"Our work in Naama not only demonstrated the great need of orphaned and vulnerable children, but also the positive impact COPE has and will continue to make in the lives of its participants."
Every other Saturday at 3 pm in the parish of Naama, 40-60 children convene in an empty classroom, trickling in one by one and slipping into their seats. Some as young as 10 years old, others as old as 17, all have walked the distances to attend COPE (Counseling Orphans, Promoting Empowerment). Despite their differences in age and home village, what these children have common is their status as orphaned and vulnerable children. Entering its second year, COPE is a counseling program developed through the collaboration of community members and Duke students to address the needs of orphaned and vulnerable children in Naama.
The foundation for COPE began in 2011, when Duke undergraduate Grace Zhou conducted a research project on orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) in the 14 villages comprising Naama Parish, Mityana, Uganda. She discovered poor physical, cognitive, and emotional health in community-based OVC compared to their peers living in orphanages. To improve the situation of OVC living in the community, COPE evolved to its current innovative model consisting of psychosocial counseling services, material support, and career counseling. The program is managed locally with a General Manager, Nakafeero Robinah, overseeing all daily affairs along with two support staff members.
Building upon six years of work through the Naama Community Health Collaboration, COPE’s success draws upon strong ties between leaders from both Duke and the Naama community. Gaining recognition and support at the district level has not only demonstrated the need for COPE, but has also enabled us to more efficiently mobilize necessary resources to further our cause.
After winning second place in ChangeWorks, a social venture competition sponsored in part by CASE, and subsequently gaining access to SEAD funding, we have been able to take COPE into its second functional year. The additional funds allowed us to double our budget for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 from $710 to $1500 per year. During our fieldwork in Naama this summer, we were able to make several concrete advances towards COPE’s fundamental program goals:
- Psychosocial counseling sessions: To improve mental and emotional health of participating students, each COPE session involves an hour of psychosocial counseling from a local social worker in the community. These session include activities to boost self-esteem, create a sense of community, and provide an outlet to cope with their difficult experiences.
- Material Assistance: As most children in the program live in low-income families, part of COPE’s mission involves providing them with materials essential to their success in schools. During our first few sessions, COPE distributed workbooks and other school supplies—materials most participants normally wouldn’t be able to afford.
- Health Outreaches: Due to the prevalence of worm infection in the Naama area, primarily due to lack of footwear, we chose to administer deworming tablets to program participants after receiving guardian consent. As it is recommended for children to be dewormed four times a year, we will continue to administer deworming medication throughout the course of the program. We are also raising funds to purchase shoes and possibly malaria nets as preventative measures against common diseases in Naama.
Under the supervision of General Manager Nakafeero Robinah, COPE plans to implement elements tested out during its pilot year:
- Career counseling: COPE aims to not only provide a survey of potential career paths, but to also give participants the confidence to pursue such aspirations. Several times over the course of the program, COPE will invite professionals to explain their various occupations and serve as role models. COPE strives to facilitate the exposure of these children to a diverse array of careers that they would otherwise not encounter.
- Income-generation projects: We have also been able to jump-start an income generating project. The children, having been divided into groups based on their home villages, will manage 3 pigs.
- School and home visits: It can be difficult to effectively monitor the situation of child in the program when it is not possible to see him or her outside of the context of the sessions. Subsequently, at the start of the next term the General Manager will be making school and home visits to ensure that lessons practiced within the sessions are continued at home.
Our work in Naama not only demonstrated the great need of orphaned and vulnerable children, but also the positive impact COPE has and will continue to make in the lives of its participants. Having seen what COPE has already accomplished, we are excited for the future, but we also understand that we need to continue to test the program to evaluate its effectiveness and develop research materials for the counselors who are conducting the psychosocial components of the program. Once we make positive steps in these directions, the future of COPE and the children enrolled in the program will look even brighter.