Isibindi changes lives one day at a time

Friday, April 5, 2019

In its own quiet, no frills, no thrills way, a community-based care and protection intervention project has been providing a life line to South Africa’s orphaned and vulnerable children, as well as the youth, so much so that a large number have now become strong, successful individuals - contributing to their communities.

The Isibindi project, provides child and youth care services to children and youth in their homes through trained child and youth care workers. Through the project, child and youth care workers connect and build relations with vulnerable children on a daily basis.

Aptly named Isibindi - meaning to have courage in isiZulu - the project is the brainchild of non-profit organisation, the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW). Developed in 2001, the Isibindi project came about as a response to the large number of vulnerable children and orphans.

“Isibindi began almost two-decades ago as a response to the suffering of children impacted by the HIV/Aids crisis at a time when we saw the mushrooming of children’s homes as a response to the many children orphaned,” says NACCW Director Merle Allsopp.

Practical assistance given by care workers to children and youth include that of helping to prepare meals, assisting the family with application for birth certificates, helping to draw up a monthly budget, as well as accompanying family members to the clinic and overseeing the taking of medication.

Orphaned and vulnerable children are taught life skills, including that of problem solving and educational support among others.

The project which has been of assistance to over 400 000 children and their families, has been run by the NACCW and its partner NGOs across the country.

Recently the project was handed over to the national Department of Social Development (DSD) which will turn the project into a fully-fledged programme.

“We are broadening Isibindi from a project to a programme and we want to celebrate its success,” said Chief Director responsible for Child Protection at DSD Tshidi Maaga.

Government caught wind of the project and subsequently, the then Minister of DSD Bathabile Dlamini, made contact with the association.

The Minister’s late night call to the association back in 2011, led to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) being signed between the parties. Through the MoU, the Isibindi mode sought to expand its reach from just 67 locations employing about 800 care workers. Following the signing of the MoU, the parties aimed to establish a total 400 locations employing 10 000 care workers.

Roll-out of the project following the MoU began in earnest in April 2013. Among the key deliverables, was that the project should reach out to 1.4 million children.

As the project was handed over to the department, it did so having surpassed the target and reaching 1.9 million vulnerable children across the country.

University of Venda student, Sharon Tshitale’s chance meeting with a child and youth care worker of the project, brought light into her life at a time when she needed it most.

“I felt as if the world could just swallow me. I didn’t know if I was going to the left or going to the right. It was overwhelming,” she says with a slight tremble in her voice.

The 21-year-old lost her mother when she was a 10-year-old village girl.

A memory box gifted to her by the child and youth care worker, allowed her to grieve her beloved mother. She recalls how a care worker became a shoulder to cry on as well as someone who would teach her life skills, like the use of sanitary products.

Tshitale who describes care workers as “angels” passed her matric in 2016 with two distinctions.

The confident, bespectacled Tshitale is today a third-year Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting student who spends her time not only focused on her academic work, but also giving back to her community as a youth mentor and disability activist.

Among its several arms, support for Grade 12 learners is among the core elements of Isibindi.

Support rendered includes ensuring that pupils have access to schools. Should the need arise, the project through care workers ensures engagements with teachers where there are challenges.

“The numbers tell us that over 7000 matric candidates have been supported and that children in Isibindi projects have a matric success rate which is higher than the provincial averages for those quintile schools,” says Allsopp.

Other services rendered by the project include that of supporting vulnerable youth in tertiary institutions.

The project has no doubt brightened the lives of beneficiaries but it has also been successful in changing the lives of those who are passionate about children and find themselves jobless.

While the project is doing all it can to safeguard orphaned and vulnerable children, the project has also made a mark in the fight against unemployment and a shortage of skills.

Unemployed people across various communities in which Isibindi projects are run, have through the project received accredited training receiving their Further Education and Training Certificate (FETC) in child and youth care work.

Though the project, unemployed youth and women, are employed in their local communities as fully trained care workers.

Florah Mphahlele from Limpopo enlisted in the project after completing her matric.

“I signed up for the project after hearing about it at the local tribal council. I was sitting at home doing nothing after completing my matric so I saw an opportunity because I was told that I was going to be trained and awarded with a certificate,” says the 31-year-old.

She completed the two-year course and has been working with vulnerable children in the Bergnek area since 2013.

Working child-friendly hours seven-days a week, Mphahle’s daily routine kicks off at around 6am where she visits children at their homes. Her daily itinerary includes preparing children for school and visiting safe parks where she helps children with their homework.

The parks provide children with a refuge where they play in a safe environment while also being helped with what otherwise would be a daily occurrence of the dog eating one’s homework.

While not only tackling the “solve for x equations” and other typical homework questions, the parks provide fun activities like netball and soccer for the children to unwind.

In the evenings, Mphahlele rounds up her day by visiting individual children’s homes to ensure that they have a warm meal and that they are bathed and ready for bed.

The winner of the Global Innovation Award from the United States National Centre for Innovation Excellence among others, the project has been replicated by countries like Zambia and Namibia.

The success of the project is proof of what partnerships between civil society and government can achieve.

While the project has over the course of a five-year period, that concluded in March 2018, been unable to establish the required 400 sites, it has been able to reach 373 sites and has also employed 6 577 people as care workers.

“Our engagement with government has taken many forms but in the scale up process it has been its most complex and rewarding. A sign of a strong democracy is a healthy and positive engagement between government and civil society,” said Allsopp.

However, the path to success is seldom smooth sailing and the project which is targeted at under-served areas, including rural areas and poorer urban areas, has faced a series of challenges in its implementation.

These according to the NACCW’s Year Five and Close Out Report on the national roll-out of the project included delays in establishing new sites. This was largely due to the under-allocation of funding by provinces which affected the ability of care workers to reach more children in the long run.

The other bugbear highlighted by the report was the slow payment of stipends to care workers which would in turn have a knock-on effect on the morale and job performance of workers. The late payments of stipends also led to the dropout of care workers.    

Allsopp was hopeful that the department can address the dry periods when workers are not paid.

“We all agree that decent jobs occupied by capable workers ought to be respected with timely and appropriate remuneration,” she said.

When coming to funding, the provincial departments of Social Development bore the main costs of the roll-out of the project while additional funding was obtained from donors including the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef) as well as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) among others.

Just like the renowned Zulu King, Shaka Zulu, who was known for his bravery and is credited with developing tactics which helped the Zulu clan to clinch victory in battle, the Isibindi project of which its roots began in his home province, has given its beneficiaries much needed courage to face challenges and clinch