Conclusions and recommendations
Former Education Programme Manager
Lesotho and Swaziland struggle under heavy burdens of epidemic disease, poverty and limited opportunities for economic development. One of the more painful symptoms of this predicament is the ever growing number of vulnerable children, particularly orphaned and impoverished children, struggling with inadequate systems of protection and support at the community and household level. A significant number of these children are first identified as significantly or extremely vulnerable at school. Consequently, it is in the school setting where the extent of the need initially becomes visible and where a first response for these children should be located
While there is strong consensus across SADC for schools to function as providers of care and support, the case studies in this document show that at least in Lesotho and Swaziland, there is a considerable amount of work to be done to ensure that the capacity of the education sector is adequate to meet the general needs of all children – let alone the specific additional needs of vulnerable children.
While defining the key needs of vulnerable children is relatively simple – food, clothing, shelter, safety, psycho-social and emotional support – meeting these needs is complicated. Children were impoverished and denied opportunities for education before the full impact of HIV and AIDS was felt in either country. The impact of the epidemic has not only exposed existing structural faults within the education sector, it has also made them wider and deeper. Where this gap may be the most serious is at the level of communities and families. Teachers are not able to explain the degree of family and community neglect of children, whose effects they witness in their classrooms.
No institutional response can successfully address this. The effectiveness of efforts to provide care and support for children in schools is limited when basic social structures no longer fulfil their role. So in tandem with efforts to strengthen the capacity of the educational sector to do more for vulnerable children, there must also be a full community effort to protect and nurture them. Somehow, families and communities need to renew their obligation to safeguard children and ensure that the fulfilment of the needs of their children as paramount. This will remain a difficult task in Swaziland and Lesotho so long as many families and communities face a daily struggle for survival in the face of epidemic diseases, endemic poverty and acute food insecurity.
At the moment, an enormous burden is being placed on both the education sector and individual schools. Teachers are reaching out to help but end up taking on additional and unsustainable personal burdens – when they provide clothing or pay school fees or simply spend time supporting vulnerable children. The indirect effect of this on the well-being of themselves and their own households is substantial. And schools also cannot cope with the additional needs without lasting, structural support and strengthening.
No intervention profiled in this study operates without external support. This is either support through an international partner, or private contributions from generous individuals. Swaziland is gradually building the foundations of a more systematic response with new policy and legislation clarifying the roles that schools can play but also identifying what is necessary for this to happen. However, when one looks at the example of NCPs, a question arises regarding whether this will happen quickly enough. NCPs appear to be vital points of care and support for children in communities but their strength is largely derived from the enthusiasm of the individuals that make them function on a daily basis. Can this initial level of enthusiasm be sustained over a decade or two as many of these children will continue to need assistance well into adolescence – and as more vulnerable children continue to queue up for NCP assistance?
In Lesotho, at the LGGA programme is on the verge of collapse, particularly the primary school partner. The programme has managed to achieve remarkable gains for the children it has assisted but the signs of strain are clear since LGGA cannot mobilise funds fast enough. Working at the scale of an ADP seems to have made some progress but there are real concerns that momentum will dwindle when World Vision winds down its support. After 12 years, it is difficult to see a generation of children who have been strengthened and whose vulnerability has been significantly reduced. Much of the activity at this stage is still at the level of practical support and basic child protection interventions because the basic needs remain paramount despite the years that WVL has been working in the area.
What is evident is that the same institutional commitment and investment that has built country level HIV and AIDS responses has not yet been mobilised to address the needs of vulnerable children, particularly with respect to guaranteeing access to education and providing optimal conditions for educational achievement. The societal impact of this gap is profound and lasting. This conclusion suggests the following actions and recommendations:
- The issue of capacitating schools remains urgent since there is enough evidence to show that using schools as the focal points provides a more coordinated and comprehensive approach to addressing vulnerable children’s needs;
- Responses are fragile, and sustainability is uncertain given the scale and scope of the need, and the limits on what can be mobilised at community, national and regional levels. However, there is a critical need to move away from fire-fighting and to build stronger and more effective systems in schools and in communities;
- Stemming the tide requires a massive effort. Within Lesotho and Swaziland, the signs of this emerging are not clear. The Lesotho Child Grants Programme is moving in the right direction by identifying and supporting destitute houses in order to provide better care for vulnerable children. Swaziland also appears to be beginning to build more momentum. But in both Lesotho and Swaziland it is unclear whether the needed levels of investment to implement a comprehensive strategic approach will emerge in time; and,
- SADC has an opportunity to coordinate a regional response and to provide a forum for on-going dialogue on best-practice and high-impact efforts. This will also be a mechanism for coordinating advocacy efforts to strengthen rights-based responses and urge countries to comply with their national, regional and global level commitments to the entitlements and well-being of children.
Finally, the move to establish a minimum package of support for vulnerable children, including through the education sector, is a big step forward towards defining the entitlements of children and the opportunities for countries to fulfil them. There is a role for OSISA, OSF ESP and their civil society partners to continue to push for the adoption and implementation of this and to ensure that, throughout the process of change and improvement, the voices of children and youth are not only heard but also listened to.
About the author(s)
Wongani Grace Nkhoma is the Education Programme Manager. Wongani has over 10 years experience working in the development sector. Before joining OSISA, Wongani worked with ActionAid International - Malawi as Regional Manager and Education Policy Coordinator