In Namibia, a Network of Organizations is Helping to Raise a Generation

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n Namibia, an estimated five thousand people have died of AIDS, leaving in their wake 65,000 children growing up without one or both parents.* In the worst cases, these orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) live on the streets, falling victim to high-risk behavior, forced labor and prostitution. In the best cases, they are adopted by relatives who, despite the financial burden, take on the extraordinary responsibility for housing, feeding and schooling them. In both cases, these children have deep emotional wounds and face complex challenges to survive every day.

While the number of small community- and faith-based organizations (CBOs and FBOs) that focus on orphans in Namibia has increased over the past two decades, the overwhelming needs of OVC have simply been too great. Initial programs designed to provide these organizations with the resources, training and coordination they needed were unsuccessful, and by 2002, it was clear that a new solution was needed. This solution came in part in the form of current New Partners Initiative (NPI) grantee, the Church Alliance for Orphans (CAFO)—Namibia's first interfaith networking organization dedicated to the development and sustainability of support programs for OVC. Launched as a six-member initiative, CAFO has since grown into an organization of more than 535 CBOs, FBOs and local church groups operating in all 13 regions of the country. Working closely with the Namibian government and the religious community, CAFO helps its members provide comprehensive educational, material and psychosocial support to needy children. Through training caregivers, building the capacity of local leaders to mobilize their communities and providing financial assistance to organizations through its Small Grants Program, CAFO has transformed the national response to OVC.

One member organization that CAFO sponsors through its Small Grants Program is the Ondelekelama Support Group. Named after the tree under which founder, Josefina Josafat, and the other women in her community gathered to start the group, Ondelekelama supports people and families affected and infected by HIV/ AIDS in the Oshana region. A member of CAFO since it received its first grant in 2006, Ondelekelama serves over 260 OVC, one of whom is fourteen-year-old Selma. After losing both parents to AIDS, Selma and her brother and five sisters moved in with their elderly grandmother whose only income was a small government pension. With seven new mouths to feed, Selma’s grandmother struggled to provide for the children. Continually hungry, forced to drop out of school and shunned by friends who feared that she would give them the disease that had taken the lives of her parents, Selma’s life seemed hopeless.

Then in late 2007, the family received a visit from Mama Josefina Josafat, who identified Selma and her siblings as OVC and connected them to much-needed services. Along with twice weekly meals at the Ondelekelama soup kitchen and school fees and supplies, Selma was given new hope and the opportunity to heal through the organization’s Kids Club. Led by group leaders trained in psychosocial support and counseling, the Kids Club offered Selma the chance to cope with her grief, practice life skills and learn about HIV prevention and care. With new-found courage, Selma faced her parents’ deaths for the first time and even visited their gravesites. Today, Selma is a well-adjusted young woman who attends Erundu Senior Secondary School and dreams of becoming a social worker to one day help others who have lost parents. To date, CAFO has supported more than 10,000 children like Selma through its Small Grants Program alone.

The success of CAFO and the hundreds of organizations it supports has been recognized by both its funders and the communities that it serves. In 2008, Ondelekelama won the Oshana region’s Positive Impact Award for being a model of excellence and self-sustainability. Similarly, in late 2009, CAFO received a one-year extension from NPI and will continue its work with support from the USAID Mission in Namibia when NPI is over. While there is indeed a generation of youth growing up in Namibia without parents, CAFO and its partners are proving that there is also a generation of dedicated leaders, community volunteers and caregivers who refuse to let their children grow up without love.

*UNAIDS/WHO Working Group on Global HIV/AIDS and STI, Epidemiological Fact
Sheet on HIV and AIDS: Core data on epidemiology and response Namibia,
http://apps.who.int/globalatlas/predefinedReports/EFS2008/full/EFS2008_NA.pdf.