Saturday, June 25, 2011

Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project

As much as I love to tell a story with photos, it will be much easier on me and my fellow houseguests if I limit the amount of photos on each of my posts while in Mwandi. They will appreciate a chance to enjoy the internet if I’m not hogging all the bandwidth.

This morning was an early start. We met Gertrude at the church for a thorough village tour. Along the way we met an array of wonderful people and witnessed the life of Mwandians. The tour ended at the Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s Center, the OVC. The morning concluded with a few jobs at the OVC. I helped the children clean up and shower, Forbes served snacks, Ben led a devotion, and the rest of the crew had great fun playing games and entertaining the children.

I learned something new about the OVC yesterday on the way into Mwandi. As Rury was explaining to us the projects at the mission, we received a great lesson about how the OVC came to be. When Fiona first came to Mwandi over 15 years ago she conducted a comprehensive study within the village to discover the needs and how to best serve the villagers. The community of Mwandi excels at caring for their people. They welcome orphans into their homes; extended family members are immediate caretakers of children when their parents pass away. The issue in a village like Mwandi is that many times one family can wind up caring for tens of children because of the HIV/Aids pandemic, and many times it is the elderly grandparents caring for their children’s children. Other times, children aren’t orphaned, but because their parents suffer with HIV/Aids, they are not well cared for. Thus the orphans and vulnerable children.

Therefore, the OVC was developed to assist specific needs such as clothing, food and schooling, but not necessarily shelter. In fact, I was mistaken to believe that the OVC was an orphanage in the normal sense of the word. Rather, children spend their days at the OVC, receiving food and counseling and devotions. The center serves children in many different ways and classifies families according to their specific needs. Not all children are on the Nutrition Program (receiving food). Some just receive support for school or clothes and blankets. The families and adults in the programs also receive counseling and support to help better their situation.

The Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s Center is an innovative approach to serving the needs of a village. Rather than supply services that are easily provided by the community (shelter), they sought the advice of the villagers to find the specific needs that need to be supported (clothing, school, food). This program benefits the community without creating a dependence.

Recently Fiona conducted another study to gauge the effectiveness of the OVC and how it is perceived by the village. While the center is providing basic needs, the research found secondary needs that are not being well addressed in the community. Of high importance is to continue and further educate guardians, children and the OVC Project staff around HIV/AIDS and the rights of children. Supporting guardians with parenting knowledge and skills is also of high importance.

As aforementioned, HIV/AIDS is a pandemic. I don’t know stats for this community but I’m sure I’ve heard numbers between 30% and 50% are infected. As I spent the morning at the OVC, it was devastating to look into the eyes of these beautiful children and know that perhaps half of them will suffer in their lifetime from a disease that is entirely preventable. For many of them, they have no choice. They are already infected, their destiny already set ahead of them.

For the next several days I intend to educate myself about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Mwandi and learn about the practices that are in place to help alleviate the devastation. What are the needs of this community? How can I help? How can we help?

Would you like to read more about Mwandi, Zambia? 

Keith and Eda, two of the missionaries stationed in Mwandi write a blog over at
One of our team members, Mike Jette, is also keeping a blog while we are here at

Check them out!

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