In 1998, the founders of ACTS recognized the increasing need for support to children (aged 18 years and below) in the Kisumu area who had either been orphaned or were in vulnerable family situations, which included households affected by HIV/AIDS. As children lost parents and guardians, school dropout rates, poverty, hunger, and medical need increased, and there were no individuals or agencies that would come forward to establish the support for these children needed to resume their lives.
ACTS reached out to the churches in the surrounding communities of Kisumu in their initial efforts to sensitize the needs and plights of these vulnerable children. Through collaboration with these communities, ACTS was able to assemble a pioneer group of 150 children to be evaluated for access to the support of the programs ACTS had to offer. Through both collaboration with the local churches, and examination of the individual lives of these children, ACTS determined that support for continuing the education of these vulnerable children was both necessary in enabling them to achieve both short term goals and long term lifestyle accomplishments. Since the educational systems in Kenya require monetary support for books, uniforms, food programs, and tuition, education is a major financial concern, and one of the first things to go in a family struggling to make ends meet.
With this need identified, most of the support ensured for these children went to these educational needs. Any extra funds and support contributed to the upkeep of food and bedding within the child’s home.
Of the initial 150 children recruited, approximately 2/3 were of primary school age. The remaining children were in secondary school. In order to become eligible for the support program, ACTS staff and volunteers visited the home first, to evaluate and assess the situation and environment at home. In addition, visits were made to the schools of the children, where the staff met with the teachers to get a good understanding of the way the child functions in academic performance, social interactions, and any other areas of concern. After a child was established to be qualified for support, a permanent record of the personal identification, family status, educational situation and level, welfare, and personal interests was created for that individual child.
Throughout the time the child was supported through the vulnerable children’s program at ACTS, monthly group or one-on-one assessment was conducted at the child’s school during the school day. Trained counselors at ACTS would assess the children on a psychological basis concerning issues such as in-home abuse, education struggles, social issues, and any other problems the child would want to discuss. This assessment would be repeated during home visits if the counselors felt there were home-life issues that might need to be addressed. Assessment of problems and development was recorded in a detailed Child Status Index form, a standard and widely used monitoring tool for the status and update of a child’s progress in a vulnerable life situation.
Since the pilot program was started in 1998, almost all of the initial 150 children have successfully graduated from the program. Only the youngest remain under the care of ACTS; the rest have used the support provided by ACTS to finish their education and establish financial and economically profitable ways of supporting themselves and their families.
In 2005, ACTS formed a partnership with MAP International, a well-known organization formed for the provision and distribution of medical relief services to areas with acute need due to poverty or natural disaster. Via this partnership, ACTS was able to recruit 350 more children and expand their educational support to provide for the orphans and vulnerable children of Kisumu East who had been affected by HIV/AIDS.
As well as focusing efforts on an expanded group of children, ACTS increased the types of support they were able to provide, and expanded resource availability to the caregivers as well as the children. Caregivers could now receive courses and support in childcare training, economic empowerment, and food and nutrition. Through these provisions, ACTS sponsored the development of such skills as poultry keeping, small scale business development in firewood, grains, paraffin, and the start up of skill-based enterprises in dressmaking, welding, fish-mongering, and vegetable crops. Farming activities were especially encouraged, as farming practices would live to sustainable food production for the family. ACTS provided such farming start-up supplies as seeds, fertilizer, insecticides, water pumps, and other necessities valuable in the work towards food security.
ACTS provided the children in the program with access to support groups in which children were encouraged to develop economic and business ideas that did not take up school time in order to generate income. Through these groups, children began goat and poultry keeping, businesses that provided tents and chairs for hire, and kitchen gardens to provide food for home-cooked meals. Courses in the development of entrepreneurship skills aided in the successful establishment and continuation of these ideas. ACTS also provided legal aid and advocacy to orphans who had been denied their inheritance.
ACTS also recognized the need for training of children who had to drop out of school due to physical disability, financial struggles, or were forced by necessity to become household heads themselves. ACTS therefore created programs to support vocational training of the child’s choice, and sponsored such endeavors as dressmaking, automobile mechanics, welding, and electrical installation. After a child had been trained, ACTS helped him/her to successfully maneuver the job market to find established employment.
In conjunction with MAP International, ACTS also began to oversee the medical aspects of care. ACTS recognized their duty to provide orphans and caregivers with responsible health care for physiological or psychological problems, and thus ACTS provided support and connection to need-based health aid and counseling services.
Finally, ACTS created support networks in the communities and local churches to aid in the provision and care of these children. ACTS also tried to link every orphaned child with an adult so there would always be a caregiver, or “mentor” in the home. These programs would not be possible without the collaboration and support of volunteers within the local communities, spearheaded by church leaders, who each take responsibility for five households and the daily issues that arise in running a healthy home.
With the expansion of their support programs in conjunction with their partnership with MAP International, ACTS was able to accept 350 more children to the program in 2006, and another 350 in 2007. From 2008 to 2010, ACTS included another 556 children into the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Support Program, which has now been successfully established as a major support network affecting almost 1500 children and their families. Through the economic empowerment training, medical care, educational support, and psychological counseling, ACTS enables these children to work towards self-sufficiency and continued stability once they graduate from the program.
In order to celebrate their ongoing achievements, and to recognize the importance of children in Kenya and around the world, ACTS currently hosts events to observe Day of the African Child, World AIDS Day, and Agape Kids Day, and puts on various medical camps in the community, deworming campaigns, HIV/AIDS awareness and education seminars, and movements to supply children under 5 with Vitamin A
In the future, ACTS hopes to encourage men and women who have successfully established small working businesses to become business owners, to continue to enroll increasing numbers of children into this program while phasing out children and their caregivers who have successfully established financial and social stability, to sponsor the development and registration of community based organizations, and to search for other sources of funding and sponsorships. As always, ACTS expects to continue having success in supporting and improving the livelihoods of vulnerable children and orphans in the Kisumu area, and hopes that some day, these children will then be able to turn around to sponsor and support other children in need.
There are many orphans and vulnerable children that need your sponsorship. To participate as a sponsor in the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Support Program, you can $35/month or 3,500 ksh/month to support a child’s education, food, housing, and general upkeep. Click on our Donate page now to make your contribution!