Every mother hopes, should something happen to her, someone will be there to both care for and love her children as she did. But in sub-Saharan Africa millions of mothers have little or no means of ensuring this. Of the 15 million children under 18 years who have been orphaned as a result of AIDS worldwide, 12 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.
This figure is expected to climb to 16 million by 2010. In many areas, children have been left to fend for themselves as the disease has killed not only their parents, but their parent’s parents and siblings as well, creating hundreds of thousands of 'child-headed' households - a term that cannot adequately convey the desperation involved.
Why Mothers for All
More than 100 000 of these orphans live in Botswana, the country that was home to Linda Scott and her children, Robyn, Damien and Lauren, during the 1990s. With a husband who was working as a flying doctor in rural Eastern Botswana, Linda and her children witnessed the devastating effects of the AIDS epidemic, which by the new millennium had infected more than 30% of the population and left more than one out of every 18 people an AIDS orphan. They also met some extraordinary women who, undeterred by their scant resources, reached out to care for those infected or affected by AIDS, and others who bravely spoke out about the highly stigmatised disease.
Jenny Dunlop - another founding trustee and now national co-ordinator of the project - was a secondary school teacher in the mining town of Selebi-Phikwe, which at one point had the country's highest infection rate. She saw the impact of HIV on her students - both through losing family members and contracting it themselves - as well as the widespread misunderstandings that surround the disease.
One story that started another
We had all long wanted to do something to change the situation. However, starting is hard; both in terms of resources and because the problem seems overwhelming, and tackling a small part of it an almost futile exercise.
Then, in 2007, Robyn wrote Twenty Chickens for a Saddle, a memoir about growing up in Botswana, which provided the impetus and seed capital to start our first project.
It is not, of course, easy to create a sustainable non-profit organisation; the charity sector is littered with projects that start with great intentions but soon fail through lack of resources. However, as a result of Linda's work in the non-profit sector, we were fortunate to have an invaluable insight into the models that worked well.
Linda was involved in creating AIDSbuzz.org, a website that profiles the non-profit organisations working in the field of HIV and AIDS in South Africa. She was astounded to encounter woman after woman, often with a minimum of resources, opening their homes and hearts to the orphans and vulnerable children in their communities. Women like Busiswe Khawula, a retired nurse who started a drop-in centre for over 45 orphans and vulnerable children in her impoverished neighbourhood. Explaining her work, Busiswe said, “Saving a child every day – that is how I give back to the community.” As if this is the most natural step for anyone who has the means, however meagre, to help a child in need.
Projects with women caregivers at their heart were the projects that consistently worked - and lasted. A growing body of evidence also strongly suggested the tremendous importance of supporting the caregivers in order to help the children in a sustainable way. So when we discussed how we could best help the AIDS-affected orphans and vulnerable children, we were determined to find a way to support, educate and train their caregivers, especially in income-generating and life skills. We also wanted to incorporate pricinciples such as environmental awareness. Research has shown that when mothers or caregivers receive additional income, training or education the immediate beneficiaries are the children in their care, followed closely by friends. This confirms the well-known adage, 'If you educate a woman, you educate a community.'
We therefore devised a model involving small groups of women working together to produce our signature product - recycled paper bead jewellery. These tightly-knit groups enabled us to easily offer the women other skills and services, and for them to share knowledge and problems. We also started from the premise of quality not quantity: to help a smaller group of women comprehensively and bring about lasting changes to their lives and those of the children in their care, rather giving only a small amount of help to many. We also wanted our mothers to become sufficiently skilled so that they could themselves train other women in their communities. And so Mothers for All was born.
We started with a group of just five women in Selebi-Phikwe in early 2008. We tweaked the model until it worked well for that group. Only then did we grow. By 2010, nearly 100 women throughout Botswana had received training in making paper bead jewellery. More than half of these women have received further training in making recycled paper, financial management, HIV and AIDS awareness and caring for the environment. These women collectively support approximately 300 children.
The initial expansion was made possible through a generous grant from Barclays UK. Further workshops in new product development and permaculture are being rolled out to our mothers in eastern Botswana during the course of 2011, thanks to funding from the European Commission.
During 2009 the organisation in Botswana turned over around 250,000 pula (about 40 000 US dollars) in paper bead products and nearly doubled this amount in 2010, bringing us that much closer to our ultimate goal of becoming a totally self-sustaining organisation.
Mothers for All is now also a registered non-profit organisation in South Africa, where we have so far trained 30 caregivers and over 25 male and female prisoners who want to help the orphans in their community. The proceeds from the sale of their beaded products go to help a project in their local community which is feeding and supporting over 150 orphans and vulnerable children, including 50 HIV-positive children who are on antiretroviral treatment and 30 children from child-headed households.