SWAZILAND: Long-distance Learning Certificate for Caregivers

  • by Mantoe Phakathi (mbabane)
  • Wednesday, February 24, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

Though she may not have any official qualifications to do so, Dlamini is a retired teacher, she devotes much of her time to caring for the orphaned children in her community and educating people about a healthy lifestyle.

She is just one of thousands of caregivers who have no formal training but care for the country’s increasing HIV-positive population (Swaziland has the world’s highest infection rate - almost 26 percent of the populated between the ages of 15 to 49 are HIV-positive).

But this is starting to change. Dlamini is among 122 students in Swaziland studying for a certificate in the Programme Working with Children, Families and Communities (PWCFC) in association with South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

The programme is run in partnership with the UKZN’s African Centre for Childhood (ACC); the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative, an organisation that provides leadership, quality technical assistance and knowledge in psychosocial care for children and youth in communities affected by HIV/AIDS.

The distance learning programme trains caregivers to understand the emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual and educational needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty.

Dlamini is looking forward to receiving her second academic certificate.

'I can’t wait for my graduation in April,' said Dlamini. 'This certificate (PWCFC) will add to my Diploma in Education.'

Dlamini is a rural health motivator — someone who educates people about a healthy lifestyle within a community.

She is one of the 12,000 caregivers in Swaziland of which 5,000 are employed by government and the remainder with non-governmental organisations. While most concentrate on their efforts on aiding the large portion of HIV-positive adults, an increasing number of caregivers are now working with children.

While 26 percent of the Swazi adult population is infected with HIV, the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS estimates that 15,000 children are living with the virus.

Most of these caregivers have no formal training save for a few short courses in caring for the sick.

According to Makhosazana Mabuza, the psycho-social support specialist at government’s National Children’s Coordination Unit, this programme is holistic in its approach.

'Previously, caregivers were concentrating on the physical needs of children such as food and shelter and overlooked all the other needs of a child such as their emotional and physical development,' said Mabuza.

She said currently caregivers lacked this holistic approach when helping children deal with the impact of poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Mabuza said the programme aimed to empower caregivers to understand that each child has their own needs and must be addressed as an individual.

There are six modules to the programme including: human rights and child protection; child and youth development; and a service learning project.

For the last module students have to be attached to a humanitarian organisation to practise what they learnt in the five modules.

'The module on child and youth development really helped me understand the emotional needs of adolescents and it’s even more relevant for orphans and vulnerable children,' said Dlamini.

When she makes house calls, Dlamini is now more open minded. She said she does not only ask whether the orphaned children have food or if they go to school, she also gets the intimate details about their development.

Dlamini said she is now a better listener because the human rights module taught her that ‘it’s a child’s right to be heard’.

Mduduzi Shongwe, UNICEF Swaziland’s Child Protection programme officer said the PWCFC is very relevant for the country because, although there are social workers at national level, not much is being done at community level to help people, especially children, deal with psychological issues.

'It’s difficult for children to reach out to the national and regional social workers whenever they have problems because they are far from communities,' said Shongwe.

Mabuza said the programme also trained those who deal with children in their line of work such as police and teachers.

'We currently don’t have a social welfare qualification at tertiary level which is why the PWCFC will go a long in empowering caregivers,' said Mabuza. 'The University of Swaziland (UNISWA), however, is considering introducing a social welfare course at degree level.'

Dlamini is among the first group of 500 participants in eight countries including Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda where the programme was introduced last February.

'This is a sponsored programme,' said Fiona Bulman, ACC director. 'It’s not open to anyone to just apply.' Candidates were nominated by NGOs and government and showed a commitment to working with children.

Dlamini was selected to participate in the distance learning course because of her active participation in maternal and infant health.

According to Shongwe, PWCFC has been a resounding success in its first year in Swaziland.

'Only five candidates dropped out because they got better offers of employment in different fields,' said Shongwe. 'But we’ve done very well in terms of commitment of students and their showing some improvement in working with children.'

The students study on their own but they meet once a month with their mentors who are lecturers from the local tertiary institutions and NGOs. UNICEF meets all the costs of tuition and mentors while the students only cater for their transport.

Plans are underway to upgrade the course to a degree programme. Bulman said it would take between two and three years to write the materials and organise for institutions to deliver it.

As the programme moves to its second year, there are discussions around introducing it to the University of Swaziland (UNISWA).

Meanwhile, Dlamini will graduate and receive her second certificate at the UNISWA in April.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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