The mission of our “Safe Park” program is to create a safe environment for children in the community to learn, play and interact with peers, thereby improving their physical and mental development and well being. For impact of this program in 2018 read here, impact stories are given here.
Safe Park is a program that is free and open to all children in our community of Matero. This community is one of the largest and poorest compounds in Lusaka, Zambia with a population of between 275,000 to 300,000. It is characterized with a high incidence of HIV and malaria and an unemployment rate upwards of 65%. Most residents are poor and live on less than $2 per day - defined as extreme poverty by the UN. Children in Matero face difficult circumstances due to poverty, and trauma due to loss of a parent or sibling. Our Safe Park program addresses some of the mental and physical challenges faced by children growing up in Matero. In addition, we encourage older children or children who have graduated from high school to volunteer as educators for younger children. This helps the older children learn leadership skills and the younger children see them as role models. In some ways we are growing educators and leaders.
In brief, this program provides the children with an opportunity to play and learn in a safe environment which facilitates activities, discussions, and educational lessons. Homework help is provided and many children bring their progress reports to demonstrate their improved performance at school. This program is an invaluable resource for the community.
Children who attend Safe Parks regularly are happier and better informed about HIV prevention and care. More specifically:
- have more knowledge about HIV, are more comfortable with their HIV positive status, and many are ready to discuss their status with their peers
- face reduced stigma associated with HIV
- a few older children become role models and mentors for the younger children
- perform better at school due to the provided homework help
- activities like reading aloud, drawing and coloring encourage early childhood learning among the younger children
- have an improvement in self-esteem and mental and physical wellbeing
- develop social skills via sharing, following rules and cooperation
- develop of better social relations with peers and adults
- learn about HIV prevention and care
- are kept off the streets where they can be abused.
In addition, family members are provided with information so that they can access relevant health, educational and psychosocial services.
Safe Park activities are going a long way in helping children from the community of Matero, interact better with peers, families, and teachers at school, and express their thoughts and feelings. Children who attend “Safe Park” regularly, tend to have more friends, get into fewer fights, and are able to disclose cases of abuse at home to the child care worker. Most important they are happier and develop a sense of belonging in the community.
The direct beneficiaries of this program include about 750 children, and 70-75 participate each week. Safe Park activities also benefit the adults accompanying the children by educating them on the importance of keeping children in school, HIV testing, and antenatal visits for expecting moms (to prevent HIV infections in newborn babies). Expecting moms who are HIV+ are counselled on prevention of mother-to-child transmission and referred to an antenatal clinic.
Every Saturday morning, our trained child and health care workers educate children from the community (via games, drama, role playing, and poetry) on the prevention of HIV and malaria, overall health, safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and the importance of school and adherence to medication.
The morning usually starts off with a few Zambian games to break the ice. Older children participate in discussions regarding sensitive issues like overall health/hygiene, STDs, and prevention of HIV. This leads to increased knowledge about HIV prevention, encourages children to adhere to their medication regimen, reduces stigma associated with the disease, and leads to an overall improvement in their health and wellbeing. The younger children engage in drawing, coloring, soccer, playing with building blocks, singing and dancing. Some children bring their books so they can do schoolwork with other children in their grade and with our child-care workers.
During Safe Park activities, our Project Nurse observes the children for normal mental and physical growth and watches for signs of stress, trauma, or grief. Based on these observations, families are counseled and referrals provided to the right agencies. Finally, expectant mothers who are HIV positive are counseled on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, which leads to fewer new infections. A snack is provided to all children as many come without a meal. These activities benefit the children’s physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development and overall health.
In 2013, a few children participated in the Barefeet Youth Arts Festival held in Lusaka. This was an opportunity to demonstrate to children from other districts how they are “living positive” and having fun. We hope that the children can continue to participate every year.
A few children who graduated (turned 18 years of age) from our pediatric HIV Care program have become role models for the younger children by leading workshops, sharing their experiences, and providing homework help. We are encouraging more of our graduates to come back lead workshops for younger chidlren. About five of our recent graduates volunteer with this program regularly. We hope to double this number in 2019.
At this time we are raising funds to rent a bigger play area, and to provide a nutritious meal for the children every week. Please donate generously as every little bit counts and goes a long way in helping these children play and learn in a safe environment.
Thank you for caring.