A brighter future for orphans and vulnerable children

Bill Okaka

Knowledge Management & Communications Officer, ASSIST Kenya


Watano Initiative meeting to discuss health and education matters of OVC. Photo credit: Bill Okaka.

Three decades into the advent of HIV/AIDS in Kenya, the struggle has moved from

‘fear to associate with’ to ‘comprehensive services provision’

for both infected and affected. One of the widely accepted and culturally-based strategies in Africa is the non-formal or formal social grouping of persons affected with a misfortune; this offers insurance for continued access to daily resources of production.

Mirroring this ideology, APHIAplus Western Program engaged existing care giver groups (i.e. WESAPHE, Dago Dala Hera, OBA-CODEP, and KAWIRI) to respond to the needs of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in Migori County. Jane Sigu, a Technical Specialist, faced the huge task of improving the quality of OVC life and advancing result-based management within such huge membership.

“When I first interacted with the groups, I was excited that they are already doing something for the orphans and vulnerable children. Through series of meetings, membership consistency became a problem, with many citing long distances and competing tasks as barriers to attending capacity building sessions. I also noticed that some members of the group advanced faster than others especially on matters of household economic strengthening. These issues in my view threatened the very existence of the groups. In my mind, such setting exposed targeted children from social protection.”

Jane struggled through a period of self-reflection on how best to turn things round. That is, until 2013 when she attended a Quality Improvement (QI) training offered by the ASSIST project.

“As the QI training unfolded, I picked on innovation as a critical component and said to myself, I will try it out,” Jane narrated.

In consultation with caregivers (now QI teams), Jane developed a strategy to reorganize members for maximization of group activity returns. Her initiative included marketing the new concept to the big four (i.e. WESAPHE, Dago Dala Hera, OBA-CODEP, and KAWIRI) to rethink smaller group coordination to help improve efficacy in delivering and sustaining quality life for OVC. The QI teams embraced the continued coaching process as a way to improve performance and focus on the ‘here and now’ of the groups, resulting in a quicker buy-in. As a result of multiple consultations, Watano Initiative was branded as the next big thing in managing OVC groups in Migori County.

Watano (Swahili for ‘five people’) is structured to have caregivers work in groups of fives, with each member entitled to a day of group support on rotation basis, helping members to keep up with weekly and ultimately monthly objectives. This included taking time to check on other people’s children; that is: Are they going to school? Are they fed and clothed?

The remaining two days a week (Saturday and Sunday) are meant for individual self-reflection, planning and spiritual growth.

“Quality improvement is not a new thing,"

"It is the extra effort a caregiver takes to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways. This is our branding and each caregiver had an obligation to make it go viral as the only way to market aspects of QI among low literacy and less economically empowered communities. This approach resonated very well with the caregivers with immediate output of several groups formed.”

According to Jane, the shift from large to small groups aided in building better social ties among caregivers and reducing stigma and discrimination; thus, making Watano Initiatives the focal expert points for community queries on matters OVC. The increased trust within smaller groups also triggered an immediate involvement of members in group saving and loaning, a critical factor in addressing sustainability for posterity.

“Reports of increased group savings and loaning warmed my heart. I quickly knew that I am breeding care givers who are financially empowered. They can beat the odds in a country with low social welfare mechanism. From peasantry and small scale road side sales, their accumulative savings has grown to approximately USD 53,000. With this at hand, employing strategies for household economic strengthening now makes sense to the care givers.”

Running on their philosophy of:

‘to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways,’

the Watano Initiative groups compete among others by setting SMART objectives and publicizing their achievements at the coordinators meeting.

Jane credits the Watano Initiative with increasing food security since animal husbandry and farming has improved with the engagement of the Ministry of Agriculture for expert advice. Members of Watano Initiative have ensured make-over of their housing, for protection and hospitable shelter for OVC, and can now guarantee quality education (including starting school at the right age, transitioning to next class and level, and improving literacy and numeracy skills). In tandem with the Watano Initiative daily meeting, a household responsibility ensures all children are tested and those requiring treatment and care are linked appropriately – with a financial backing and group support under hands-on management –to healthcare as insured by the National Hospital Insurance Fund.

“In my view, the years 2013 to 2015 have been fruitful. I have a better administrative and management structure, motivated caregivers and quality life for OVC."

According to the NACC, the number of children living with HIV in Migori County is 10,705. This indicates that additional effort is required to reach more children. Currently, only 28% of poor households with orphans are beneficiaries of a cash transfer programme. Watano Initiative offers a new platform for endogenous growth of social cohesion, human capability, and financial empowerment.

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