Tapestry 2030

Episode 6: Community Based Orphan Care in Kenya


Safa (intro): You are listening to the Ontario Council for International Cooperation’s ‘Tapestry 2030’ podcast series, which focuses on the future of international cooperation and global solidarity, and the partnerships needed for gender transformative, sustainable development.

My name is Safa, and I’m your host.

In this series I’ll be in conversation with diverse development actors and leaders from across Ontario and around the world, learning how they are working together to address some of the most pressing sustainable development challenges of our time.

You’ll hear stories of partnership; approaches to ‘Just Recovery’ in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic; and insights on ways you can make a difference in our collective work to ‘leave no one behind’.

Leonora: Partnership to me means working together for the betterment of the community.

Linda: Partnership to me means working together with mutual respect and valuing one another’s gifts.

Claire: Partnership to me means people coming together in a way that is equitable and respectful and celebrates the value of diversity.

Safa: Today we are in conversation with Kijiji Cha Upendo – also referred to as Village of Love Kenya and their partners Village of Love Canada and the Canada Africa Partnership Network, also referred to as CAP Network. They work together to support community based orphan and vulnerable child care in Kibera – an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya.

Leonora: I’m Leonora Obara from Kijiji Cha Upendo children’s project. I’m a Project Officer and I’ve been involved in the project since inception, that is from 2010. I live in Nairobi.

Linda: I’m Linda Levine. I’m chair of Village of Love Canada. I live in Toronto, and I’ve been involved with Village of Love Canada since 2011.

Claire: My name is Claire Holloway Wadhwani. I’m the Executive Director of the CAP network. I live in Port Hope, Ontario and I’ve been doing this work with CAP network for just over 10 years.

Leonora: Kijiji Cha Upendo is a community based project in Nairobi. We just started in 2010 and our area of implementation is Kibera. Kibera is a slum or an informal settlement in Nairobi – the biggest slum in Africa, with a lot of social issues. It’s about 100 years old, with a population of about 1.5 million people, with very limited social amenities, very small houses made from timber, mud, and in some cases you find that even people use plastic papers, iron sheets -old iron sheets to come up with small structures. Few parts of Kibera have electricity and water. But the bigger parts, which is about 80% of the area, does not have those facilities. People don’t have proper sanitation blocks. And it’s also quite expensive – people buy water. It’s very expensive. And given high rates of unemployment, a lot of the community members are suffering. You also find there is quite a number of youth who are unemployed and engaged in some anti social behaviors. You find that there are high pregnancy rates among the girls. Some of the young boys also engage in taking drugs, and hence making them very vulnerable in the community. Kijiji Cha Upendo was started in 2010. And this was to support families that are engaged in caring for orphans and vulnerable children, as a result of the high death rates from AIDS related complications. This project was a brainchild of our friends in Canada, Andrew Obara and myself – we were caregivers and people came to us asking whether we could take in orphans and vulnerable children, that we could take care of them within our households. But since we were not able to do that, and in my experience as a social worker, I knew that the community based support is better than institutional care. Where in Kenya we talk of children’s homes. So we worked with families in Kibera, we had children in loving and caring families. We started with 15 families. We started with a small cluster of 15 orphan caregivers and we have grown to 90 families since inception. We are reaching roughly 500 children with different services, namely education support for children. We have counselling services for both orphans and the caregivers. We have economic empowerment, where we train the women in business management, we give them funds – micro loans to strengthen or startup their businesses, so that they are able to support the children they are living with. Now, when I talk of communicable diseases like HIV, Kibera has a population of 15,000 orphans and vulnerable children. Vulnerable children are those who are taking care of their parents who are HIV positive or those who are taking care of other siblings, child headed households – where one child takes up the role of the father and the mother to take care of the orphans who are left under their support. And amidst all those problems, we still find families that are willing to educate, willing to care and to love some children. And that is why Kijiji Cha Upendo exists – to support these families, so that we have children grow up. And of course, we envision them to be responsible citizens. Some of our students have gone through university and they’re also contributing significantly to improving the lives of other children where they are. So we see our children making a difference in the community. Kijiji Cha Upendo is a Swahili word for Village of Love. The reason why we came up with this name is that in Kibera, most families do not have what it takes to care for the orphans. They live in very small houses, very little income, and they hardly even get 3 meals a day. But when they took in children in their households, the first thing they offered was love – Upendo, Upendo means love. They offered a lot of love as they struggled to provide for other social needs. When we look at Kijiji Cha Upendo the project, you will see that when we empower the families economically, then they’re able to provide for food, shelter, clothing, and also then have time to follow up children’s education. Most orphans in Kibera would come from school, then go to find some jobs to do. But the children within the households where we support have ample time to read and become children. They can have time to play, they can have time to even just to learn some new skill and also get an opportunity to interact with other children.

