The Promise of a Future: Strengthening Family and Community Care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Sub-Saharan Africa

Kerry Olson, Ruth Messinger, Laura Sutherland, and Jennifer Astone

This brief report addresses the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on children and families in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that is home to over 80% of the 15 million children under the age of 18 who have been orphaned by the pandemic worldwide. The health, education, safety, and survival of increasing numbers of children are particularly at risk in African countries that are heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, poverty and disease. The most promising solutions to this mounting crisis look beyond orphanages and institutional care to more sustainable, cost-effective, and developmentally appropriate alternatives.

The four donor organizations that have produced this report – the Firelight Foundation, American Jewish World Service, Bernard van Leer Foundation, and Pan African Children’s Fund – fund grassroots organizations serving children in 21 African countries. We have witnessed the effective work of groups rising to the challenge of HIV/AIDS in their communities. We have also struggled with the issue of institutional care. While we do not endorse the use of orphanages as a solution for reasons outlined in this report and described much more broadly elsewhere (see Additional Resources, p. 11), we recognize the need for short-term emergency care for especially vulnerable children, such as street youth and children who have been abused or abandoned. As donors, we have funded residential programs for children who have no other means of support while also working to ensure that these placements are temporary. The bottom line is that investing in community-based approaches enables children to be provided and cared for within families – where they grow best - and reduces the number of children who are left without care or are placed within institutions.

One of the greatest challenges that grassroots groups face is that their work is under-recognized and under-funded. It is the intent of this report to provide readers with a better understanding of community-based organizations and the vital role they play in supporting the needs of children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. We offer it as both a summary and a guide to current and future donors – foundations, individuals, and faith-based organizations – eager to help address the HIV/AIDS pandemic wisely.

©Firelight Foundation