"Philani is committed to the protection of the rights of every child to proper nutrition and healthcare in communities where malnourished children and destitute mothers are most vulnerable."
The Philani Child Health & Nutrition Project is a community-based non-governmental organization (NGO), operating in the informal settlements of Khayelitsha, Crossroads, Brown's Farm, Mfuleni, Nyanga and Delft on the outskirts of Cape Town, 20-30 km from the city centre. An estimated 750,000 to 1 million people live in these areas (the majority of whom originated in the Eastern Cape), in simple core houses or informal dwellings made of corrugated iron, wood, and plastics - many overcrowded and without water and sanitation.
Unemployment, poverty, poor housing, and lack of basic services cause malnutrition and poor health in our communities. Women and children are most vulnerable. Twenty per cent of the population comprises children younger than six years of age, one in every ten children is underweight for age, and one in every four children is stunted. Half of the adult population is unemployed (The Khayelitsha Survey, UNICEF, 1994). The HIV pandemic has hit these communities especially hard, with women bearing the brunt of it. Around 30 per cent of pregnant women here are HIV positive, leaving young children orphaned in high numbers. TB is another major problem, with a high incidence of women and children suffering from both HIV and TB.
Philani was established in the 'illegal' squatter community of Crossroads in 1979 on the initiative of Swedish doctor Ingrid le Roux and community health workers. They realised how important it was to provide basic child health and nutrition services to a community ignored and neglected by the health authorities of the Apartheid government. Nearly 30 years after Philani's foundation, unemployment, poor housing, child malnutrition and disease continue to prevail. Beyond our original focus on children, we have responded to needs expressed by our communities and offer education and training to women, income-generating projects, pre-schools, an outreach and home-based nutrition and child health programme, a mothers-to-be programme, an orphans and vulnerable children programme and a dental project, as well as a care and support programme for HIV positive mothers and children. Philani has survived political turbulence and upheaval during the 1980s and the decrease in international funding available to non-governmental organizations in the 1990s.
Philani has received international recognition with many delegations and individuals visiting the project, including the King and Queen of Sweden, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, the Dalai Lama, Laura Bush, first lady of the USA, Princess Irene of Greece and Princess Madeleine of Sweden. In 2005, Ingrid le Roux was awarded 'Swedish Woman of the Year' by SWEA, the Swedish Women's Educational Association, for her work with Philani (see Awards).
Working with the community
For Philani's work to be successful, it has been essential for the communities in which we work to be consulted at the planning stages and continuously informed about the progress. This makes Philani very much a community driven project, working at the request of the community.
Philani's philosophy is very simple: we aim to help mothers to help themselves. By working with mothers, educating them in the basics of nutrition and health, providing them with skills training and giving them an opportunity to earn a living they ensure not only the health and wellbeing of their children and themselves, but of their community.
Malnutrition & HIV/AIDS
Malnutrition, 'the quiet emergency', is the underlying cause of half the 12 million deaths of children younger than five years old in developing countries, a pattern reproduced in South Africa and Cape Town's informal settlements. The effect of HIV/AIDS becomes especially devastating in poor communities, where women's and children's health and nutrition status is precarious. Like HIV/AIDS, malnutrition undermines a child's immune system and increases susceptibility to infections. In contrast to HIV/AIDS, we know the treatment for and can cure malnutrition.
Sustainability and funding
Philani works in close cooperation with the government's health care system and as a support structure to state clinics. Our sustainability over the decades has been due largely to our grassroots, people-centred approach, working closely with the communities we serve, as well as our organic approach to growth. Without the commitment of all our supporters and funders, this would not been possible. We are grateful in particular to our major funders, the Church of Sweden, The World Childhood Foundation, Elma Foundation, World in Harmony, The Western Cape Department of Health, and The City of Cape Town.