Linda: I first heard about Leonora in 2004. I was the Minister of Runnymede United Church, a church member met Leonora at an International AIDS Conference in Toronto. She’d learned that Leonora and her husband Andrew, in addition to their 5 biological children, were also raising 5 orphan children. And that was soon to become 10 orphan children. And we just thought: wow, this is amazing. That people could have that much love in them to take in other people’s children to raise them as their own. And we just wondered how we could be part of this adventure in love. Well, we could pay the school fees, and that’s what we did. Then in 2010, when the Obara’s formed Village of Love, I was just retiring from church ministry. So I had the time to start an organization outside of the church to raise funds for Village of Love in Kenya. And we called ourselves Village of Love Canada. I should actually say we never formed an organization, because Claire invited us to be part of CAP AIDs, which later became CAP network. So we could just get on with fundraising and not go through the formalities of forming an organization.

Claire: So around the same time as Linda and Leonora were getting to know each other and forming the Village of Love project, CAP network, then called CAP AIDs was going through a transformation of our own. Having lost our core funding, through what was then CIDA, we had to re examine our organizational model to figure out how we were going to be able to sustain our work with partners – primarily in Uganda at that time, without that institutional funding. And we very quickly realized that it simply was not going to be sustainable for a small partnership based organization to stand on its own. And we started looking at different options and realized that we were not alone in this, that there were other groups out there who had strong partnerships, and were supporting important work at the community level, that were also struggling to stay operational without core funding being available for small and medium sized organizations. So when Linda approached me looking for advice about starting her own organization, we saw a real opportunity to collaborate together and test out a new model of operating, which has since become a successful shared platform network engaging with many projects, like Linda and Leonora and the Village of Love project. And the role that the CAP network itself plays is that of a facilitator. We aim to support direct partnerships between Canadian and African communities, in supporting expanded impact.

Safa: Kijiji Cha Upendo and Village of Love Canada are volunteer run organizations and each partner plays a critical role in advancing their shared work.

Claire: The challenge when running an organization or project that is largely volunteer driven, is that it can be very difficult to, I hesitate to use the word compete, but for want of a better word, to compete with larger professional organizations that have full time staff, that are really driving those projects forward. You know, volunteers come to the table because they genuinely care about the issue. They feel connected to the project. And they really just want to help – they want to feel like they’re a part of something positive and supporting positive change, but may have other day jobs. And in some cases, that’s hugely beneficial because you get a diversity of perspectives and skills and experience to the table. But at the same time, you may not get people who have a lot of experience in specifically managing NGO projects or specific experience in fundraising management, for example. So the advantage of coming together in a shared platform like the CAP Network is it enables volunteers to get training and support in areas where maybe they don’t have a lot of experience and even better to connect with each other so that they can learn about what’s working for other volunteer driven projects. What techniques are other volunteer groups using to successfully engage in their communities or for successfully achieving development impact in their communities in Africa.

Linda: Essentially, I agree with Claire, it’s just a slightly different angle that I would take – volunteers are as different as the people who volunteer and they all bring gifts. The challenge is that you can’t determine, it’s not like employing people where you put out an advertisement and you can interview them and you can get just the right gifts that you want for that particular job. And it’s challenging to find a volunteer who can do for example, the work that she can do. But I’m very appreciative that Claire has those gifts and that she does them for us. And that is definitely a benefit.

Leonora: The major role of Village of Love Canada is resource mobilization or fundraising. And Linda and the team have been very committed to see that what Kijiji Cha Upendo requests for programming is provided. And Claire at CAP Network is our technical advisor in terms of programming. The key program areas that she has been able to support us: one, for visibility, she organized for a meeting that I attended in Canada 2017, that was a great opportunity for those who didn’t know about what should we do, got an opportunity to know that there are other community based projects in Africa, that with very minimal resources, their impact can be felt. Another area that Claire has been able to support Kijiji is to train us on the project builder, which is a great tool. Another one is the beneficiary tracker. And our main role is implementation of the project activities. And this has been a great partnership. And for us, it has been a learning opportunity.

