Making a real difference

So far her efforts to request relief food for the children have fallen on deaf ears.

09 December 2019 | Social Issues

Twenty-nine-year-old Anna Tatelo will stop at nothing until her dream of a shelter for HIV children affected by HIV is realised.

Equipped with experiences acquired under a tree in the Kaisosi settlement in Rundu, her work as a sexual and reproductive health activist and a course on community-based work with children and youth thoroughly prepared her for her current work with HIV-positive and vulnerable children and youth.

Under the tree, named Kandumbale (small beginnings that turn great) by her mother, a caring spirit and a great vision were born.

Tatelo assisted in teaching children under the tree. She has traced children who were never told about their HIV status, facilitated the disclosure process between parents and their children in Windhoek, and has assisted in the readmission of children who dropped out of school in Okahandja, where she lives with her family.

Her dream is that all her experiences working with children should one day lead to the realisation of her vision of opening a shelter for HIV-positive children. There are currently no shelters that cater specifically for the needs of HIV-positive children in Namibia.

“I will be the first one to run a home for HIV-positive children. Something must be done (about these children), but I do not know how, because I do not have the funds.

“I want to be that person who helps others, because they helped me to get to where I am today,” she said.



A passion for children and learning

After her primary and secondary schooling at Rudolf Ngondo and Dr Romanus Kampungu, respectively, Tatelo proceeded to study office administration and later worked as a personal assistant, receptionist and secretary at different organisations.

However, this was not what she wanted to do, as her passion was to work with children and youth.

She was ushered into a career in health when the Namibia Planned Parenthood Association (NAPPA) scouted for young people to represent the Kavango Region at the National Council in 2013.

NAPPA saw her potential and recruited her as an HIV counsellor to work at the Nkarapamwe youth clinic in 2014 until 2018, when she was transferred to the Okuryangava youth clinic in Windhoek to work as a sexual reproductive health activist responsible for tracing HIV-positive children.

During her stint at NAPPA, a learner who went to the clinic to be tested because she was told her father died of HIV, led to her discovery of more learners between 16 and 18 years who did not know about their HIV status.

Disclosure of their status was a big challenge.

“I traced their parents and asked them for their consent to link their children to their preferred clinics,” she said, noting that this kick-started her real work of making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children and those infected with HIV.

This paved the way for her to go for training on disclosure.

In 2018, I-Tech found out about her successes in convincing children and parents to be tested and recruited her as a health assistant attached to the Otjomuise clinic until the end of September, when her contract came to an end.

She remains at the same clinic but on probation for another organisation. She has been instrumental in facilitating the disclosure process of children between five and 10 years, offering psychosocial support to them, counselling sero-discordant couples, tracing defaulters and bringing them back to treatment, and most importantly, initiating the Young Fighter Teen Club at the clinic in 2018.

Tatelo pursued further education to understand more about children and youth, as well as their psychosocial issues. She enrolled for a one-year certificate course in community-based work with children and youth, offered jointly by the Namibia College of Open Learning (Namcol) and Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI).

This one-year course provides frontline practitioners in the orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) sector with access to an accredited professional certificate, which enhances their relevant skills and knowledge, in order to enhance their daily performance in working with communities, families, youth and children.

The course strengthens the understanding and practice of psychosocial care and support, child rights issues and aspects of community development.

It also provides access to frontline workers who are traditionally marginalised in terms of professional and educational opportunities, without removing them from their valuable work with children.

The programme comprises six modules including personal and professional development, an introduction to human rights-based approaches and child protection, child and youth development, care and support of children at risk, integrated development in communities and a service learning project. Currently, the certificate course is being scaled out to over 3 000 new students in 10 countries in eastern and southern Africa, with Namibia included.



Exposure

Tatelo has now graduated and she holds a certificate in community-based work with children and youth. During here service leaning presentation she was identified to share her experiences at the Regional Psychosocial Support Forum held in Namibia in August 2019. This was her first exposure to a regional conference. She showed a lot of confidence and composure to share her experiences and do more for children and youth.

“My service learning was the greatest and best life-learning discovery and experience, where I happened to discover the untold mysteries of these children,” she said during her presentation to the forum in August.

“All the skills and knowledge that I have acquired and gathered in the community-based work with children and youth programme was the best platform and stepping stone for my career to excel,”



Teen club and food challenges

Equipped with knowledge from the course, Tatelo asked the parents of 45 children living in Otjomuise for their consent for the children to belong to the teen club, which meets at the Otjomuise clinic. Teen mothers, unemployed teens, university students and unemployed youth also attend the club. During the club's inception, the children were shy and restrained, due to the stigma and discrimination in the community, which prevented them from taking their medicine.

Tatelo based her service learning project on the 'Care and support of children at risk' module.

“Working with these children was not an easy task, because their situation makes them vulnerable and sensitive at school or in the communities they live in. It was sensitive for them to talk about anything, especially their personal lives,” she said, adding her knowledge from the course helped them discover their true identity.

She also cited poverty as the main problem that deters children from taking their medication, because they do not have regular meals.

In the club they discuss different topics around the importance of adherence and the challenges they face at home and school. She also monitors the children's pill count.

Asked what changes she has noticed since the inception of the teen club, Tatelo said: “Their viral load is suppressed due to adherence and counselling. The children are now confident and come alone or in groups to the clinic,” she said.

Testifying to this, community member Helena Ndjodhi said: “Before the club, most of the children did not take their pills because they did not know their status. Anna came and explained to them why they should always take their pills.”

Ndjodhi reiterated Tatelo's claim that the children are now free and go alone to the clinic for their appointments.

“We are very happy. She and others are doing a good job. Anna has given our children hope,” she added.

This satisfaction with Tatelo's work does not end with happy children, parents and guardians, but extends to her host organisation. Her outstanding work earned her a recommendation for further studies. She is currently studying towards a two-year certificate in nursing and midwifery/accouchery at the I-Care Health Training Institute in Windhoek.



Hunger

During her work, Tatelo has done things she considers insignificant, but which ultimately made a difference in somebody else's life. She linked people who were retrenched from their workplaces due to ill health brought about by their HIV status with applying for grants, and she provides food to HIV-positive children to enable them take their pills. She talks of instances where some children fainted at school due to hunger.

For this to be sustainable, she is looking for financial assistance to start soup kitchens for members of the teen club and the children in Okahandja. Although there are other soup kitchens, she feels that each group caters for the particular needs of their beneficiaries.

However, her efforts to request relief food for the children have fallen on deaf ears, she said.

In Okahandja, she has a group of children, some of them heading households, whom she helped to be readmitted to primary school after dropping out due to poverty and neglect. She also pays school-related expenses for the children, with the help of some Good Samaritans.And all this because she feels she is being equipped for her dream - the creation of a dedicated shelter for children with HIV.

“These children need help. I don't want it to end here.”



* This article was contributed by the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) Namibia. REPSSI is a leading psychosocial support technical expert, capacity-builder and advocate. It operates in 13 countries in east and southern Africa.

STAFF REPORTER

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