The family support coordinator on the right has gained the…
This is the story of Kumba Ndure, who joined SOS Children's Villages in The Gambia in March 2005 . The first family support in the country started four months later. Always on the run to visit one family here, train one community child welfare committee there, help one care-giver set up his or her little business or make sure the children's school fees are paid in time to allow the children attend their class, Kumba has managed to make sure that 340 children get a better life today and hopefully tomorrow too. Here she shares some of her thoughts and memories in an interview:
The family support coordinator on the right has gained the trust of mothers and care-givers of the children on the programme.
This is the story of Kumba Ndure, who joined SOS Children's Villages in The Gambia in March 2005 . The first family support in the country started four months later. Always on the run to visit one family here, train one community child welfare committee there, help one care-giver set up his or her little business or make sure the children's school fees are paid in time to allow the children attend their class, Kumba has managed to make sure that 340 children get a better life today and hopefully tomorrow too.
Here she shares some of her thoughts and memories in an interview:
Can you briefly describe the family support you are co-ordinating?
As of today we have 129 families on the programme, in three major locations. Some families are from Bajagarr and its surrounding community, about 60 kilometres from Bakoteh where the first SOS Children's Village was established in The Gambia and where my office is based; some others live in Brikama, about 30 kilometres from here, and the rest lives around Bakoteh. It makes it a bit complicated to manage, but now I'm quite well organised when it comes to borrowing a vehicle from other SOS Children's Villages facilities in Bakoteh to implement the programme.
A big majority of the children on the programme were identified by the various communities. They are either orphan, living in an orphan household or affected or infected by HIV/AIDS, but all live in extremely poor conditions. Depending on each child's and family's needs, we support children by covering their school fees and bying school materials and uniforms, we help with food parcels for a period of one year on average, to give the care-giver some time to concentrate on his or her new business or improve the one they were initially involved in. We also provide some families with mattresses when the children are sleeping on the floor. As malaria is very present in the country, we also make sure that all children and care-givers sleep under a mosquito net. Making sure children have enough to eat and sleep properly is essential for their concentration in school!
At the same time, we analyse with the care-givers ways of improving the care given to the children, which is mainly linked to getting sufficient income. Care-givers identify and propose to me their areas of interest or tell me what could improve their existing business, and the programme does its best to support their initiatives. Regular counselling and monitoring is essential to make sure they do not misuse their profits!
You have seen many 'child cases' - What are the main reasons of child vulnerability in the country? Abject poverty is one the major reason of child vulnerability in The Gambia. It's creating a lot of 'social orphans' in our society, simply because parents cannot meet the needs of their children. This struggle to cater for the family expenditures also has a negative effect on the extended family network system, which used to be a safety net for these 'social orphans' in the sub-Saharan Africa context. As a result of all this, children end up roaming in the street and gradually loose any incentive to come back home.
According to what I have seen, another major reason of child vulnerability is the refusal of acknowledging paternity. In case of teenage pregnancies, most men reject the pregnancy as they fear the reaction of their parents, bringing shame to the family, and of society, as they are not married. New-born babies are often abandoned or killed when they result from a non-marital relationship. Another problem is that even married women who give birth to a child with deformities frequently consider the child as a 'Devil Child'. In previous times such children used to be killed, now they are being abandoned.
What are the personal skills required for a family support co-ordinator?
You need to be accommodating, patient and able to deal with all the cases you are coming across. It's a delicate issue we are dealing with. You have to listen to all the stories as all the children have faced different things and react differently.
Why do you like your job? What motivates you?
Seeing very young children play the roles and take the responsibilities of adults in the house, trying to collect money instead of attending school is painful. Very often, when you start working with a family, that's the case.
I like my job very much simply because it's a rewarding profession: you 'enter' a family where children are vulnerable and have experienced the loss of one or both parents, you assist the family to get rid of some of their plights and give them back hope for a better future, and when you see that the family is working out its way with the support the programme provided them with and that children are happy, in school, and not starving, you are also happy!
My motivation originates from the work of Mother Theresa who was out to help the poor and the sick, the neediest in society. When I was doing my training in rural development, I was watching a documentary about her on CNN. That's how I saw how she helped the poorest. Like Hermann Gmeiner, Mother Theresa was not the wealthiest person on earth, but she had the heart and the mind to help the neediest. I also wanted to help the powerless, the poor and the voiceless in my country, seen everywhere but rarely considered in any village or community development plans. Orphans and vulnerable children are definitely part of these!
What are the main challenges faced by the family strengthening programme in The Gambia?
Illiteracy is one of the major problems faced by our programme. Some people would say yes to what you explain to them, but at the end of the day they would take it differently.
The approach of the family support is a developmental one. The support we give the families is designed together with the family members after a thorough explanation of the programme's aims and results in what we call a 'family development plan', setting family objectives, contributions from both sides and timeframes.
Very often, illiterate people have a very narrow conception of time. Being able to read a calendar, and thus plan and forecast things such as saving money for the date school fees have to be paid, is difficult when you have no notion of numbers and basic literacy. Working with these families demands more time and efforts, and things need to be constantly explained and repeated... However, we do encourage all the illiterate care-givers to attend literacy classes when these are available in their community.
Another problem I have faced in implementing the programme is that, as most of the people are poor, some would tend to give you false information to be enrolled on the programme. And even though each family case is thoroughly studied, it's difficult to see clearly which ones are providing false information.
I once visited a potential beneficiary family living in a three room basic house, and while we were having our little meeting in the sitting room, a room almost empty, to assess the children and family situation, the wind blew the curtain separating the room from another room and I discovered that all the belongings of the family had been moved and packed in the other room! How can we work in this case, when from the very beginning people are not being fair and trying to fool you?
However, now I can say I know most of the 'tricks', and with time, trust has been established with all the families the programme is working with. Having the families reach self reliance is now just a matter of time!
A tree in autumn, at SOS Children's Village Kotayk, Armenia.
There are three SOS Family support projects run in Armenia, and these offer support to vulnerable families in the community, to prevent child abandonment. This is done by: 1) ensuring that children have access to essential services (e.g. educational, nutritional, health support, leisure time activities) for their healthy development; and 2) supporting families to build their capacity to protect and care for their children (e.g. income generation, parental skills classes).