Life as a subsistence farmer in Zambia’s Eastern Province is becoming increasingly difficult. The high prevalence of HIV/AIDS has affected many rural communities and medication and treatment are often unaffordable. Thousands of children have been left without parental care.
Crippling poverty affects the lives of the majority
Children without parental care can grow up in SOS families in SOS Children's Village Chipata (photo: SOS archives).
Chipata is the capital of Zambia’s Eastern Province, located near the border with Malawi, and has a population of roughly 450,000. Around 87 per cent of the local population makes a living in agriculture, mainly as small-scale subsistence farmers.
National policies of recent years aiming to stabilise the macro-economic situation had the short-term effect of sinking the economy into further crisis. Measures included the removal of food subsidies, as well as the privatisation of mining companies, which meant fewer jobs for the local population.
Poverty levels remain high in Chipata District, with over 50 per cent of the population living in extreme poverty, unable to meet basic needs such as sufficient food or clean drinking water. The situation in rural areas is particularly severe: in rural areas, less than one per cent of the population are estimated to be non-poor or rich.
When parents take ill, children are often left to fend for themselves
As a result of poverty, infant mortality rates continue to be very high, at 111 per 1000 live births. Under-five mortality is even higher, at 180 per 1000 live births. Incidences of malaria and other major diseases also continue to be widespread, in part due to the lack of safe drinking water and sanitation.
66.5 per cent of children under the age of five are estimated to suffer from stunting (below age-appropriate height), which is a direct result of malnutrition. The diet of the local population lacks diversity, as it is heavily based on maize. An estimated 20 per cent of households in the region are female headed, in part due to the high HIV/AIDS prevalence in the region, with over 14 per cent of the local population affected. Without AIDS, life expectancy in Chipata lies at around 51 years, but for those affected by AIDS it is just 37 years. There are over 33,000 children in the region who have lost parental care due to AIDS.
Education also remains nothing but a distant dream for a large proportion of Chipata residents. Amongst adults, around 45 per cent are illiterate. This severely hampers people’s chances of escaping poverty – without being able to read and write it is much harder to find alternative livelihood options. SOS Children’s Villages supports families in the region, for example by ensuring medical attention is available to those who need it and assisting parents so that they can send their children to school.
What we do in Chipata
Children in our care go to kindergarten and school alongside children from the neighbourhood (photo: SOS archives).
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Chipata in 2011. Our family strengthening programme reaches out to struggling families in the region, especially those affected by HIV/AIDS. The aim is to alleviate hardship and maintain family stability so that children will be safe and protected and grow up in a loving home.
The SOS Social Centre in Chipata ensures that children have access to essential health and nutritional services, as well as education. We assist parents by providing guidance on income-generating skills and parenting practices, as well as counselling and psychological support where needed. In cooperation with local organisations, we also work towards strengthening the support systems for vulnerable families within the community. Around 600 children and their families benefit from the programme.
In addition, the SOS Medical Centre in Chipata includes a mobile clinic that travels to nearby communities. We treat up to 2,000 patients each year, providing basic medical care, preventive medicine, and voluntary testing and counselling for those affected by HIV/AIDS. All services are open to the community, enabling many people to receive treatment who could not otherwise afford it.
For children from the region who are no longer able to live with their parents, 13 SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 130 children. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.
The children attend the SOS Kindergarten in Chipata together with children from the neighbourhood, which ensures that they are integrated into the local community from a young age. We work in partnership with the local school, thus improving the quality of education that the children can receive.