Winnie wants to become a pilot when she’s older, but she will have to overcome more obstacles than most girls her age to achieve her dream. She is one of more than 2.6 million orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in Kenya, a population that has grown substantially due in large part to the HIV epidemic.
Since the first case of HIV was diagnosed in 1984, Kenya has worked to mitigate the epidemic, managing to stabilize it and start reducing HIV prevalence in the late 1990s. The wake of the epidemic, however, added to the millions of children orphaned or living at-risk in precarious conditions.
Winnie lives in one of the largest slums in Nairobi City County, with her mother and four brothers and sisters in a two-room house. Home to about 200,000 inhabitants in a 1.5-square kilometer area, living conditions are sub-standard, access to potable water is limited, and sanitation conditions are inadequate due to poor drainage caused by uncollected waste that most of the time blocks the sewerage system.
Winnie is one of the 150,000 children that the Support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Nairobi and Coast Counties of Kenya – Nilinde project has already reached in its first year. Meaning “protect me” in Swahili, Nilinde is a five-year project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by Plan International USA, in partnership with Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT), Childline Kenya, and mothers2mothers. The project works to improve the welfare and protection of children, especially those affected by HIV and AIDS, increasing household resiliency and strengthening community and county systems and structures for social and child protection. Nilinde operates in Nairobi County and five counties in the Coast region of Kenya – Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu, and Taita Taveta. The project reaches vulnerable children and their caregivers with services, referrals, and linkages to health and HIV care, education, early childhood development, social and child protection, psychosocial support,and household economic strengthening. Examples of support provided to OVC through Nilinde partner organizations and links to government services include: HIV testing, treatment ,and care for children and caregivers, including support groups for those who are living with HIV; community mobilization and door-to-door immunization campaigns; facilitating birth registration and certificates; material inputs to enable enrollment in early childhood education, primary, and secondary school, as well as public private partnerships for vocational training for older OVC; and facilitating village savings and loan activities with enrollment of OVC households.
In addition, a focus on economic strengthening and household resiliency, backed up by strong community and government structures, sets the stage for strengthened capacity of households, communities, and systems to effectively address the needs of OVC.
Recently, Winnie participated in a Nilinde organized learning forum for 10-14-year-old girls. The aim of the forum was to capture views from children and caregivers on quality and need of critical services. Protection, sanitation, and education were key themes that emerged from the conversation. The girls mentioned that youth are idle and that there are many abuse cases directed towards women and girls. The information collected from these forums will be used to help shape the effectiveness of the project implementation.
With the aim of improving the welfare and protection of OVC, the project reaches out to the children’s caretakers with services as well. Through one of Nilinde’s 22 local implementing partners, Winnie’s mother is part of a women’s group. During their support group meetings, they discuss parenting practices that should allow children to make responsible decisions, as “it’s important to know yourself and protect yourself.”
Nilinde partners with a range of stakeholders from the OVC and caregivers themselves, to the community workforce cadres, to local organizations and the Government of Kenya and local authorities. These partnerships are critical for program success as they support Plan’s commitment to child participation, household empowerment, local ownership, sustainability, and impact.
Recently, Nilinde coordinated with local-level government counterparts and service delivery partners to conduct a series of county-level buy-in meetings followed by launch events—curtain raisers. These curtain raisers served as a platform for advocacy around key themes, as well as to increase community awareness about Nilinde’s mandate and strategy, galvanize the communities, and celebrate and re-energize the community workforce. The events also helped to inspire local ownership and participation in the project, and to reinforce the Kenyan government’s commitment to collaborate to support OVC.
Nilinde’s close partnership with the Government of Kenya, particularly with the Department of Children Services (DCS)—Nilinde’s key focal point ministry and partner—was evident throughout these events with key representatives such as the Director of the DCS, the County Coordinators from the DCS, and representatives from the Ministries of Health and Education in attendance.
In each county the event focused on a different theme central to Nilinde’s approach, ranging from integrated service delivery in Nairobi, to voices of Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) in Taita Taveta, to Early Childhood Development (ECD) in Kwale and child protection in Lamu. In Kilifi County, the curtain raiser focused on adolescents and youth and included the participation of multiple youth groups, children, and caregivers. At the event, Nilinde, in partnership with World Bicycle Relief, distributed 603 bicycles to CHVs. These simple, sustainable, durable bicycles will improve the mobility of the CHVs and reduce travel time, allowing them to better access and serve their target households.
In Mombasa County, the theme was Family Fun Day and focused on Nilinde’s critical services. The event was hosted by Nilinde’s consortium partner AMURT, and included a gallery display illustrating Nilinde’s critical services across the key pathways of Healthy, Safe, Stable, Secure, and Schooled. The gallery allowed guests, CHVs, and OVC caregivers to explore the various service delivery mechanisms supported by Nilinde such as home visits by CHVs, linkages to health services, income-generating activities, and OVC support groups.
Building on the momentum of these curtain raisers, Nilinde will continue to expand its approach to quality programming through a two-pronged emphasis on building household resiliency and ensuring age-appropriate services through holistic case management that addresses all of OVC’s needs across the realms of healthy, safe, stable, and schooled. The project will reach thousands of girls like Winnie, who, once her basic needs are met, can focus on making her dream a reality.