Supporting volunteer caregivers in Swaziland

Siphofaneni, Swaziland: Thembekile Magongo, fondly known as 'Make wa Fana', is one of hundreds of volunteer women in Swaziland providing a safety net for orphans and vulnerable children. She herself is supported under one of the World Food Programme (WFP) activities managed by a UNV volunteer.

In a country severely affected by HIV/AIDS, especially among the young and middle-aged populations, the burden of care for vulnerable children has risen tremendously. Swaziland tackles the problem via centres called Neighbourhood Care Points (NCPs) where children go to get a decent meal and a caring smile from the women who look after them.

The sharp rise of food prices, especially bread, means Ms. Magongo and volunteer caregivers like her have encountered difficulties in feeding their own families. Thus the 'five people ration' she receives under the World Food Programme (WFP) 'Food for Work' activity covers half of the food needs of her family. "I do not know what I would do without this assistance from the WFP," she says.

UNV volunteer Catherine Operemo, who heads the WFP sub-office in Siphofaneni, describes how the dedication of the volunteer caregivers is witnessed daily as they collect firewood and fetch water to prepare food for the children every morning. Despite having six children of her own, Thembekile Magongo has forgone finding a job herself because community elders begged her to stay and help out.

Ms. Operemo explains how the community volunteering initiative began: "After seeing the devastation of HIV/AIDS - the levels of destitution and poverty in children left behind - some community women came together to find solutions. They collected their resources, mainly food, to prepare in their homes and took turns to feed these children."

"Their efforts were later recognized by UNICEF [the United Nations Children's Fund] and the Government of Swaziland," she continues, "who supported them until it became a programme of some scale and profile." WFP later came with food assistance as an incentive to the volunteer women who provide assistance at what are now called NCPs.

NGOs such as World Vision are also involved, and the organization recently built a new NCP in Siphofaneni Inkundla. In the future the building may take on a dual use with a classroom where, among other community activities, volunteer caregivers can learn income-generating skills.

Even though the caregivers encounter many challenges, Ms. Operemo notes that volunteer caregiver Thembekile Magongo is recognized by the community as someone who makes a difference. "What keeps her going is the joy of assisting a helpless child who has a lot of problems and seeing their life improve day by day," remarks Ms. Operemo.

Catherine Operemo herself brings several years of experience from her work with WFP in her home country, Uganda. She has worked in Swaziland for three years, mainly involved in planning and implementing school feeding programmes, nutrition programmes and targeted food distributions to vulnerable people (such as orphans and the families of people living with HIV/AIDS).