Thogomelo graduation ceremony

Virginia Palmer
U.S. Chargé d’ Affaires Virginia Palmer, giving her congratulatory remarks at the event.

Remarks by Chargé d' Affaires, Virginia Palmer, at the Gauteng Graduation for Community Caregivers

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thank you. I would like to thank the Honorable Deputy Minister Bongi Ntuli, for the opportunity to participate in this important graduation ceremony of those who have successfully completed the accredited Thogomelo Psychosocial Support and Skills Development Program for Community Caregivers.

I would also like to congratulate all of you amazing learners for completing the program. I am sure that all of your friends and family are as proud of you and inspired by you as I am. I am delighted to be here today to celebrate your success and to honor the incredible and vital community of caregivers in South Africa. All protocols observed.

As community caregivers, you play an important role in your communities. As a community caregiver, you are a friend, a nurse, a teacher, a protector working tirelessly to nurture the development of children and to develop their resilience against the various challenges that face them. Often times, you are the only ones to provide care for the children who have been orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. And you provide much needed support to families who have been affected by the devastating HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa. I know it can often seem like a thankless job, so I am here to say thank you.

You do not have an easy job. At least 4 million South African children are HIV positive, have a parent who is positive, or have lost a parent to HIV/AIDS. I know that you are doing your best to make sure that these children affected by AIDS are not overlooked. You strive to ensure that they are surrounded by people and programs that support them effectively, and for the long term. So I want to thank each and every one of you here today for your commitment to the selfless task of supporting vulnerable children and families in your communities.

Despite the inherently rewarding nature of your jobs, I am certain that this work can be hard on you. You often face overwhelming stress as you often must confront difficult situations of child abuse, neglect, and exploitation within the context of HIV and poverty. As one caregiver commented, “Being a community caregiver is difficult. Sometimes… when you get home you are still thinking about the problem to the extent that you may not even want (to) eat. It is very stressful.”

Yet, community caregivers are a remarkably resourceful group of people who have developed many informal forms of psychosocial support to sustain themselves. You simply do not give up just because the going gets tough.

As a caregiver, many of you often put the needs of others before your own. That is what makes caregivers such an amazing group of people. However, it is important that you do not neglect your own well-being.

That is why the Psychosocial Skills Development Program is so special. It addresses community caregivers’ understanding of their own psychosocial needs and teaches them techniques to manage their stress. The quality of the services that you are able to provide to children in your community will be significantly improved when you are able to ensure your own psychosocial well-being. Having completed this Thogomelo psychosocial support skills development training program, you all are now better equipped to identify the signs and causes of psychosocial stress and develop coping mechanisms to take better care of yourselves. This will better prepare you to meet the challenges of caring and protecting vulnerable children.

The U.S. Government and the American people, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (or PEPFAR), are proud to be in partnership with the Department of Social Development supporting this important program.

In 2012, PEPFAR invested a total of $41 million to specifically address the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa. By partnering with the South African Government and organizations like PATH, Health and Development Africa and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, we’ve been able to reach more than 410,659 children in 2011. This is a remarkable achievement, and we thank the South African Government for leading the way.

The United States and South African Governments recently signed a Partnership Framework Implementation Plan that provides a roadmap for the transition of the PEPFAR program from an emergency initiative to a sustainable program with the South African Government firmly in the lead.

This joint plan provides a roadmap for integrating the PEPFAR care and treatment programs into the South African primary healthcare system in order to preserve quality of care, maximize efficiency of the national response, and strengthen the overall human and institutional capacity of the South African health system. But it is also a plan that highlights the importance of protecting the most vulnerable population affected by HIV – children. Over the next five years, PEPFAR will continue to prioritize support for orphans and vulnerable children.

We will continue to support the objectives of the Department of Social Development by working together to improve the quality of OVC services by strengthening systems and the oversight framework for coordination, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of children’s services.

Specifically we will work with the Department to:

  • Improve availability of data on program performance monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and information of the social effects of HIV and AIDS and other vulnerabilities faced by children (such as child abuse, neglect and exploitation);
  • Strengthen coordination, management, and oversight of community care service structures that protect and care for the most vulnerable children and the families that care for them; and
  • Strengthen inter-sector integration and coordination and help build a supportive multi-sector environment for vulnerable children through health and social system strengthening.

I wish the Thogomelo consortium partners, PATH, Health and Development Africa and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance continued success. The United States government is proud to be supporting your efforts in the ongoing fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Thogomelo is a Venda word meaning “to care for,” and I cannot think of a more appropriate title for this program. You all have dedicated your lives to caring for the most vulnerable populations affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Now, you have the tools to also better care for yourselves.

On behalf of the U.S. government, again, I thank you for the important work you are doing, I wish you the best of luck in the work you will go on and do, and I congratulate you all again for the competition of this wonderful program.

Thank you.

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