Power of Love's "Safe Park" program is located in Matero, one of the largest and poorest compounds in Lusaka, Zambia. The compound has a population of around 275,000, an unemployment rate upwards of 60%, and an exceedingly high incidence of HIV and malaria. Most residents live on less than a dollar a day. Children face difficult circumstances due to poverty, stigmatization of their HIV+ status, sickess within the family, and distress/trauma due to the loss of parents and family members. Most lack a safe environment to learn and play, which a critical factor in normal development.
This program is free and open to all children in the community. Children and their family members are encouraged to join our trained child- and youth-care staff every Saturday morning for a few hours. The staff and children play and engage in educational games and activities. At this time we have 760 children enrolled in the program with about 70-80 participants showing up each week. Children (both with and without HIV) interact with each other and with our staff as they play and learn. As a result, children who attend Safe Park regularly:
- have more knowledge about HIV, are more comfortable with their HIV positive status, and are more ready to discuss that status with their peers
- face reduced stigma associated with HIV
- some older children become role models and mentors for the younger children
- do better at school as homework help is provided
- have an improvement in self-esteem and mental/physical wellbeing
- develop social skills via sharing, following rules, and cooperating with the staff and other children
- learn about HIV prevention and care
- are kept off the streets where they can be abused
In addition, family members are provided with information so that they can access relevant health, educational, and psychosocial services. Read on for the case of a child in our community and the impact of the Safe Park program on her development.