AIDS Africa Best Practice: Malawi

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

Planning and evaluation ensure that programmes are relevant & effective

A participatory step-by-step process that builds on the knowledge and resources within the community and that aims at self-reliance as the long-term goal is applied.


Seven villages adjacent to the SOS Children’s Village Lilongwe were chosen to be the target area to start-off the programme. Malawi has a very clear traditional leadership structure in the villages and thus, in a first step we met with traditional chiefs and village leaders of all the villages we intended to work with to introduce the SOS Children’s Village organiation, to learn what is already taken place, to inform them about our planned programme activities and to seek their mandate for cooperation. This step is very crucial in order to guarantee full community ownership of the programme.

After having been assured of their full support and commitment to the programme a meeting with all relevant stakeholders (City and District Assemblies, Social Welfare, other NGOs) was held to create awareness about the SOS project, to understand better their activities and explore possible areas of cooperation. Out of this meeting it was recommended that a baseline study was conducted to fill information gaps in order to effectively plan with the community. The focus of the study was on the child and issues that affect the development of the child. Special attention was paid to OVCs. The study was conducted by an external consultant and qualitative in nature. It captured people’s perceptions on what affects them, which in turn has a bearing on a child.

The results of this baseline study were shared and discussed in feedback meetings with the respective communities. These meetings were a turning point for many community members because they began to reflect on the results and internalise the situation as theirs. The awareness process had started. These meetings were also an opportunity to find out from the communities “how” they felt the processes were to be managed. Communities generally agreed that processes would best be managed by a village level community committee. This necessitated the setting up of what we call Village Development Committees (VDC) in each village. This committee consists of 10 elected community members and takes responsibility to mobilise the communities on all development initiatives. They form a direct interface between the community and SOS and are a referral point for any development undertaking in the villages. Currently they are recognised by not only SOS but also other development partners that include NGOs and government. The committee normally meets twice a month: in the first week of the month they meet to discuss the planned development actions in the village and in the last week of the month they evaluate the progress. In order to capacitate the committees, SOS organised appropriate leadership training. The design of the training focused on the concepts of development, community participation, community mobilisation, community empowerment, leadership, self-reliance, and communication and rights of a child.

An overall project management committee was put in place. This is a community committee that comprises the chiefs of the seven villages and the chairpersons of each VDC. Their main function is to oversee the implementation of various projects and activities in the area. We also organise study tours for community members so that they can learn from their counterparts in other villages.

The process of identifying and selecting beneficiaries was done by all stakeholders (VDC, SOS, other NGOs and government representatives). Key to choosing who benefitted were community members themselves based on what they saw as constituting vulnerability. In planning meetings with the VDC and other stakeholders, action plans were drawn up that clearly highlight the shared responsibility between the community, SOS and the other stakeholders. Monitoring and evaluation was incorporated throughout the whole process. An internal regional cross-programme evaluation is soon to be conducted by colleagues from Zambia and Zimbabwe, followed by an external evaluation after the programme has run for 5 years.

Lessons learnt

  • Be patient when establishing a community development process - it takes time because you are working on the “software” of a person, on attitudes that need to be changed.
  • Be focused, you have to have a clear vision on what you want to do and don’t change it in the middle of the project because that creates confusion and the trust from all stakeholders is questioned.
  • Once community members are set ‘on fire’, they keep on going: For example, when expanding into new communities -the VDC of the existing programme went to their counter villages and introduced the programme to them.

All key staff and other resources such as vehicles, computers, furniture etc. should be defined together with the programme coordinator and prior to beginning a programme. Trust your community - believe that any community is capable of doing something for itself.

Key people

Franciwell Phiri is the project head of the programme and has got a professional background in community development. “I have always believed in the capacities of a community to find their own solutions to problems, all they need is some advice, guidance and support. Due to harsh economic circumstances, people have lost their confidence in themselves, they have lost that sense of capability and we must bring back that lost confidence to the communities."