AIDS Africa Best Practice: SOS Social Centre Lilongwe

SOS Social Centre Lilongwe, Malawi

Programme Description

The programme was established at the beginning of 2002 to focus directly on the needs of those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS in the villages surrounding the SOS Children’s Village. The goal is to assist child-headed and grandparent-headed families on an outreach basis which means that the SOS staff members go out to the communities to work with them. The programme activities address and help to alleviate the educational, medical, nutritious and skills training needs that are identified by the community members. A long term objective is to develop very strong community partnership in the villages and build the capacity and competence of these villages by forming and training village committees to assist their own people. Former staff accommodation facilities within the SOS Children’s Village Lilongwe were converted to house the office for the Social Centre programme. The programme is currently active in seven villages with a population of over 13,635 people and where 595 households are caring for 1,200 orphans. Expansion plans to work with more villages are well under way. The programme currently runs at an average cost ratio of US$4.50 per month/child beneficiary.

Relevant standard and good practice

We support communities to support vulnerable children and their families.

The programme mobilises community-based organisations, facilitates self-organisation and channels all support through the community structures.


  • The community is recognised as a partner and respectively the establishment of functioning community structures is facilitated.
  • Whilst ensuring that the most vulnerable children are receiving the care they need, it is crucial to work with the people in the communities so that they are able to take on the vision of care for the children.
  • All skills are transferred to the community and experts developed.


In order to ensure community participation of all activities the following structure was established. Basically all activities are channelled through the Village Development Committee and, where it seemed necessary, a particular sub-committee is formed to oversee a specific area of intervention.

Project Management Committee (chairperson of each village committee + traditional leader). Oversees the implementation of projects and activities in the area

Village Development Committee (1 in each of the villages involved)- meet twice a month (1 week /month to plan, last week/month to evaluate), SOS is not a member of the committees, we just facilitate the process.

Home based care for orphans HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns and chronically ill persons: through drama, songs and games, identified volunteers, SOS “Go back to school” campaigns organised/provided training and basic material, SOS nurse visits patients as part of the out- reach clinic and gives advice to the volunteers.

Water and Sanitation improvement

Meeting of village health committee to discuss health issues. The community takes ownership of the need for solutions to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic and respectively the OVCs situation.

In order to build the capacity of the Village Development Committees it was necessary to train them in the following areas:

o Concept of participation

o Concept of development

o Concept of self-reliance

o Concept of community mobilisation

o Concept of communication

o Concept of leadership

o Rights of a child

o HIV/AIDS facts

Examples of support actions: Food security programme is done on community and household level. At community level, each village has a garden in which they grow maize. The village chiefs provided land. The community themselves provide labour while officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation provided technical advice. SOS provided seed and fertiliser on loan. At household level, each house keeping orphans was given seed and fertiliser. A careful assessment was done to ensure that the recipient deserved the loan and that they really have land on which to grow the crop. There are some households that did not receive the loan despite keeping orphans. These are those that are either able households or those that have no land at all. Both the village and individual households paid back the loan 100 % in kind after the harvest which is kept for any arising food shortages during the year as well as for support of other households that may not have been benefited yet. Educational Scholarships are given to school-drops (due to lack of school fees) as identified by the village development committee.

Lessons learnt

Staff members need skills in participatory processes, so it is worthwhile training and investing into your staff. It helps to ask yourself regularly: How can we justify that this intervention is not a handout?

Key people

The key staff of the current activities is the project head and two field officers, one with a nursing background and one with a community mobilisation background. Alex Nugwo , field officer says: “I have been liking community development work for a long time. My job is to make the communities understand their capacities as human beings. I enjoy designing a participatory process and to think through all the different planning steps of a project to make it a “life-long” process, this is very encouraging. I like it when communities develop a “WE” feeling and really understand that it is “THEIR” problem that needs to be solved. Franciwell Phiri , project head: “I like to empower my staff, to guide them to understand what community development work means. I am looking forward to that day, when the SOS staff will only sit in their offices and the community members will approach us as trustworthy and accountable partners to seek for advice, guidance and support - that’s our ultimate goal.”