SOHO works to improve the lives of orphans and vulnerable children of child-headed households in communities devastated by HIV/AIDS through programs that work to heal, educate, feed, empower and nurture.
IF YOU VISIT a typical rural community in Swaziland, you would find children in need of healthcare. White patches in their heads or missing patches of hair hint at scabies or tinea, very common complaints. Distended abdomens are often the result of poor nutrition or worm infestation. In cool weather, even in the higher altitudes where frost blankets the community at night, you find children running around with bare feet, often thread bare clothing, with runny noses and persistent coughs.
SOHO visits rural communities and conducts volunteer clinics, evaluating children, referring those in the worst condition, treating those whose health concerns are basic, and providing warm clothing and shoes for the most destitute.
With clinics not always easily accessible and with pain so much a part of life’s routine, it is not surprising that for some children, healthcare is dependent on the visits of organizations such as SOHO.
In addition to rural free clinics, health evaluations are done on the children served at SOHO Welcome Places and on families sponsored by SOHO donors.
Collaborators in this area include Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Schools of Nursing and Public Health and Nova Southeastern University, Department of Psychology.
SOHO operates two preschools, one at The Welcome Place in Mhlosheni, and the second at The Welcome Place in Nhlambeni . Preschool is not only a requirement for admission to Elementary School, but it also provides an opportunity to interest children in education and to provide life skills that are valuable even at their young age.
Children learn basic courtesy and etiquette along with reading, writing and numbers, and their graduations rival any high school or college ceremony with caps and gowns, music and dance, and displays of dramatic talent all to the delight of their community members. Most importantly, the children learn a sense of personal value, which goes a long way to help insulate them against the stigmatization that they will face as they grow up.
SOHO runs a preschool at The Welcome Place in Mhlosheni and The Welcome Place in Nhlambeni, and provides education support for children through Child Sponsorship. The sponsorship of individual children and families provide the means necessary to pay for school fees and uniforms.
Imagine asking a child when was their last meal, only to have the child ponder long to determine if it was yesterday or the day before. The last taste of meat was often a past holiday. For many children, a meal would consist of pap made of white corn meal (mealies) with bean sauce or just plain with sugar or salt. Many children depend on the daily lunch offered by most schools, and they go without if that is not available.
SOHO provides morning porridge and lunch at the Welcome Place for the pre-school children as well as hot meals for orphans attending nearby schools. Meals are served seven days a week and during holidays when children are most vulnerable to engaging in transactional sex in order to eat.
Vegetables and protein are missing from many diets. SOHO has a community garden that provides fresh vegetables such as cabbage, squash, carrots or spinach to add nutrition to the children’s meals.
Food is provided to orphans and vulnerable children at The Welcome Place in Mhlosheni, and in Nhlambeni. “Food Parcels” are distributed to homesteads with children in need. Food-related services include the development of Community Garden Projects. At SOHO’s Welcome Places, gardening education offers hands on experience for orphans and vulnerable children to plant and harvest from their own small garden plots.
Food is a necessity, and many children are susceptible to hunger and malnutrition. Read a story about feeding.
According to a UNICEF report, girls are at great risk in Swaziland, with one in three likely to be abused. While one reason appears to be the lower estimate placed on girls and women and even lower value on orphans, the reality is that poverty leaves children powerless. Sugar daddies driving up in cars after Primary or High Schools dismiss, offer rare fast food delicacies and captivate the attention of the most vulnerable who forget for a moment that disease would likely result from the transaction.
The UNICEF report showed that although there is an HIV/AIDS prevalence of more than a fourth of the population , fear of stigmatization has only a small minority testing. SOHO IS implementing several creative programs to empower orphans and vulnerable youth.
PEER LEADERS FOR AIDS FREE AFRICA AND AMERICA (PLAFAA)
PLAFAA is a peer-to-peer collaborative program that brings American and Swazi youth together in a mutual learning and mentoring exchange. Peer Leaders are trained in HIV/AIDS, STI and Substance Abuse prevention as well as in life and leadership skills. They engage with peer groups in Swaziland to learn from their Swazi peers and to share what they have learned.
