Kimberly Vrudny


In Healing of Memory, HIV/AIDS, Non-profits / NGOs, Political Violence, South Africa on August 10, 2010 at 1:30 am

Within a few years of experiencing the ousting of the apartheid regime in South Africa, it was clear to educator Ulpha Robertson that high-quality school readiness programs in underprivileged areas would not be among the priorities of the newly elected government. Therefore, she collaborated with Austrian-born Ursel Barnes, herself a parent with an interest in shaping the direction of education within South Africa’s emerging democracy and, in 1998, together they founded Yabonga (a Zulu word meaning “they thanked” or “they saved”).

Educare Program. With an aim to strengthen young children’s preparedness for mainstream schooling, Yabonga focused initially on establishing educare centers—places that were dedicated to preventing an achievement gap from taking root in at-risk children from birth to age five. Today, Yabonga has assisted in training teachers at ten educare centers in underprivileged communities, and has established two preschools. However, within two years of Yabonga’s founding, the staff encountered their first child living with HIV—an experience that caused them immediately to expand their focus to provide education, support and skills development for mothers testing positive, so they could be present to their children to support them as they grew into adults.

Peer-Educator Program. In 2001, Yabonga began piloting its peer-group education program. Today, more than 200 women have undergone a four-month training program that equips them to educate peers within their communities about prevention and treatment strategies in relation to HIV/AIDS. Candidates showing potential are trained in home-based care, lay counseling, and youth counseling. By talking openly in their communities about the facts behind HIV/AIDS, these women are working to overcome the shaming and stigmatizing patterns that have isolated people living with HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS Support Centers. As local clinics became aware of Yabonga’s peer educators, they created a demand to have the educators present in community clinics. Therefore, Yabonga worked with local businesses to purchase ten shipping containers (that function like trailers) to establish support centers. The centers maintain a staff comprised of a team leader, peer educators, lay counselors, home-based carers, and youth counselors in order to respond to the needs of those testing positive in the communities that are experiencing the highest rates of infection. In addition, Yabonga has a presence at an additional 20 clinics and 20 schools, providing HIV education, voluntary testing services, voluntary individual and family counseling sessions, support group facilitation, and nutritional support.

Income Generation Program. Access to reliable information about the virus and its effects on the body enables people to live positively, raising their own children and relying on their own abilities to generate income to support their families. While the support centers raise awareness, Yabonga’s income generation program equips participants with skills in beading, sewing, fabric painting, cooking, baking, wire working, or gardening, depending on the peer-educator’s preference. The items produced by Yabonga’s income generation program are available for sale from the Yabonga website:

Orphan and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Program. In addition to its educare and peer-education programs, Yabonga has supported 350 orphaned and vulnerable children by purchasing school uniforms and books, providing nutritional assistance and counseling, and supporting life skills and leadership workshops for children who wish to develop strategies for coping with the trauma associated with HIV, poverty, abuse, and the death of a parent.

Community Mothers. Community mothers provide a safe haven for children involved in Yabonga’s OVC program. The mothers are hired to provide a nutritious meal as well as homework support to the children. Trained in skills required to counsel children in relation to issues associated with HIV/AIDS, community mothers provide a safe place to talk about HIV directly in the communities where the children live.

Men’s Program. Lastly, Yabonga has established a men’s program. Fifteen men have been trained to run support groups for men living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, the men’s program aims to empower young men to stay away from drugs, alcohol, and gangs by running sports and enrichment programs for youth. By organizing community-based education programs in taverns (legally operated bars) and shebeens (bars that run without a license), the program attempts to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and its attending issues in communities where the prevalence rates are as high as one in every three.

In all, Yabonga employs more than 100 people to run the network that supports the non-governmental organization’s extensive HIV/AIDS programs that have, to date, served more than 600,000 people. The reach of Yabonga’s programs is, indeed, impressive, as the peer educators participating in “30/30” attest.

Please support Yabonga’s work, if you are able, by sending food, clothing, toiletries, blankets, toys and stationary to:

2 Main Road
Wynberg 7800
South Africa

or by wiring a donation to:

Beneficiary: Yabonga
Nedbank Branch Code: 145209
Account No. 1452012563.

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