Safa: In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, many existing challenges in Kibera have been intensified.

Leanora: When I look at the Kenyan context, the numbers are not going down. They’re increasing. However, when I talk about COVID-19, and its impact in Kibera, I can start by saying that quite a number of families have been affected by COVID-19, that a lot of people have lost jobs. Women are undergoing domestic violence, because most of them their husbands do not have jobs, so they stay at home. And in our culture, then it’s the man’s job to provide the basic needs. So when women ask for money to buy food or to buy essential commodities at home, then this becomes a case of domestic abuse. And then cases are reported at the Chief’s Office in Kibera. We have seen young girls drop from school due to teenage pregnancies. And this is not only in Kibera, some counties in Kenya have recorded very high numbers – at a rate of 80% of girls in a specific village, dropping from school, due to teenage pregnancies.

There was also a health challenge, and especially for women living with HIV and some of our caregivers who are HIV positive. There was a challenge in terms of accessing ARVs, the anti viral therapy. And also at the health facilities during COVID, not many women would access contraceptives, and also this impacted especially negatively on women living with HIV. However, for our women, when I talk about our women, these are the beneficiaries of Kijiji Cha Upendo – we had some cases of HIV positive women referred through Kijiji Cha Upendo to the government facilities, and they could access the ARVs that they needed. I have an example of our member, of a caregiver who is HIV positive – she was on the first line ARVs and she was not doing very well. So we had an opportunity to talk to some clinicians. And she was put on the second line ARVs. And her health is good now. Just an example to show how Kijiji Cha Upendo would now pick up other roles in terms of healthcare during the pandemic to ensure that caregivers were able to access services that other women who are not members of Kijiji Cha Upendo would not access.

A lot of businesses have closed down because people have to work so that they have resources to even buy what has been sold in the community. So most of the businesses have gone either closed or very low. And this is an impact on the families. And of course, then that means that most children and families have a bigger problem to access basic needs like food and water, because they have to buy water. If they’re not working, they don’t have money then to buy the essential needs, like sanitary towels and such.

However, for Kijiji Cha Upendo as a project, we have been lucky that our partner, Village of Love Canada, with the support of CAP Network, we have been able to access resources and the families that we work with have been supported to be food secure, in the sense that we do monthly food distribution. And this has been on since March last year. From some angle, maybe some people would say that when you give people food, maybe you’re creating dependency. But we ,whenever we have an activity to implement, we involve our beneficiaries. And we called the meeting with the women and we said this is just a temporary support so that they are able to care for the children who are at home for about eight months without going to school – the resources needed to care for the children, the budget went up very high. And the women are aware that this is a temporary support as they continue to work hard and sustain their businesses. Kijiji is among the first community based organizations in Kibera that did set up hand washing stations in the community to sensitize people on how to wash their hands properly, how to use soap and water because most families in Kibera would not be able to buy the sanitizer – but water and soap then will be available. And Kijiji has had a big number of people who have been using our handwash stations that we placed at the different points in the community. And we have also worked through the partnership, where areas where Kijiji does not have a hand washing station, then we sensitized our membership, who are the women taking care of orphans and vulnerable children, to utilize the stations that are close to them. And we are proud when we hear the community administration talking about, you know, hand washing contributing to low cases of COVID 19 infection, and we are proud that you’re also contributing to lowering the number of this infections.

Linda: In January 2020 we were gaily planning our annual square dance for April, soliciting items for our silent auction hoping to make a bundle of money, and then COVID struck. By mid February, the dance was cancelled, we were scrambling to put auction items online. And as Leonora has described, the Kenyan staff acted very quickly. By March, they’d sent us pictures and videos of how they were providing emergency food baskets, hand washing stations, education and safety. So we had in hand these fundraising tools very quickly. So it was very easy for us to switch our focus. We sent out an email appeal. We were worried about the women and how they would manage. We trust Leonora to know exactly what is needed, and we follow their lead in terms of our fundraising focus. And we were faced with a huge fundraising challenge in needing to also fundraise for food baskets. It was very helpful to us to have the network platforms to use online and their technological skills. So yeah, we simply couldn’t have done it I think without the network.

