Child from SOS Children's Village Tema in Ghana…
Communities in Ghana are helping themselves
Child from SOS Children's Village Tema in Ghana
One of the words that crops up most in conversation with Anthony Owusu-Gyamfi, coordinator of the SOS Children's Villages Ghana's family strengthening programme is "community". All of the programme's activities are integrated into the community, created by the community itself and accommodate the community's needs. Even though the programme's real beneficiaries are children, the family and community are important elements in all activities. One of Anthony Owusu-Gyamfi's main beliefs is that only in this way improvements can be made for children without parental care in the long term.
"One of the greatest challenges my work presents is getting the community to take responsibility itself," explains Anthony Owusu-Gyamfi. He oversees family strengthening programmes in ten different communities. All of them are located in the neighbourhood of SOS Children's Villages in the south of the country. He has an ambitious goal: within five to six years the family strengthening programme should be up and running independently and without the support of SOS Children's Villages. By then, all families should be looking after their children themselves, and the community itself should look after children with no parents.
Anthony believes community involvement is essential in helping address difficult situations. "An aid organisation such as SOS Children's Villages can only endeavour to help children," he says. "If the community doesn't want to actively support the programme, it is very difficult to improve the situation for children on a long-term basis." Even now, the work that SOS Children's Villages carries out is not immediately apparent in Bunsu, one of the five communities. Beneficiary families receive visits from community volunteers rather than from the staff of SOS Children's Villages. Anthony and the community committee have carefully selected these women, men and young people. They do not earn any money, but they gain the community's respect.
The community committee, which consists of staff from SOS Children's Villages, village elders and volunteers, makes all decisions regarding the programme. Families can also obtain food packages or find out whether they have been accepted as beneficiaries from a committee member. But how can a community such as Bunsu independently find the means to support children in need who have not had parents in six years (at the latest)? There is a forward-looking solution to this question: fields have recently been created that will be farmed by the community, and the crops that they yield will be used to support the children in need.
"Money is not the problem," says Anthony. This is a surprising statement for him to make. The family strengthening programmes under his care were intended to help 400 children. He is now using the budget to support 700 children. What Anthony lacks is the support of an additional colleague, and can hardly cope with running ten programmes on his own. He hopes to find another colleague as soon as possible.
Child from SOS Children's Village Tema (Ghana)
What do the programmes require in order for them to be successfully integrated into the village communities? An important factor is the willingness of the selected communities to become involved. It is also essential that the criteria according to which the recipients are chosen are well-known and are clearly defined. Only in this way can arguments be avoided and families in the community have the feeling that support is being given fairly. These criteria are defined by the community committee as a product of an independent household study carried out in cooperation with the Ghana Statistical Service. In Bunsu, SOS Children's Villages helps all children who live with just one of their parents, those who live with neither of their parents, those who live in families with more than ten children, or those who can no longer go to school because they cannot afford to attend. The community committee also decides which type of support the children and their families receive.
The committee in Bunsu agreed to oversee the family strengthening programme quite early on. They now distribute food parcels according to individual needs, pay school and medical fees, and offer job training and counselling to parents on how they can earn a better income. "It was only at the beginning that we had different opinions about the steps to take to earn an income," said Anthony. "At first, the committee thought that it should help low-income parents to produce and sell beds, but hardly anyone in the village can afford a bed." Instead, parents now receive job skills training and counselling in agriculture.
Anthony is confident about the communities' strengths and skills. "There are almost always the means, skills and opportunities to cope with problems; communities often just do not realise it. Our job is to make them aware of their skills, to build on their talents and to improve their self-confidence." It is this confidence and trust in the communities' strengths that makes Anthony's contributions to the communities so valuable.