Photo of Beauty and Takudzwa
Beauty and her son Takudzwa are both living with HIV. Thanks to the support of CPS, Children First and USAID, they will lead healthy, happy and productive lives.

In the high density suburbs of Harare, Zimbabwe, two and a half year old Takudzwa has the chance to spend his mornings playing with other children at a local play center, thanks to the good advice his mother took when he was one year old. When his mother, Beauty (41), was pregnant with Takudzwa, the youngest of her six children, a number of people in the community were taking the opportunity to get tested for HIV but she refused.

Once Takudzwa was born she and the baby were both sick, and the medicines she received from her regular trips to the clinic weren't helping. Eventually Children Protection Society (CPS) volunteers were alerted, made a home visit to help her, and were able to convince her to go for HIV testing. Both she and Takudzwa were found to be HIV positive and started on anti retroviral therapy (ARV) right away. As a result, Takudzwa was able to celebrate his second birthday as a happy, playful little boy.

Initially Beauty refused to take her other children for testing because she said they seemed healthy, but after receiving counseling and support at the CPS play center, she changed her mind. Two of her other children were found to be HIV positive as well, and have now started taking ARVs.

Child Protection Society (CPS) is a local Zimbabwean NGO that focuses on supporting orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and their caregivers in areas of Harare where poverty is extremely high. They use their early childhood development program as an entry point for strengthening the family environment, as there are few programs in Zimbabwe that focus on the lived experience of children under the age of five who are not yet in school. The program provides much needed support for this undeserved group who are vulnerable by nature of their age demographic and family backgrounds. The program supports 13 community run play centers, which are supported by a dedicated group of volunteers, and reach out to 1,587 children.

"Our volunteers are the backbone of the program," says Tomaida Banda, CPS Director. Volunteers help identify children like Takudzwa, make home visits and refer care givers to the centers for support. The volunteers are trained in early childhood development so that they can run daily programs for the children, and they also help run "positive parenting" sessions for caregivers so that they have the opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics including HIV, immunizations, how to protect children in homes and how to successfully potty train. Also critically, they counsel pregnant women to go for testing, so that babies can be protected from contracting HIV.

In addition to providing psychosocial support, the CPS program is addressing the critical issue of food and nutrition by providing one meal of porridge to the children at the center, as well as training in backyard gardens and seed saving.

Strong links with other organizations have also helped make the program comprehensive and successful, and CPS has developed a wide spread network of service providers they can rely on when their beneficiaries need help. Volunteer doctors and nurses are available to CPS beneficiaries three days per month, and schools and the city council have donated space for the centers.

According to Mercy Moyo, CPS Program Director, "The strength of our program is that it is based in the community."

The CPS model has been so successful that it was recognized as one of the Top 40 Innovative Practices at the African Conference on Early Childhood Development held in Senegal in November 2009. This international award brings much deserved attention and respect to this comprehensive program that includes the community and caregivers as critical components to ensuring the health and well being of children.

Takudzwa is still too young to understand HIV, but he is likely alive today because his mother received the right guidance at a critical time to be able to save his life. They are now both happy and healthy, take their ARVs regularly, and attend the CPS play center daily. His two siblings who are HIV positive attend a CPS support group for adolescents living with HIV to receive the psychosocial support they need to help them live positively and his mother participates in positive parenting sessions when they are available.

The comprehensive approach that CPS has taken has truly touched all aspects of this family and one day when Takudzwa is older, and his needs change, CPS will be there to grow and adapt with him.