Leonora: This partnership is not only in terms of financial support. It has always been great in terms of sharing ideas. Kijiji Cha Upendo has always been given an opportunity to express what is actually happening in the community. It has been a partnership that is based on trust, Claire, and Linda representing the two organizations have always listened to us. They have always contributed to building better ideas, to come up with a discussion and we agree on the way forward. From my community experience, there are some donors or partners who will not give maybe a community based organization an opportunity to either discuss what they think – they would always dictate and say this is the resources that we have and this is what you’re supposed to do. Not even minding whether that project will create an impact in the community or not, but just to report that there’s a project. But for us, it’s very different. There’s always engagement, and Kijiji has also taken up that and we also involve women and our beneficiaries in decision making in terms of activities – we discuss with them, we tell them these are the resources that are available and this is why we asked for this resources, then how do we move forward? So the partnership has been very, very, very educative. We have learned a lot. And when I say a lot, I’m talking about management of the project. And there are some volunteers who have visited our projects in Kenya and they have also made significant contribution.

Claire: I’m just, I’m sitting here kind of beaming ear to ear as I hear both Linda and Leonora just using this word trust, and that these are relationships built on trust. And when you have that kind of personal connection, and you have that level of trust, I think it makes it so much easier to pivot when adaptations need to take place. Because you’re not bogged down so much in paperwork or multiple levels of approval. Because these are relationships between people who know each other and trust each other to do the right thing. So when Leonora and Village of Love in Kenya said, this is what we need to do now, it was very easy for us at CAP Network to say, absolutely, get started right away, and we will catch up. And we will make the changes on our ends that need to happen. And I think in confronting a challenge like COVID, that was crucial. Kibera could have been a disaster zone as far as the spread of COVID. And I imagine, it is only as a result of the leadership of volunteer groups like Kijiji Cha Upendo, who were able to intervene with immediacy and start responding and putting things in place. That’s the only reason that Kibera has done as well as it has actually, through this pandemic. And so the value of this kind of model, I think the value really is it rests on trust. And so when things need to happen, they can happen quickly. Each and every one of us is doing our part to ensure that community needs are met.

Safa: Over the past decade, both Leonora, Linda and Claire have learned a lot from collaborating with each other – especially through the use of a community based participatory approach.

Linda: I’ve learned a huge amount from Leonora. And, and most especially her process of always involving the beneficiaries in decision making. Just to give an example, with my North American attitude when it came to food baskets, I thought the women needed to be given much more food, I thought they should be given everything that is needed. And of course, that’s not necessarily good, it creates dependency. And as Leonora described, she met together with the beneficiaries, told them this was temporary, and she gives a little bit of help but not too much to remain independent when we withdraw those food baskets. I also see how Leonora builds strong community. So the women become one anothers’ support system. And she always gives training on how to go forward, how to navigate systems. She basically gives the women tools, peer support, and the know-how that they’ve gained. And this is why Leonora’s interventions have lasting impact.

Leonora: Linda, thank you so much for appreciating the participatory approach. And I feel that when an organization is in as a certain community, its role is to empower people, but not disempower them. There are other projects activities, for example, if an organization comes into a community and starts paying rent, and then they provide food, and they forget the economic empowerment component – when that particular projects winds up, then the beneficiaries are left in a worse state than they were found. But when an organization takes up the empowerment role, using the existing community structures, then this project, even when it comes to a time when there’s no funding, and maybe the project wraps up, but somebody can go back to that community and say, this is what happened and this is how the community is managing this particular problem. And we have a community education component in our project, we talk about the community being able to take up the role of caring for orphans and vulnerable children – the involvement of the community in OVC care. We continuously sensitize the community, so that they know that if Kijiji Cha Upendo decides maybe to move to another project site, then that community should be able to always remember that the children belong to the community, they do not belong to the project. And so they also have a role in supporting these children. When we work closely with the community health volunteers, the community health volunteers will remain in that community when a project winds up, and they have a role then to support the community in terms of health and in terms of even doing the referrals to government facilities. When we work closely with the children’s department, we are reminding the government that they are the ones who have the sole mandate to take care of the orphans and vulnerable children. But due to one reason or the other, they’re not able to. But then Kijiji is playing a supportive role to the government, which means that when Kijiji decides to move to another side, the children remain within that community, and the government is aware that it has a big role to support the children. So that’s how I really feel that participation of the women and engaging other stakeholders, the partnership model, will always help us run activities that are sustainable in nature.

