Helping children realise their potential

HIV and AIDSSexual HealthYoung people

The Salvation Army recently held a consultation on developing the capacity of young people. It proved a key opportunity to share learning from around the world.

Discussions were held about the specific needs of young people affected by HIV. The concerns shared included the lack of time within communities for children. This means that children’s psychological needs are rarely met, and there is a lack of opportunity for children to develop their visions and dreams. Salvation Army leaders identified the need for future work on the legal issue of inheriting property and highlighted the abuse of children within communities and homes.

Many good and encouraging ways of working were discussed and shared. In particular, there is a need to see the potential for leadership among young people (see box), including those who are orphans or vulnerable due to the impact of HIV and AIDS.

Masiye Camp

Masiye Camp in Zimbabwe is a good example of how the Salvation Army is providing support and encouraging the potential of children affected by HIV and AIDS.

The psychological and mental health of children who have nursed and lost their parents to AIDS is often ignored. The impact of parental death on children is complex and affects their long-term well being. Living as orphans can limit children’s emotional development and affect life skills such as communication and decision-making. Orphans often lack hope for the future and have low self-esteem.

Masiye Camp has been working for several years with children living with AIDS, giving special emphasis to meeting their emotional needs. Its work has shown very encouraging results. These include:

  • restoring and strengthening self-esteem
  • supporting children as they grieve so they avoid long-term trauma
  • building decision-making and negotiation skills
  • empowering children so they are able to take responsibility for their own life
  • building values and hope for the future.

Masiye Camp have trained Christian volunteers as facilitators to provide emotional and social support. So far, it has trained 120 young people and 1,600 adults. They have established 14 day care centres and 25 Kids’ Clubs. In addition, it has trained childcare professionals and teachers in basic counselling skills, with special emphasis on counselling children whose parents have just died. Care-givers and volunteers are trained to make household visits to orphans.

Masiye Camp also runs special camps for orphans and other vulnerable children in sub-Saharan Africa. There are two types of camp, one sharing life-skills for orphans and the other for children who head households. Over 3,000 children affected by AIDS have so far attended life-skill camps at Masiye. While at camp, the children take part in adventure activities and in art and crafts, music and computer classes. The camps provide an opportunity to spend time with other children in similar situations. Sessions help children to discuss their feelings openly. Counsellors are available to help children work through the challenges and problems they face.

Mobile law clinics 

One of the problems Masiye Camp has identified is that orphans and vulnerable children often find it difficult to get legal services. They may not know where to find such services or how to use them, and they often lack resources to pay. A mobile law clinic seeks to bring legal services to children, rather than letting children try to find legal services themselves.

The clinic refers children to the relevant professionals. In this way, it complements existing structures, rather than competing with them. The unit visits all Masiye Kids’ Clubs and schools on a regular basis. To make it attractive to children, the unit is housed on a trailer with a thatched roof and painted in bright colours. A popular puppetry team travels with the clinic to provide education and entertainment.

Masiye Camp, Matopo, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Tips for encouraging leadership development 

  • Provide support, training and breaks for young people who are caring for younger brothers and sisters or involved in community development.
  • Allow young people facing difficult challenges to spend time alongside others who are facing similar experiences.
  • Support and encourage all kinds of youth work and outreach.
  • See children as agents of change in their communities.
  • They are key to building relationships in homes and families.
  • Understand that children’s needs go further than physical and material needs.