AIDS Africa Best Practice: SOS Social Centre Mbabane

SOS Social Centre Mbabane, Swaziland Family Carer Programme

Programme Description

The SOS/Salvation Army Family Carer Programme has been operating since November 2001 and reaches orphaned and vulnerable children and their families living in two districts (Msunduza and Sidwashini) of the greater Mbabane area, through community volunteers: “Family Carers” who conduct home visits. Programme beneficiaries are able to access a range of services provided by SOS including material support (food, school uniforms and material), educational support (school fees, basic literacy classes for school drop-outs) and medical support. Income generating activities include a sewing and a garden project because the ultimate goal of the programme is the self reliance of the families. The programme is delivered with support from the Salvation Army Community Care Team (SACCT), which assists by delivering home-based care to ill adults.

The programme provides material and social support to 150 families which are either child-headed or grandparent-headed households or a household with a chronically ill single parent at an average cost of US$20 per month/child beneficiary.

By working with community members and other stakeholders, the programme is expanding its operations into more communities within the SOS Children’s Village catchments area.

Relevant standard and good practice

We support vulnerable children in order to assure their immediate survival and development rights

Family Carer (community volunteers) conduct regular home visits to vulnerable families to ensure children’s basic survival and development needs are met.


Community volunteers are capacitated to provide support to members of their own community. Children and families are provided with a reliable caregiver who they can count on to offer consistent social support, and through whom they can access a broader range of social and material assistance. Our programme is structured to be responsive to individual needs as they arise, which is reinforced by staff dedication.


The support programme works directly through the Family Carers, 22 community volunteers, who live in the same neighbourhoods as the households they assist. The programme coordinators of SOS and the Salvation Army identified and trained the Family Carers. The training included such topics as child care and nutrition, care for disabled children, parenting skills, and counselling. The SOS Mothers also attended the training, and provided insights on parenting skills for vulnerable children. The Carers were then each assigned to 4 households out of the child-headed and grandparent-headed households which were defined as particularly vulnerable during a conducted household survey. The Family Carers, who receive a monthly stipend from SOS, conduct weekly home visits to their assigned families, giving material as well as psychosocial support and providing written reports to the Programme’s Assistant Coordinator when they meet once a month.

An essential element of the programme is the human support that is provided to families. The regular visits by the Family Carers provide the children with a reliable caregiver who they can count on to consistently offer social support, especially in the case of child-headed households or where parents are ill. The Carers visit more often if the family experiences a crisis, and play a crucial role in helping children deal with bereavement and stress. They are always aware of the ongoing challenges faced by these households. The Family Carer visits child-headed families and are extremely diligent in reporting problems, both through their written visitation reports and through direct communication with the Assistant Coordinator.

The main components of assistance offered by the programme are food parcels, educational support, amelioration of living conditions and medical referrals:

Food parcels are distributed once a month to needy families, and twice a month to child-headed households. A communal garden is being developed on a plot of land, donated by the community, to grow vegetables to supplement the food parcels and encourage families to become less dependent on them. Self reliance of the families is encouraged through backyard gardens and the provision of seedlings. Educational support is provided through paying for the children’s school fees and uniforms. Children who have fallen behind in school or are too old to attend are offered basic classes at the SOS Children’s Village to assist them in catching up or to ensure they have basic reading and writing skills. A number of children and youth have already graduated from this support programme and were successfully re-integrated into the school system.

The programme has responded to the poor housing conditions of several child-headed households by building them sturdy, concrete homes with extra rooms for them to rent out, which are currently providing the households with a source of on-going income.

The programme also helps families who require medical attention. When the Family Carers identify cases where either parent[s] or children are ill, the Assistant Coordinator is able to call upon Salvation Army Community Care Team (SACCT) to deliver home-based care, or she arranges hospital appointments. If a programme beneficiary is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS or suspects that s/he may be infected, then s/he can be referred to Swaziland AIDS Support Organisation (SASO), whose office is housed within SOS, for access to treatment and counselling. The Programme has an agreement with SASO, which allows both organisations to refer their clients to one another’s programmes.

Lessons learnt

The nature of the Family Carers’ work is very strenuous and emotionally draining.

Therefore it is essential to maintain close contact with the volunteers, provide them with a regular forum to voice their concerns and give on-going recognition and appreciation. An ongoing challenge is to capacitate and motivate the families to become more self reliant and not to rely solely on the programmes material support. We are seeking ways to determine criteria about excluding beneficiaries, who may be eligible, but don’t show any commitment to take self responsibility.

Key people

Thandeka Magongo, the Assistant Programme Coordinator, coordinates the day-to-day activities of the programme and works directly with the Family Carers to monitor beneficiary families. Thandeka says again and again that she loves working in the field with the families, especially the children. Her philosophy is “all work starts from the field and goes from there”. Thandeka is convinced that you live a longer and more fulfilling life if you are challenged by your work. Working with vulnerable children provides this challenge for Thandeka: “I want to help these children “to become someone some day”, so that they too can make a contribution to their community.”

The 22 Family Carers, 21 women and 1 man, are an integral part of the programme. The Carers feel that as members of the community they are in an important position to help their neighbours, as they have a good understanding of the issues within their own communities. They stress the importance of their work in terms of meeting the children’s need for love and support. They believe that the children they assist will not go anywhere without parental guidance, support and someone to listen to them, a role which they work to fulfil. The Carers take their work very seriously and are dedicated to improving the programme.