Safa: Leonora further reflected on some of the impacts of Kijiji Cha Upendo’s work that she is most proud of.

Leonora: Am very proud of many things. But one, I’m proud that families are able to provide meals to these children, that these children do not go to bed on an empty stomach. I really feel proud about that. I’m also proud that the women, caregivers, Kijiji Cha Upendo are now a voice for the children in the community. When the children’s department has a meeting, they will always ask for representation from Kijiji Cha Upendo – because they know the beneficiaries or caregivers have something tangible that they can share – some experience they have. It’s not something read in books only. But it’s something that they can share and what they do. And that’s why now we talk about local solutions – community coming up with the local solutions. And this is how Kijiji Cha Upendo is working. People are coming up with local solutions to local problems. And last but not least, I’m proud that the education support is giving results. We haven’t had girls dropped from school. We do keep track of the girls enrolled in the project. And we haven’t had any drop from school. In fact, now they are excelling. I’m proud of their achievements. I followed one child whom we recruited. And she was always scoring 10% almost in every subject – then I wanted to see how our work as Kijiji Cha Upendo is really impacting the lives of the children. So we gave more counseling sessions. We had more home visits, visited that child in school, we talked to her and that girl scored from 10%, she moved to 30, 50, 70 and eventually, she was able to even to score good marks in primary school, and now she’s in secondary school. So I’m proud that our children are excelling. There are many.

Claire: From the network’s perspective, we really want people to know that there are alternative ways of doing this work, that it’s not either volunteers slogging away on their own, or really large organizations and big bureaucracies doing work at a large scale, that there is something in between, there are ways of working together where you can maintain that essence of community based projects, while at the same time being efficient, and raising a decent amount of revenue, and investing in projects that are really making a difference on the frontlines of development challenges in their respective communities.

Leonora: I hope that whoever listens to our story will appreciate the community involvement. That’s where we talk about proper utilization of resources. And that’s where somebody can also learn that you don’t need to have so much money to make a difference in the community. When systems are good, even with very minimal resources, one could create an impact in the community.

Linda: I hope that they would see the value of supporting a small grassroots organization, because this is the kind of organization that has community buy in – community cooperation, they’re best positioned to deliver the kind of interventions that bring about lasting change.

Claire: I like to think about the term sort of people centered development, and how models like this network model are really putting people at the center, I think there’s a lot of effort across the board in putting people at the center of the work that’s happening on the ground and communities. But I think we forget to apply that in the same way when we think about how we’re engaging people on the Canadian side. And I think the people here in Canada, need to be more connected and feel more part of the process. And that’s how these partnerships I think function best – is when it’s the people on the Canadian side and on the African side, putting their heads together, cooperating, coming to the table with their respective strengths and their respective capacities to really advance community based development.

Linda: Get involved in some organization that is intercultural. I think that there are really important lessons that we learn, that has value in the world, by interacting cross cultures. One thinks that one understands the other person, but until you really listen and you question and you go further, you don’t really understand. And we have a tendency, I think, here in North America, probably in the rest of the world too, to assume that anybody who is different from ourselves, and that’s within our own community, anybody who is different, must somehow be ignorant or lesser than ourselves. But when one engages in a cross cultural activity, you are sensitized to discovering the gifts that the other person brings, to discovering their wisdom, and I guess, to becoming much more humble, and I think that that is a value generally in the world.

Claire: I think that’s the beauty of this people centered approach – it is that we want you, all of you, not just your checkbook. We want you to join in and engage in the development process, as a learner, as a teacher, as a supporter, as a friend. We want you to have an opportunity to feel like you are really part of the process. Because of course, even though our projects are focusing on specific communities, and the specific challenges being experienced by those communities, this is all connected to the bigger picture. And when we talk about global development, these really are global issues. And our response needs to be global as well. It means that we all need to engage, we all need to participate, and we all need to contribute as part of the solutions to these global problems.

Safa (outro): To engage with and connect with Kijiji Cha Upendo, Village of Love Canada and CAP Network , you can visit their website, https://www.kijijichaupendo.org/, www.villageoflovecanada.org/ and www.capnetwork.ca, follow them on social media and feel free to send them a message of support.

Thank you to all our wonderful guests for sharing their story with us today. Make sure to tune in to the next episode of the Tapestry 2030 podcast as we continue to share other stories from our community.

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