keeping them together and having them run their own income-generating activity is quite a challenge, says Wangui. Although sometimes there are leadership issues, the main challenge, she says, is for the community to be independent-minded rather than reliant on others.
Initiatives carried out in partnership
Other family strengthening programme initiatives include an adult literacy programme, whereby illiterate adults are able to attend classes tailored to their literacy needs, (for example, some want to learn how to read the Bible; others want to learn how to count money etc). There is also a jigger eradication programme which assists the healing of jigger infestation (a tiny insect that burrows into the soft flesh of toes and fingers and can cause disfigurement) and to keep them at bay through treatment, community health education and fumigation of their homes; and a psycho-social support programme for children, especially important for those who witnessed the post-election violence of 2008 (Eldoret was one of the worst-affected areas) and orphans who have watched their parents die, mostly from HIV/AIDS.
All of these initiatives are carried out in partnership with other community organisations and the local hospital. In addition, the FSP has linked up with the district children's office, the district medical officer of health, and nearby clinics. It has also been involved in the development of an Area Advisory Council concerned with children's rights, child protection and advocacy, by sponsoring training and sharing the SOS Child Protection Policy. In addition, the family strengthening programme is hoping to educate the local police on dealing with children. Wangui says that through all this there is an increased awareness of the work of SOS Children in the area.