Zambia: Coca-Cola Africa Foundation Giving Hope to Needy Children, Women

YOUNGSTERS LOMBE Chilekwa, Lister Mulenga, Precious Phiri, John Banda,and Alice Kandeleka among others, would have had bleak futures had the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation (CCAF) and Helping Other People Everywhere (HOPE) Worldwide Zambia (HWWZ), not come to their aid.

The CCAF invests in community projects that address key issues for communities in Africa.

These include water, health and youth development coupled with collaborating with other private and public organisations for expertise as well as scaling up its commitments.

The CCAF implements scalable, sustainable programmes that other organisations and governments can also support and it prioritises projects that have an immediate and positive long-term impact.

On water, the Foundation launched the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) to accelerate the impact of the company's investment in water projects in Africa. It committed US $30 million for a period of six years, from 2010 to 2015.

That project seeks to provide two million people in Africa with access to clean water.The RAIN project has as at July 19, 2012 implemented 55 projects in 30 countries. That was a result of CCAF partnering with other stakeholders such as USAID.

On health, CCAF has over the last 10 years focused on HIV/AIDS and Malaria prevention. In collaboration with its partners, CCAF has invested about $50 million in health-related projects.

The CCAF believes that "quality education is key to securing a brighter future for Africa" and thus supports youth development programmes with long-term recurring effect.

Its partnership with Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership has helped to improve learning conditions and outcomes through technology use. CCAF has 270 learning centres across nine African countries.

HWWZ is a faith-based Non-Governmental Organisation registered in 1999 committed to preventing HIV/AIDS through caring for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) affected by the pandemic.

It does so through a "child-centred, family-focused and community-based" approach. HWWZ and CCAF have been working together for the past 8 years in 8 countries to serve the needs of more than 120, 000 children. CCAF does the funding, while HWWZ is in charge of implementation.

In Zambia, HWWZ operates in Kalingalinga, Mtendere, Chawama and Kanyama Townships and the aforementioned OVCS have greatly benefitted from that partnership.

Mtendere Township in what was dubbed the CNN Africa Journalist Award Legacy Handover, witnessed by the finalists of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalist Awards.

Officiating at the handover ceremony at the HWWZ Mtendere site, Information and Broadcasting Services Deputy Minister, Mwansa Kapeya said CCAF deserved commendation for its commitment to empower about five million women entrepreneurs in Africa by the year 2020 through direct investment to uplift the living standard in its operational areas.

"Coca-Cola should further be lauded for its concern in contributing to the living standards of the people on the African continent, such as providing safe drinking water and good sanitary conditions through programmes such as malaria and HIV/AIDS and enabling the poor to have access to high quality education," he said.

Mr Kapeya further commended CCAF for promoting a culture of entrepreneurship among women in gardening and other ventures for sustenance of their families.

He also urged journalists to report objectively and professionally about the positive and negative developments taking place on the continent.

"It is only right that the journalists in Africa should be proactive by serving as the catalysts for positive change in people's lives," he said.

CCAF president, William Asiko observed that the Sub-Saharan Africa region is the most heavily affected by HIV/AIDS as an estimated 22.9 million people were living with HIV in the region of two thirds of the global total.

Mr Asiko said the social and economic consequences of HIV/AIDS were widely felt not only in the health sector, but other economic sectors as well, adding that one of the significant effects of HIV/AIDS was that nearly 15 million children across Africa were orphaned owing to HIV/AIDS.

He disclosed that CCAF had been instrumental in helping the needy not purely out of philanthropy, but that it had a "business interest in us uplifting communities", saying once the vulnerable were economically empowered, they would in future have the capacity to purchase its products and services.

Mr Asiko also said such gestures were a demonstration that it could be done, but that the private sector alone could not manage, especially that the private sector were only assisting the needy because it was their obligation.

He implored Government to replicate such models, observing that despite the children being vulnerable, they had the potential of achieving their ambitions, if they are supported.

He echoed Mr Kapeya's sentiments on the need for journalists to be professional by reporting in a factual and balanced manner, adding that journalism being a fourth estate was part of the solution to challenges OVCs faced.

Hope Worldwide regional technical advisor, Marc Aguirre said collaboration with CCAF was able to put smiles on the faces of OVCs.