With many of the U.S. Peer Leaders coming from single parent families or economically-challenged urban families, students find that they have more in common than expected. In response to an interviewer from Sound Medicine, a U.S. Public Television program, students confessed to learning more than they could have anticipated and having what they considered to be a transformational experience as a result of the PLAFAA program.
STRONG AS STEEL, YEBO! (SASY) is a Life Skills, Empowerment and Livelihood Skills program for girls and boys. The goals of the SASY program are:
To develop self esteem and inner strength in girls and young women
To educate on the dynamics of gender-based abuse
To work through the process of life transformation from weakness to strength
To become economically self-reliant
To prepare them to become effective mentors of their peers
For boys and young men, the program is designed to:
Develop respect for self and others
Foster inner strength and hope
Encourage healthy lifestyle choices
Provide what may become an income generating skill
THE STRONG AS STEEL CONCEPT
The SASY concept calls for use of a music medium as a tool for life transformation.
The instrument of choice is one with roots in Africa but quite popular throughout the Caribbean, the United States, parts of Europe and South America. It is the steel drum, an instrument that grabs the attention of music lovers but which does not require formal knowledge of music to develop proficiency.
Steel drums that are used as musical instruments are discarded oil drums trimmed, smoothed, etched, fired, and professionally tuned and chrome-plated until it becomes an attractive, pricey instrument. Steel band orchestras have performed at street corners, in cafes, in massive auditoriums and centers for the arts worldwide, and in the palaces of kings and queens. The music covers the spectrum from folk to calypso, contemporary, gospel, rock, hip-hop, jazz, the blues and classics.
It can be played in orchestras of one hundred and fifty as well as in duos and trios, in schools as well as concert halls. It is the power of the symbolism that makes it also a dynamic tool for abuse prevention and recovery, and to teach AIDS prevention, self-esteem and the power of personal choice. An instrument that begins as a discarded oil drum suitable for use as a trash bin, which experiences a metamorphosis that puts it alongside the finest instruments in both economic and performance value, is a suitable metaphor for at-risk youth marginalized by AIDS, abuse, poverty and hopelessness.
Save Orphans, Kick AIDS (SOKA)
SOKA is a gender-specific, culturally sensitive AIDS and ABUSE prevention program using sports as a vehicle to educate, engage and empower at-risk youth, equipping them with skills to improve their own lives and to serve as peer educators, impacting youth within their home communities.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and has engaged millions in skill development and the enrichment of lives. Even during moments of political, ethnic and socio-religious tension and feuds, nations across the world have united behind the sport.
As in all of South Africa, Swaziland life involves soccer as daily routine. Whether played with a homemade rag ball from the trash on a dirt field or a real soccer ball on a distant field, soccer is one of the few outlets to quell dark emotions of fear, frustration and grief that simmer in the hearts of teenagers. In a society where 67 percent of the rural population is below the poverty line, soccer is the sport and entertainment of choice because rubbish can be pressed into the shape of a ball, providing joy-filled moments even for the poorest of the poor. In a country where HIV/AIDS has destroyed the traditional safety nets and where children are growing up without a sense of permanence or community, soccer offers a hopeful prospect.
The SOKA program will be a life-changing vehicle for girls, as much gender-based abuse occurs at the homestead, and sports gets girls engaged outside of their domestic environment. The program will encourage the kind of self-worth and confidence that would make a girl less likely to be victimized.
For boys SOKA offers comparable life-changing skills, building self esteem and confidence, learning mutual respect, practicing goal setting, critical thinking and developing leadership skills.
In all empowerment programs, testing would become as routine as wearing the “jersey.”
Children growing up at risk often lack coping skills to overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacle orphanhood poses. Stresses and strains show in the high incidence of suicides, particularly among school children, and the high-risk behaviors of youth who have lost hope.
SOHO conducts weekend camps for girls where their social, emotional and spiritual needs are met. Many of the girls attending have been victims of abuse who have never had assistance in addressing their challenges.
The camps are planned so girls of comparable age enjoy peer mentoring as well as counseling and emotional support. They prepare meals together, inspire each other, and have the opportunity to shop SOHO for much needed clothing with coupons for outstanding participation at the end of the conference.