The Rebirth of COPE

30 06 2012

By Craig Moxley

I’m happy to share exciting news.

Last year Grace Zhou conducted research on orphaned and vulnerable children in Naama and found poor emotional health among community-based orphaned and vulnerable childen (OVC). Many kids who lose one or both parents end up at a friend or relatives’ house where they are often treated like second-class citizens. Reviewing this data, she decided to form a counseling program with a local NGO, Childline Uganda.

During the past year the program made big strides as Childline Uganda held regular sessions until the seed funding ran dry. For many of the orphans it was their first access to counseling, and John from Childline offered valuable life skills lessons.

However, we had three big problems. First, the program required money to run, and Project Naama is not a funding group. We worried about setting the precedence that student researchers supported by DGHI would be expected to come in each year and fund the program. In this scenario, the counseling programs would hinge on Project Naama and be totally unsustainable! Second, and more importantly, we weren’t reaching the community-based OVC; they weren’t attending the sessions at VOSA.  Third, there was little oversight over the course of the 10 months when Project Naama was not in Mityana. It was hard to make payments, ensure that the sessions were happening, and provide general program evaluation.

We were doing this program for a reason. Everyone involved believed adamantly in the need for psychosocial counseling for the OVC in question. How could we make this program work?

We all sat down and tried to figure out a way to reach these community-based orphans while also preserving (and revamping) the sessions at the orphanage (VOSA). We contacted the Community Development Office who offered to send two counselors twice a month to Naama to run sessions for community-based OVC. Then, and here’s the big change, we formed a community-based organization to oversee everything.

No! Not another organization placed into the bottomless pit of unsynchronized, parrell organizations!

I promise you, it’s different. Or at least we hope so. We borrowed the name invented by Grace for the sessions held at VOSA and named the organization COPE, Counseling Orphans, Promoting Empowerment. COPE exists basically as an overseer, organizer, and funder of both the counseling program at VOSA and the program in the community led by the CDO. Our role is to basically make sure everything is happening by managing relationships with our community partners, providing funding to the CDO and Childline Uganda so that they can travel to Naama and hold the sessions, to educate the community on psychosocial health, and to conduct regular emotional evaluations of the children in the programs to judge whether or not they are actually helping. I also want to have as little of a role as possible so as to ensure that the program is sustainable. Robinah, our translator and a Ugandan, and I ensured every position in COPE is held by Ugandans. I probably shouldn’t say every position… because there’s only two positions total! Robinah will manage everything throughout the year, and a local LC2, Mombwe Francis, will serve as our recruiter and community liaison. We hope to be totally community owned and operated.

COPE is also NOT a part of Project Naama. We’ve made it to exist independently. So it’s not dependent on DGHI sending the student researchers. To answer the question of funding, we’re making a sister organization, COPE@DUKE to raise money. This still promises issues with sustainability, but it’s the best we can do for now. Past Project Naama students also have money left over and will be supporting the program for its pilot year.

A big change we’ve implemented with the community-based OVC sessions held by the CDO is to provide food, career counseling, and material support to the children who attend. In the past weeks, we’ve heard over and over again how important community members think these facets of the program will be in supporting the children. And, when the benefits of group counseling itself are so unclear, I’m happy that we will be providing something tangible.

There’s still a lot of uncertainty. Who knows if this program will survive through the next year. Who knows if the group counseling will actually improve the psychosocial well-being of the children involved. However, we cannot be daunted into inaction by uncertainty. If it fails, we will know that we structured and funded this program as best we could within our limits, and that group counseling may not be feasible in Naama today. In which case, future students turn to other routes of supporting OVC in Naama Parish, more aware of how to address the problem.

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