upholding the rights of vulnerable children

– Lesotho

What are the challenges?

Lesotho, a landlocked country in southern Africa, has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, with over 20% of the population infected by the virus.  Due to the tragic impact of the crisis, thousands of children have been orphaned and left even more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, child abuse, malnutrition, and poverty.  

How are our CBO grantee-partners helping?

During the early days of the HIV crisis in Lesotho, small community-based organizations were at the frontlines of the response.  Many of these organizations began as local support groups for community members living with HIV, which then grew to serve thousands of vulnerable children and families in the community with essential services and support. Though many of these organizations could not access the internet or communicate with international donors, they remained a critical lifeline for vulnerable children and families – often the first point of psychosocial support in communities devastated by HIV, a training platform in income-generating activities for families, and a referral point to external social services. 

Today, these CBOs holistically serve children in many ways, including: 

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  • Identification and management of cases of child abuse

  • Referral of children to relevant health, education, and child protection service providers

  • Psychosocial support and counseling of children who have experienced trauma and abuse

  • Provision of children’s basic needs such as education, nutritional support, and health care

  • Training of families in sustainable income-generating activities

  • Community awareness campaigns for HIV and child rights

  • Improvement of parent/caregiver involvement in child protection

How is Firelight helping?

Firelight has long recognized that community-based organizations are uniquely positioned to protect children and keep them safe within their communities, especially in tumultuous political and social environments, where community organizations can often serve as stable support systems.  Due to their grounding in and understanding of their communities, CBOs are adept at working with the key actors in children’s lives to provide protective safety nets for them. However, CBOs face significant challenges in accessing resources and often have limited capacity in organizational management.  

In response to this challenge, Firelight began funding many individual community-based organizations in Lesotho working to uphold the rights of vulnerable children. However, we soon realized that we wanted to provide greater support to help these organizations strengthen their structure and their programs. In 2009, Firelight began to work with a stronger community-based organization – Touch Roots Africa (TRA) – to provide workshops to build the capacity of other community organizations in areas such as child protection and organizational development.  As a Firelight Lead Partner – a strong indigenous organization that funds and mentors smaller local organizations – TRA could provide essential lived experience in organizational development and tailored contextually-appropriate technical guidance to each CBO. It was clear that TRA’s ability to enhance organizational development could strengthen the critical role of civil society in providing services to children throughout Lesotho.

Firelight then recognized that TRA had the potential to take on not only capacity building, but also grantmaking to these small organizations. As a Community Grantmaker, TRA was able to develop a robust “funding pipeline” to the ten CBOs it has supported as Lead Partner since 2009. These resources reach even further into communities where resources for children and families are needed most.  As a Community Grantmaker, each sub-grant that TRA makes to a CBO ranges from $6,300 to $8,500 and is used to strengthen each community’s initiatives to protect young children from harm and abuse and to uphold their rights.

What has the impact been?

Empowered by Firelight as both a Lead Partner and Community Grantmaker, TRA built not only CBOs’ programmatic capacity but also their organizational skills in generating resources, managing income-generating projects (such as raising chickens or pigs or renting out equipment for events), communicating with donors, and mobilizing resources in order to build toward the long-term sustainability of their work. 

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With the support of Touch Roots Africa and Firelight, CBO grantee-partners have seen: 

  • Increased organizational management capacity

  • Increased ability to mobilize resources

  • Increased children’s resilience to vulnerability

  • Increased school attendance

  • Reduced stigma for children living with or affected by HIV  

As a member of one TRA sub-grantee noted, “I see an improvement in the community because people are taking responsibility for caring for children. Public gatherings are held in the community to raise awareness on issues of child protection and psychosocial support. The trainings have been very helpful as they made us understand and act on the situation of vulnerable children in our communities.” 

In 2019, Firelight commissioned a comprehensive evaluation of this initiative to be conducted by external academic evaluators. We look forward to sharing the findings from this study.

How are we planning for the future?

In Lesotho, investment in the non-profit sector is unpredictable and international investment is often scarce. Because of these challenges, community-born organizations have maintained a steadfast presence, advocating for the needs and rights of its most vulnerable members. Unlike other foundations, Firelight has consistently supported local community-based organizations to protect and uphold the rights of vulnerable children. 

Through our support to TRA, Firelight has been funding and building the capacity of these CBOs, which have been developing the structures, programs, networks, and systems that will sustain community support for the development and wellbeing of children and their families in the long-term.

As of today, the organizations funded by TRA have received many years of financial support and capacity development, becoming strong institutions in their communities.  Firelight made our final exit grant to Touch Roots Africa in 2018, which was used to prioritize capacity building for its sub-grantees in areas from resource mobilization to business plan development in order to ensure that they planned for long-term sustainability. Many of the organizations have developed viable businesses that generate funds to support their work and have even begun to attract funding from other donors.  In the future, we know that these self-sustaining community-led organizations will continue to address children’s most pressing needs in their communities for decades to come.

Communities in action

Touch Roots Africa builds the capacity of smaller community-based organizations, who are able to navigate the space between children, families, and the systems that are meant to support them. Two of these CBOs, and the impact they have made on children, are profiled below:

Tebang Support Group

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Tebang Support Group is a community group in the rural areas of Mafeteng district supported by Touch Roots Africa in its role as a Firelight Community Grantmaker. Tebang was founded in 2000 to raise community awareness about HIV and AIDS and to provide care and support for vulnerable children.  Touch Roots Africa has supported Tebang Support Group for many years and has trained them in child protection and psychosocial support.  Below is the story of a girl Tebang supports:

“Joy (name changed) is a 10-year-old girl whose parents passed away recently. She was staying with her grandfather, as he was her only relative around. Suddenly, another girl in the community became sick and died and was suspected to be HIV positive.  However, the grandfather was suspected to have bewitched the girl and the family of the deceased girl killed the grandfather.  His granddaughter was left on her own.  As a support group, we provided counseling to the girl, took her in our care, and traced the relatives in South Africa.  Now, the girl is attending school and is well-cared for.”

Tebang Support Group, with the support of TRA and Firelight, was able to pull Joy out of a devastating situation and change the course of her life.

Phomolong Support Group

Tim (named changed) is a 19-year-old boy living with his two sisters.  When their parents died, his sisters were still young– the oldest one was 12, and the youngest was 10 years old.  They were devastated by the loss of their parents.  Tim dropped out of school to care for his six siblings, including his two sisters.  The pressure of having to care for his siblings was compounded by the grief he desperately tried to manage.  Tim was introduced to Phomolong Support Group in 2008.  The group was horrified to find that these children had lived on their own in such difficult difficult conditions for the past two years.

 Phomolong immediately began counseling the children and providing them with food packages every month.  They even encouraged them to join a child focus group.  Now, with support from the group, the children are attending school, and Tim was able to complete a two-year course on plumbing, welding, and metal work at a local tertiary college.

Tim said, “My situation has greatly improved.  The psychosocial support training I attended has helped build my resilience and my ability to interact with other people.  The support from Phomolong has been excellent.”