Written by Irène Capet, Executive Director, NGO Sainte Philomène, l’Espérance (OSPE), Côte d’Ivoire
Tonkpi is a region with a high rate of HIV with many orphans and other vulnerable children (OVCs), some of whom are HIV-positive; it is also an area with a high prevalence of FGM/C. The NGO Sainte Philomène, l’Espérance (OSPE) operates in this complex environment with the support of a social centre, on which we depend, and with OVC parents that we have organised into associations.
Although we get some grant funding for our work, this funding is for very specific purposes. This means, some additional activities we would like to do for our beneficiaries, we cannot. At these times we turn to community donations.
When implementing our first project with AmplifyChange on preventing unwanted pregnancies and raising awareness of post-abortion care documentation, we were also looking for resources to meet the needs of OVCs. For example, their school canteen fees, a Christmas tree etc. We also wanted to have socio-educational activities for the children in the days before Christmas because psychosocial care is one of our strategies to fight stigma. The lack of activities and festivities would not only have disappointed the children, but it would also have posed the problem of not meeting one of their needs.
Faced with this situation, we turned to the parents of the OVCs, the central president and the presidents of the other neighborhoods and village communities. We explained that while we had funding for our sexual and reproductive health and right (SRHR) work, we did not have funding to give the children canteen lunches or run activities related to the Christmas festivities. Having developed good links with the community through our SRHR and other work, then decided to get involved and either contribute food (vegetables, rice and other food) or help in another way.
The parents’ associations supplied food (vegetables, rice or other food) from the communal vegetable gardens and plantations to the school canteens. This enabled both the orphans and other vulnerable children to have lunches from January to March.
The membership fees from the parents’ association allowed us to organise the Christmas tree and the inhabitants of the village that hosted the Christmas tree also contributed to the organisation of the party!
At the same time, the Public Information Division (of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI)) – whose representative often visited the Transit Centre – was informed of the situation. She mobilised funds from all UNOCI services for the purchase of toys to go under the Christmas tree. As a result, the OSPE only had to buy a few additional toys.
Any donations received were either by the community treasurer and her deputy in their cash books and monitored by one of our agents in the neighborhood/village. Or any donations we received directly, were noted in our management notebook.
We have learned that an organisation that intervenes in a specific community cannot succeed on its own if it does not involve the members of that community and if it is not accepted by that community.
We were able to leverage the goodwill we had in the community through our SRHR work to gather the donations. Although in this instance those donations were for Christmas activities and presents for the children, the community donations approach could perhaps be applied to other situations as well, such as getting the community involved in SRHR activism.
Born in Port-Bouët (Ivory Coast), Irène CAPET founded and managed the NGO Sainte Philomène, l’Espérance (OSPE) before becoming its Executive Director in December 2020. The organisation, is now managed by a board of directors.
Before founding OSPE, Irène was the director of the Caritas of Man in Côte d’Ivoire for 10 years but began her career as a French teacher, (1st and 2nd cycle). This allowed her to be a National Trainer in the Clarification of Values and Transformation of Attitudes to Abortion (CVTA); Information Management of Gender-based Violence (IMS/GBV) in social cohesion and in prevention and management of community HIV.
Her work has been recognised regionally and nationally, and she has been distinguished among the 100 Ivorian women engaged in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/GBV) and awarded the national prize “Woman Leaders 2013” in the Peace and Reconciliation category, by the National Coalition of Women Leaders of Côte d’Ivoire (CNFLCI).