Erika Smith for APCNews
Publisher: APCNews MEXICO, Mexico, 28 May 2007
Viva Network sees effective networking among Christian organisations as a stepping-stone to making a difference for the children of the world. Its focus on networking training, governance, and facilitation makes Viva Network a perfect example of the benefits of collaborative effort – just what the Harambee Small Grants Facility was founded to support.
Based in Uganda, Viva Network Africa is one of four regional offices of an international organisation that seeks to strengthen community work rooted in a Christian commitment "to bring more children better care". It is a network of networks – Viva accompanies networks at every stage of their development – from first establishing themselves as a group of organisations working together, staffing, building a governing body, skills training in child care, even how to handle burn out.
Six years after it opened shop in 2001, Viva Network Africa provides networking and training support to twelve local or national networks, in different cities throughout Africa. As Isobel Booth-Clibborn, regional coordinator of Viva Network Africa, observes, "Many of the networks in Africa are very young and embryonic, still growing and developing in confidence. Our aim is to help them build a sense of identity and understand what are the needs that we have together that we could respond to together."
Viva Network has at least one site visit a year with each member, and every two years they hold a regional face-to-face training in Uganda. In between, email and phone is the way members stay in contact and share with each other. For the first time, and thanks to the Harambee Small Grants Facility, they will offer computer training during their July regional workshop.
Only recently have network members had increased access to computers, although some still depend on cybercafé connections to communicate with the Viva Network. Booth-Clibborn feels members need basic email and internet training, as well as increased spreadsheet skills in order to acquire better finance management skills. In a needs survey currently underway, interest in websites and better presentations has also been identified.
Childrens’ needs in Africa
Viva Network Africa mentors and nurtures members, with an emphasis on network sustainability and quality. The focus is on supporting frontline caregivers by better equipping them to address the immensity of childrens’ needs in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, there are two million children who are HIV positive, and nearly twelve million orphans who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Malaria is a constant threat to children’s lives. Many Viva Network Africa members began as volunteer initiatives, working in slums to provide free meals and education, or offering medical care and wheelchairs to disabled kids, for example.
Governments are good at setting regulations and usually at least have something down on paper regarding children’s rights and care. "They have no way of monitoring or maintaining these standards," comments Booth-Clibborn. In order to have strong, good quality care projects, Viva Network helps projects meet government standards. "Many projects aren’t even aware these standards exist," says Booth-Clibborn.
Some projects just respond to urgent needs as they arise. A recent scare in Kenya, where the government began to close down residential homes that did not meet the codes, had the Mombasa Viva Network member running informal trainings on residential childcare regulations.
As a Christian and children-centred initiative, it is not surprising that many Viva Network project leaders are women, and many focus on girls at risk. For example, the Cape Town network has developed a working group on women’s issues and is planning a conference on child sex and exploitation.
Net2Work, a member that provides computer training for youth in Uganda and has a special project aimed at street girls, will be an important resource for the ‘gender & ICT’ portion of the regional training. Booth-Clibborn reflects on measuring impact in a differentiated way. "The ultimate impact is on the children. It would be quite interesting to find out, of the children who benefit from each network, how many are girls and boys, who is involved and leading in terms of gender balance, and the ICT access for them."
Providing practical, immediate solutions alone, however necessary, does not allow for sustainability. So Viva Network’s contribution to the on-the-ground work varies from helping members to think collectively and think big. It can also be measured by the building of ownership and participation in local projects, as well as fundraise. Another key aspect is the question of self-care and burn out for caregivers, and how project leaders can support, value and share responsibility with other staff and volunteers to increase commitment and avoid turnover.
Mukisa Foundation, an organisation that supports children with disabilities and their families, as well as children living with cancer, is a living testament to the benefits of collaboration. Within two months after joining the CRANE Network, the organisation received caregiver training, received more donations, and will soon have a new early intervention special needs teacher on staff as a result of a mission request.
Perhaps more importantly, the project leader has implemented changes in structure and administration, including regular staff meetings, patient documentation, improved volunteer management. She has begun to train staff and parents in basic physiotherapy techniques in order to have a greater share in responsibilities, and more confidence.
Isobel Booth-Clibborn noted that in some countries, a network may have access to quite a bit of financial support. "They value what comes with working from a Christian perspective, praying together, and our effort to strengthen the church’s response to children in need in Africa and worldwide."