What Thandanani Does

Thandanani pioneered community based care for orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) in South Africa.

It all started in 1989 when a group of concerned citizens – ordinary people like you and me – responded to a plea for help to do something for the increasing number of children being abandoned at Edendale hospital. At the time these children were living in a ward at the hospital without adequate stimulation or care. Nursing staff were simply not trained or equipped to respond to the needs of these children and the number of children being abandoned at the hospital – largely as a result of political turmoil and violence in local communities – was increasing.

The response to this crisis was incredible and soon all the children at the hospital were fostered and given a new start in life. However, to mitigate children being abandoned, those involved recognised the need to respond to the challenges that prevented families from being able to care and support their children in the first place. By the mid 1990’s, when Thandanani was formally registered as a child focused non-profit organisation, poverty and HIV were the main factors undermining the ability of families to provide for the needs of their children.

The HIV and AIDS pandemic gave rise to a significant increase in the number of orphans in need of care. At the same time, poverty was undermining the ability of the extended family to take care of these children. Extended family networks that traditionally supported vulnerable family members were being overstretched. Already burdened by the demands of their own families, many found it impossible to extend their meagre resources to care for the children of family members lost to the pandemic.

Families were losing income earners, household expenditure was being redirected to cover medical costs and funerals, children were being taken out of school for lack of fees or to care for sick relatives, and the resources that families did have were being stretched in their efforts to support more dependents. The worst affected children – those in deeply impoverished households – were losing their health (through infection, inadequate nutrition, and poor health care), their livelihoods (through the illness and death of breadwinners and working adults), and their parents and families (to illness and death).

Thandanani’s response was to organise, capacitate and support a network of residents from within the local communities to identify and respond to the needs of impoverished families caring for orphans and vulnerable children within their communities. And so the concept of community based OVC care and support was born.

Over the years Thandanani has developed its model and today provides impoverished families caring for orphans and other vulnerable children with a comprehensive, holistic, structured and time-limited system of support that is designed to help address their basic material, physical, cognitive and emotional needs and move them from a state of vulnerability to increased stability and self-reliance within a two to three year period. Through Thandanani’s interventions, families taking in orphans and other vulnerable children, are supported and strengthened in their efforts to provide for the needs of the children in their care.

A typical intervention with a family involves:

  • Placing an adult caregiver into the household if none is present already.
  • Providing emergency assistance (food, bedding, clothing & basic household equipment)
  • Facilitating access to birth certificates and identity documents & to state grants for which they qualify
  • Undertaking a comprehensive health assessment & providing health education, voluntary counselling & testing and treatment adherence monitoring follow up visits
  • Completing “memory work” – a therapeutic bereavement process – with the family and providing access to support groups and life-skill programs for both the caregivers and the children
  • Facilitating the establishment & maintenance of a household food garden
  • Monitoring the school attendance and performance of the children and providing new school uniforms if necessary.
  • Conducting regular home visits to monitor the family’s well-being and provide support and guidance whenever necessary.

This support is usually provided over a two to three year period. Once the family’s situation is stable and they are able to provide for their own basic needs, Thandanani withdraws and redirects its efforts and resources to support other vulnerable families. In this way Thandanani ensures that households do not become dependent on them and that they are able to take on new households without creating an unsustainable demand on their capacity and resources.