Who looks after children when their parents die? In taking lives, conditions such as HIV & AIDS often reach further down the family tree and sever children from an adult’s care, unless other community members step in as caretakers. In Nigeria, many citizens heroically decide to provide for children who otherwise would be stranded, but taking on such enormous responsibilities with meager resources seriously limits how well caretakers can provide for the children and for themselves. Nigeria’s National Agency for the Control of AIDS estimates that AIDS has orphaned 1.8 million total children, and the unfortunate reality is that AIDS is not the only cause for Nigerian children to be made vulnerable. In 2011, as part of a larger project that began in 2009 called CUBS, Community Based Support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), Africare partnered with Management Sciences for Health to implement a Household Economic Strengthening (HES) initiative that is economically empowering female heads of OVC households.
HES provides training and support to women in 11 Nigerian states so that they can gain better control of their lives and better provide for the children in their care. The women receive training in areas including business planning, market information, record keeping, savings and credit options, maternal and child health, balanced diets and food preparation. Upon completing training, the women are free to pursue income-generating paths of their choosing, and beneficiaries in many communities opted to cultivate cassava or maize and so on. However, based on an analysis of local markets, Africare encouraged the women to form agricultural co-operatives around palm oil production.
Since March 2011, two CUBS-supported women’s co-operatives in Akwa Ibom State, which has one of Nigeria’s highest HIV prevalence rates, produced a combined total of more than 4,800 liters of palm oil and earned more than $8,000 from palm oil and palm kernel sales. Each co-operative also successfully secured outside investment that expanded their operations.
Caregivers of the Adang Itam community initiated the “Cooperate Women” Co-operative in January 2011 with the express purpose of earning money to provide for local orphans. Later that September, all 10 of the co-operative’s members received HES training. Then in December 2012, after running a profitable business utilizing a community mill, “Cooperate Women” obtained a $3,500 loan to buy more tools and build their own mini palm mill. Only two months later, in February 2013, the women had fully repaid their loan.
The “Cooperate Women” caregivers have put the income from this successful operation to good use. Glory Edet Akpan, a member of the co-operative, said,
“Unlike before, I can now feed the orphans under my care twice a day and buy them books and uniforms for school, thus building their self esteem in the community.”
The co-operative has also established a reserve of funds for members to draw upon in the event of an emergency.
In the rural community of Ikot Abasi Nsit, seven female caregivers were trained and assisted in forming a co-operative. The members made initial financial contributions, and palm oil production commenced in October 2011. The co-operative grew to 10 trained women by the end of the year, and in March 2013 the co-operative won a $167 grant from the Women and Community Livelihood Foundation to boost their production capacity. To date, the women have produced more than 960 liters of palm oil and have made more than $1,400 from palm oil and palm kernel sales. The profits have been crucial to the well-being of the community’s vulnerable children. Ukeme Monday, a member of the Ikot Abasi Nsit co-operative, affirmed, “I know the orphans under my care would not have had the opportunity to further their education nor feed well had I not been trained on the [HES] and not been engaged in palm oil production in my group.”
Ninety women have received CUBS HES training in Akwa Ibom State. These women have always been eager to secure better futures for themselves and the children they look after, but a lack of support and training has frustrated their efforts. HES is economically empowering women to overcome the many obstacles they face and more fully realize their household’s potential, and these women can now afford important expenses for their children such as school fees, uniforms, books and meals. HES directly supports heads of households and fosters an environment where orphans and vulnerable children can become better educated, lead healthier lives and have more hope for the future.
“Thanks to Africare,” said Christiana Okon, an HES beneficiary from Ikot Abasi Nsit, “Today I am a proud sponsor of orphans under my care.”