By MWAPE MWENYA
â€œMY HEART bleeds to see children suffering on the streets, this is why I want to ensure that the welfare of children are prioritised,â€ Gender and Child Development Minister Inonge Wina said.
Ms Wina compassionately uttered these words during the first-ever joint launch of the three Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) systems strengthening in Zambia namely, Zambia rising, Community rising and Data rising.
The three projects to be implemented under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are aimed at improving the quality of OVCs services and policy framework for coordination, planning, implementation and monitoring as well as evaluation.
â€œZambia has a large child population estimated at 50 percent comprising young people. It is this segment of the population that will shoulder the responsibilities of the nation in years to come hence the need for us as a country to invest in their survival, protection and development with particular emphasis on provision of basic services to orphans and vulnerable children,â€ she said.
According to Ms Wina, the implementation of the three projects wouldnâ€™t have come at a better time than now when the country has are over 1,300,000 OVCs faced with so many challenges which negatively affect their lives, sometimes leaving them bewildered and helpless.
She was optimistic that the cooperating partners like Save the Children International, Luapula Foundation and Expanded Church Response will help improve the quality of life for OVCs through strengthened systems and policy frameworks for coordination, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
â€œIt is my sincere hope and trust that the projects will assist in providing the best care possible to enable our children, especially OVCs realise their full potential and contribute to national development,â€ she said.
Ms Wina expressed confidence that the implementation of the projects through existing government structures such as the ministries of Gender and Child Development and Community Development, Mother and Child Health will help to strengthen systems for services targeting needy children.
Through the same projects, service provision by various government ministries, civil society organisations and the private sector will be harmonised resulting into effective financial and resource utilisation.
She however, appealed to implementers of the projects to consider rural communities in North-Western and Western Provinces as these areas have often been marginalised by most NGOs. This is despiteÂ these areas having recorded low rates of service provision for children in health, food and nutrition, water and sanitation, education, among other things
â€œMy ministry being the custodian of the National Child Policy will play the major role of coordination in the implementation of the systems strengthening project with support from all the stakeholders,â€ she said.
Speaking at the same event, Loice Chibale a grade nine pupil at Bauleni Special Needs Project emphasised on the need of a holistic approach from various stakeholders towards strengthening systems dealing with OVCs.
â€œThis is an important day in our lives as children, because Government and partners have come together to reflect on our problems. As children, we face many problems which we cannot be solve on our own. We need your help so that we can grow into healthy and responsible citizens. Data will be available to help you our leaders, mothers and fathers make the right decisions to serve us even better,â€ said Loice.
And Zambia Rising Chief of Party Cornelia Van Zyl said the projects which started in 2013 are being implemented in Lusaka, Copperbelt, Central, Southern and Luapula provinces.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has pumped in over US$19 million in improving the quality of OVC services with strengthened systems and policy framework for coordination, planning, implementation; and monitoring and evaluation.
Ms Van Zyl said Zambia Rising will support the Government to address the needs of Zambiaâ€™s vulnerable children through strengthened social welfare systems, human resources capacity for OVC service delivery, improved harmonisation and coordination across ministries, and the private sector to foster an enabling policy and regulatory environment for the security of vulnerable children.
She emphasised that each of the three projects will have a specific role to play, this means that the Community Rising will support Government to lead the district systems strengthening to enhance efficiency and effectiveness of OVC service providers at the district and community level.
This will be done by improving existing community structures; promoting good governance, integration, linkages, and collaboration among different committees.
While the Data Rising will support the Government to lead the development of a robust national OVC Management Information System, data collection tools and database system for OVCs. This will be an invaluable tool for data-sharing and decision-making.
She saidÂ Zambia has made tremendous commitments in different areas of such asÂ nutrition, paediatric and HIV care and treatment, psycho-social care, economic strengthening, including the government flagship Social Cash Transfer Scheme.
In order for the services and referrals to be provided effectively, Ms Van Zyl believes that the systems need to function effectively, coherently without fragmentation.
â€œLetâ€™s compare OVC service provision to a football team, without a good coach, funding, fellow players, communication, coordination, technique, strategy and lots of practice; the German team would not have won the 2014 football World Cup. On their own, the players cannot function. Services are the same, they form part of a system or a team; hence we need each other in this endeavour,â€ she said.
She was confident that the projects are unique as they bring together various stakeholders to support Government in its mammoth task towards improved social services to orphans and vulnerable children.
The collaboration between the three Rising Projects, government, private sector and the community demonstrates the importance and critical need for addressing the OVC service provision challenges to the benefit of children.
By MWAPE MWENYA