Harare, December 7, 2012: United States Ambassador David Bruce Wharton on Thursday appluaded the Zimbabwean Department of Social Services for adopting the successful Children First program and for pledging continued support to children facing vulnerabilities due to HIV and AIDS.
“A society is judged by how well it takes care of its weakest and most vulnerable members. If we were to judge Zimbabwe tonight, and all of you, you get whatever the best mark is available because this project tries to take care of orphans and vulnerable children — the most vulnerable members of society — and Zimbabwe…is a real leader for this,” said Ambassador Wharton.
Ambassador Wharton officiated at the function hosted by World Education International to hand over the Children First program, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) since 2008, to the Labour and Social Welfare Ministry. The project mitigates the effects of HIV and AIDS on orphans and vulnerable children and was implemented under the National Action Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. USAID administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide.
“This project represents our collective investment in our collective project. It is a great bubble for what we can do together, turned over to the government of Zimbabwe to make this country stronger in the future,” said Ambassador Wharton, noting that ten per cent of the over $90 million U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) allocation to Zimbabwe is dedicated to orphans and vulnerable children.
Announcing the handover, Susan Kajura, Chief of Party at World Education International, said her organization had worked with the Zim government, NGOs, school and clinic staff “to develop communication, reporting and training tools that help the most vulnerable children in and out of the school system gain access to critical services.”
“We would like to share the tools and outputs that we have used to increase children’s access to services, so we are handing them over to Government so that others can access them and find them equally useful,” she said.
Since inception, the program has developed a case management model to link grassroots support to district service structures, and built the capacity of staff at the Department of Social Welfare reaching over 125,000 children through health education and child protection activities.
Accepting the program, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Pauline Mpariwa said her ministry had established strategic partnerships and synergies in implementing social protection programs for children, reaching the most vulnerable children who fall through the social safety net put in place by government.
“I am very happy to accept the request from World Education for the Department of Social Services to adopt the results of this project and ensure that they are sustained beyond the project lifespan,” said the Minister. Her ministry will use lessons learnt over the five years to replicate and expand the programs nationwide.
However, there are challenges, she said, noting a 2010 Department of Social Services capacity audit, which established that Zimbabwe has some of the lowest numbers of social workers attending to children.
“The audit indicates that the ratio of social worker to children is in the order 49,887 children per social worker,” she told the reception. “This compares to 1,867 to one social worker in Botswana and 4,300 to one social worker in Namibia. That’s the regional comparison that we have and I want to pose this challenge to everybody,” she said. However, through the Children First partnership, the ministry has developed innovative new approaches, such as the postgraduate social works and internship programs implemented in an environment where government has frozen the recruitment of new staff.
The late Sam Mtukudzi was honoured posthumously and a scholarship funded established in his name for being the first Children First Goodwill Ambassador. “He was an inspiration to the children,” read the citation. Sam launched the child rights radio program ‘Kuziva mbuya huudzwa,’ which educates families about the rights and responsibilities of their children.- ZimPAS© December 7, 2012