June 24 2014

New report explores community network approach to helping children

At SOS Children’s Villages the process for family strengthening is evolving towards a more supporting role, galvanising community stakeholders to respond to their own needs, and assisting their efforts at becoming self-sustaining. A new report published in May describes how.

24 June 2014 - The goal is for communities to become agents of their own development, adept at caring for their most vulnerable members, including children.

But for that to happen, community members -- including leaders, teachers, business owners, members of self-help groups, caregivers, and even the children themselves – must own their community and their place in it.
One National SOS Family Strengthening Coordinator in Ethiopia put it this way: “Sustainable communities… know their situation, they know their problems, and they even know their capacity.”
That does not mean communities can do it all on their own. Strong social support networks play a critical role in sensitising communities to child rights and protection issues. In many places around the world, SOS Children’s Villages still plays the role of community support hub – connecting community members to the services they need.
In Strong Communities for Strong Families, published in May, SOS Children’s Villages presents new research and analysis on the "how to" aspects of helping communities find their own power through strengthening their strong social support networks.
Some 58 interviews were conducted with SOS Children’s Villages staff and representatives of local partner organisations in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The aim was to learn from their experiences and get to know what actually works to empower communities and help them achieve local "ownership" of family strengthening activities, so they can become self-sustaining.

Community networks like this women's group in Kenya are key to sustainability, according to the report. Photo: Hilary Atkins.

Dozens of “promising practices” stories are described in the report, showing how different communities improved outcomes for vulnerable community members, often at almost no financial cost, simply by building on existing resources.

SOS Children’s Villages supported these communities in inventorying the skills, competences, knowledge and other resourcesat hand in their own social networks. This exercise of naming and quantifying their own strengths resulted in small-scale initiatives with large-scale implications for community sustainability.
The community of Asiakwa in Ghana, for example, had a church, but no school. Through social networking, a suggestion was made to use the church building – which was only used on Sundays – to start a school. Before long a community school was set up, with local people providing lessons to the children.
In Chorkor, Ghana, churches, small businesses and individuals banded together to provide ‘community scholarships’ for vulnerable children in their own community. As a result, ten schools in Chorkor now provide one scholarship each to a vulnerable child from the community. While the numbers are still small, Chorkor has begun to take responsibility for educating its vulnerable children.
Another example: a community in Togo desperately needed a health care centre. SOS Children’s Villages forged a partnership with a hospital in the region; volunteers were trained as community health workers, and medical supplies were funded by the government and SOS Children’s Villages. Now, 2000 villagers have access to basic, essential health care services.
These and many other examples of how strong social networks can support at-risk children and families, and how SOS Children’s Villages is cooperating with community stakeholders to build capacities, can be found in the new report.