Improving the lives of children affected by HIV & AIDS

In early 2013 Mozambique was hit by severe floods. A year on, we see how Egmont Partner Vukoxa in Gaza Province, one of the worst areas affected, is continuing to rebuild.


Since 2007, Egmont has funded Vukoxa projects in four communities of the Chokwé District one of the areas hardest hit by HIV & AIDS in Mozambique. A prevalence rate of 27% combined with the pressure on working age men to journey to the mines of South Africa (to ‘mine and die’ as the locals say) means that over half the population is under 20 years old. Often it falls to the children’s grandparents to care for them. 

Chokwé District is home to over 90,000 children, but fewer than 9,000 people aged 65 and over.   However it is these grandparents - most of whom live on less that 18 meticias (30 pence) a day - who carry the responsibility for feeding, clothing, providing medical assistance, and educating the children in their care. The strain felt by the many households headed by older people in this district is immense.

 

Vukoxa helps support grandparents within these communities in small-scale agricultural projects, encouraging self-sufficiency. The outcome of their intervention is improved food security for older care-givers, HIV sufferers and their households, and better educational opportunities for vulnerable children in their care. There has also been an increased demand for voluntary testing and counseling services, changing attitudes to HIV & AIDS. 

In January 2013, the Limpopo River which runs through the heart of Chokwé District, burst its banks after weeks of heavy rain.  By 20th February, the river covered the basin up to 6 miles either side of its banks. 150,000 people were displaced and the government declared a red alert, mobilising resources to carry out search and rescue operations for missing people. Damage to homes, agricultural land, roads, healthcare centres and electricity infrastructure affected 300,000 people.

The extent of the flooding had a devastating affect on the households supported by Vukoxa. Communities lost pigs, goats, cows and vital agricultural instruments. Four water pumps, provided by Egmont for crucial irrigation, were nearly lost and the irrigation channels that ran water to crops like maize and green beans were completely submerged. Chiaquelane village, which was the least affected by the floods, swelled as people fled their destroyed communities. At the height of the crisis, 84,000 displaced people set up camp in the surrounding areas. 

Aware that once the floodwaters receded, so would the humanitarian aid, Egmont Trustee Alison Mayne noted in her March, 2013 visit to the region that, those affected were not asking for help in the form of money or food, but seeds. Their loss of harvest caused by the floods meant that no seed had been collected and communities would be unable to plant this season and be destitute later in the year.

Due to the quick action of Vukoxa and the Egmont Trustees, who agreed to divert funding to help with the relief efforts, (and with the support of HelpAge, JICA and Pathfinder), the long-term consequences of the flooding were minimised. Blankets, sleeping mats, household kits, water canisters, and mosquito nets were provided to the older person headed households in the camps, and the water pumps were moved to higher ground so that they were not lost completely. 


 “Vukoxa is the King”


Over 3,000 people were supported, and in one of the camps the displaced older people said that of all the agencies that delivered aid, "Vukoxa is the King". Once the flooding had abated, elderly members of the communities cleaned their agricultural machines and tools, and cleared 30 hectares of affected land for agricultural use.  With the diverted funds, Vukoxa were able to purchase 450 kg of seeds for the communities to plant. By late May, they were starting to harvest vegetables and corn again, and have used the money from the sale of the resulting produce to replace livestock lost to the floods.

The Vukoxa office, which had been completely submerged, was re-established and Vukoxa resumed their activities helping older people and the vulnerable children in their care. This year, Vukoxa has even been able to expand their support to an additional two communities in the district, and is directly helping 500 orphaned and vulnerable children, 260 older people carers and 75 HIV sufferers.

Vukoxa, and the communities they support, showed extraordinary energy and resilience in the face of the devastation wrought by the floods. An example of the dedicated and determined local organisations that improve the lives of those affected by HIV & AIDS and that Egmont continues to support.


This story first appeared in Egmont Grassroots - 2014 Issue 1.