Randburg — As the world celebrates Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, REPSSI is calling for greater recognition of the importance of children’s emotional and social well-being, especially within the context of the Africa’s widespread HIV and AIDS epidemic. REPSSI is an NGO working in 13 East and Southern African countries to lessen the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS, conflict and poverty on children by providing psychosocial support,
According to Noreen Huni, Executive Director at REPSSI, psychosocial support is fundamental in modern-day society. “To realise the potential of Africa’s children, to build strong and productive communities, to prevent HIV infections and promote healthy behaviour, to change attitudes and reduce discrimination, we need to start with the very basics – love, care and protection for all children.”
This includes listening and responding to children’s problems, allowing children to appreciate their identity and encouraging children to set goals and reach their potential, all of which are best provided by families and communities. For REPSSI, Universal Children’s Day is an opportunity to acknowledge the importance of psychosocial wellbeing for children and to support and strengthen caregivers, families and communities in providing all-important love, care and protection.
Universal Children's Day marks the day on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1989. Yet while the material needs and rights of children related to food, shelter, health care and education often receive widespread attention, children’s rights to be cared for, loved, encouraged and protected from harm are often left out of the spotlight.
Psychosocial support is a basic human right for everyone, and is especially important for children affected by HIV and AIDS, conflict and poverty. Psychosocial support is a continuum of love, care and protection that enhances the cognitive, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of a person and strengthens their social and cultural connectedness. Effective psychosocial support enhances individual, family and community competencies and positively influences both the individual and the social environment in which people live. In essence, psychosocial wellbeing is a building block of both individual and community development.
In sub-Saharan Africa around 14.8 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS related illnesses. (UNAIDS 2010) HIV and AIDS-related orphans and vulnerable children are one of the fastest growing groups of children in need on earth. Along with the trauma of losing a family member, the loss of a caregiver can also leave children vulnerable to violence, hunger and other abuses.
Yet, orphans are not the only children in need of psychosocial support.
According to UNAIDS, an estimated 22.5 million people living with HIV resided in sub-Saharan Africa in 2009, representing 68% of the global HIV burden, meaning few children in the region remain unaffected. The loss of a sibling, teacher, or a community member can have significant impact on a young person. In many families, time and energy spent caring for ill members of the family can also mean that children’s welfare takes a back seat.
If children are to thrive and grow, especially in difficult circumstances, there is a need to focus greater attention and resources in children’s emotional and social – their psychosocial- well-being.
Psychosocial support is love, care and protection; it is support for the emotional and social aspects of a child’s life, so that they can live with hope and dignity.
This year REPPSI is also celebrating a decade of existence. Over the past ten years the organisation has helped put psychosocial support on the national, regional, and international agenda, helping children across East and Southern Africa get the crucial emotional and social support to which they are entitled. Since 2001, the REPSSI network includes 56 partner NGOs across the region with 1,994 project sites using REPSSI approaches and tools with a total reach of 5 million children and youth.
REPSSI’s assistance includes providing easy-to-use and culturally-appropriate tools, and sharing innovative approaches. REPSSI trains partners to provide social and emotional services to children and their communities, and produces activities and tools that can be used with children, youth, communities and families. REPSSI has also become a technical partner to SADC; set regional standards; trained a pool of regional expertise; created an innovative new distance-learning course; and developed a comprehensive body of knowledge which can be applied at community level.