The past decade has witnessed a growing interest in the development of approaches that effectively and sustainably address the challenges faced by orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). The use of models imported from continents outside of Africa is recognized as a relative weakness in the provision of effective responses. Stakeholders are now starting to question the degree to which these approaches may have undermined local, culturally contextualized responses used over decades by communities to mitigate the challenges faced by orphans and vulnerable children.
In addition, psychosocial care and support has also gained considerable prominence in responses used to address the problems faced by OVC and is recognized as a complement of child protection. It is however recognized that local models of psychosocial care and support for children do exist and are used by families and communities. It is precisely this recognition that prompted the request for more detailed studies.
The identification of such practices has the potential to inform policies, programmes and the allocation of resources in the future; increasing community involvement and the use of adequate and sustainable interventions to support households, communities and more importantly vulnerable children and youth living in isolation.
It is against this background that REPSSI was commissioned by Foundation for Community Development (Fundação para o Desenvolvimento da Communidade) of Mozambique to carry out the study Endogenous Models Used by Communities That Have Potential to Support Orphaned, Vulnerable and Isolated Children in Mozambique. This work is made possible thanks to funding from the Samuel Family Foundation. The study provides an opportunity to examine local customs and interventions with potential of providing protection and psychosocial support to orphaned, vulnerable and isolated children. This information could be especially valuable to revive positive practices used over time by communities.
This study and approach emerges as a result of work and thinking advanced by Kim Samuel in her collaboration with Oxford University’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative and through her leadership as President of the Samuel Family Foundation. Kim Samuel’s work advances that social isolation includes the experience of profound, sustained loneliness and lack of belonging and can create significant barriers to socio-economic individual and community well-being. Moreover, Kim Samuel has suggested that social connectedness provides people with a sense of belonging through meaningful and trusting relationships and bonds with those around them, facilitates access to supports and opportunities to achieve improvements that are desired and valued by both individuals and groups, and results in tangible assets for communities and nations.
- Local communities have endogenous practices that seem to support children´s development and growth, and could contribute to a child’s improved psychosocial well being. Local community practices can be divided into i) those supporting children´s overall development; ii) rites that mark the transition from one stage of life to another; and, iii) purification rites performed after the loss of a loved one or birth of a child. However, a close look at some of these practices and rites, do also suggest that they might have a potential to cause some degree of harm on children and youth. For example, graduating children early in their age to feel themselves as adults can lead to early sexual engagement and or early marriages.
- Community notions of vulnerability and poverty stretch beyond individual economic wellbeing (asset ownership) and include the number and quality of social interactions. For example, even an economically wealthy person can be considered poor and vulnerable if he/ she does not know how to approach and live with others. Or, the community can label you “poor” on the premise that you are an orphan.
- Equally important, by speaking directly to children, we learned that they hold a different view on the causes of isolation to the views of adults. Children lay the blame squarely at the feet of adults who allow within household discrimination. In contrast, adults claim that isolation is due to external global factors that have transformed local practices and culture, such as the proclamation of child rights, globalization, which has facilitated access by the younger ones to new means of communications, which broadcast norms and cultures different to those of the local social context. Besides these factors, it was realized that children do live in inappropriate environment within the households, what leads them to isolation or self isolation.
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See also: Synergos work in Southern Africa