Dr Aguirre said OVCs faced enormous challenges needing concerted efforts to address as currently families and communities were "carrying the weight" of supporting and caring for orphans estimated at 1.3 million in Zambia.

Dr Aguirre cited stigma and discrimination, depression and were forced into early marriages thus negatively affecting their education, health and wellbeing, saying further that despite intervention measures to combat HIV/AIDS, the number of HIV/AIDS-related OVCs continued to soar in Zambia and Africa as a whole.

He described journalists as an "incredible force of change" who would play a pivotal role in ensuring the voiceless OVCs were heard by capturing the hearts and minds of Government, donors, corporate partners and those that can make if the media acted as advocates for children in their reporting.

HWWZ programme manager, Njapa Mtonga said the organisation was currently operating in Lusaka alone but it seeks to extend to other parts of the country with the availability of funds.

Ms Mtonga said HWWZ in partnership with CCAF had so far assisted about 22,000 OVCs in Zambia. Last year, it managed to send back 300 children to school after they had dropped out owing to the lack of financial support.

Ms Mtonga said five children have since enrolled at the University of Zambia, while 20 made it to Government colleges.

In his vote of thanks on behalf of other beneficiaries, Gastone Sakala said the OVCs now have "hope for tomorrow because of your generosity".

Sixteen-year-old Gastone lost his father in 2001 when he (Gatone) was in his first grade at Petauke Primary School.

"When my father died, life became so hard that I stopped going to school. Then my mother decided to come to Lusaka so that we could come and stay with my grandmother (her mother).

"This was when I was introduced to HOPE Worldwide Zambia and then I eventually got enrolled back to school with the help of the Coca-Cola funds," he narrated.

HWWZ later introduced Gastone to Coca-Cola programmes such as kids' clubs where activities like HIV sensitatisation, motivational talks, among others.

"Coca-Cola, through HOPE Worldwide has also been providing me with school fees from the time that I was in Grade Eight and now here I am in Grade 11. They have continued to assist me with funds," he said.

He plans to become a "Coca-Cola" manager upon completion of his tertiary education.

Lombe Chilekwa is another beneficiary. The 13-year-old lost her father from skin cancer in 2009. A large chunk of the family money was being spent her father's hospital bills.

"Due to the illness, my father wouldn't manage to work, so my mother was the only one doing everything, at least she managed to take good care of my father but then for our school fees she couldn't manage, so we (her and her two siblings) stopped going to school," she recounted.

"After a year (2009), my father died, life became very difficult for us and after three months in the same year, my sister also died. Life became unbearable for me and my family and this affected me a lot both school wise and socially," she added.

A neighbour later introduced the Chilekwa family to HWWZ where she started attending the kids' clubs. While there, she was helped to overcome her painful childhood through activities during the club meetings.

She was later taken back to school and is currently in Grade Six at a community school in Chawama Township. Her sister is in Grade Nine.

"We have also been provided with nutrition and my mother is a member of the women's support group through which she also receives income generating activities where they make various items for resale.

"My mother is also a member of the child care forum where they take care of the needs of children in the area we live in. I want to thank you Coca-Cola and HOPE Worldwide Zambia for helping us," said Chilekwa whose ambition is to become a nurse.

Espina N'uni, a widow, said life became difficult when her husband died resulting in her children dropping out of school, but things changed for the better when she was introduced to the two organisations.

"Coca-Cola is our father and HOPE Worldwide Zambia is our mother," she said.

Ms Ng'uni said CCAF and HWWZ assisted her children with uniforms and school fees, among others, while she also benefitted for being a member of the women's support group.

She lamented that had it not been for the support of the two organisations, her children would have either become street kids or prostitutes.

"My children completed their secondary education, but they are now just at home doing nothing. I am, therefore, appealing to you to assist them with employment, even piece work would suffice," she said.

Those are just but a few examples of what the HWWZ and CCAF partnership has done.

It is hoped that such a noble cause is extended to other parts of the country so that other OVCs and disadvantaged women are given a second chance towards realising their goals.

It is also imperative that other private sector organisations emulated HWWZ and CCAF by partnering with Government through the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health and Ministry of Education in their corporate social responsibility to help the underprivileged in society.

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