Program Updates January 2017-April 2017

Pre-school Update
The school has re-opened on April 18th after the Easter holidays–we hope you all had a great holiday! This year the pre-school has 66 children. Unfortunately, we were forced to turn down some paying children because of space issues—our first priority is giving our children the best education we can, so we try to keep the teacher to student ratio low and avoid overcrowding the classrooms.
We have three classes (Grade R: 22 kids, Pre-School: 24 kids, and Babies: 20 kids), and each class has one teacher. This year we added Grade R to meet the growing demands of our community. Most of the orphans, HIV+, and vulnerable children have individual sponsors from Scotland and the U.S.A. Because we have such well-trained pre-school teachers and have established such a good reputation in the community, local middle class families in the area are prepared to pay higher fees than the normal rural pre-schools for their children to attend. This not only cross-subsidises the non-paying children, but also plays a huge part in mitigating stigma as everybody knows the school caters for HIV+ children.

Community Outreach Program Update
The outreach program, which caters to almost 150 HIV+ children (from 5 to 25 years) has been funded by Oxfam Australia since 2007. Unfortunately, due to changes in the organization, Oxfam Australia discontinued their funding in March 2016. Since then, we have relied on donations from individuals and other organizations to keep the group running. We never thought the program would grow into such a positive force in the community, so we once again we thank everyone that has supported this program—your support has helped us ensure that children and adult living with HIV/AIDS are well empowered to live a healthy, productive life.
In addition to our new partnership with TVEP, on March 8th, our HIV+ Ambassadors were invited to speak at an HIV event held at Luheni primary school, about 70km from VMS. Three members of our support group spoke to an audience of about 200 people (including students, parents, health workers, and the Chief). They told audience how they have been living positively with HIV/AIDS for the last 20 years and how important it is for people to know their status. The response from the audience was positive–everyone was amazed by how good they look and their talk served to emphasize that physical appearance does not matter when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

Skills Development Program
Skills development program gives young people in our community an opportunity to identify their talents outside of academia and make a living by doing what they like. Through classes we offer, we give young people and unemployed single women a chance to experiment with different vocational skills until they find one they are passionate about. A new building, donated by the community, is being built to house these rapidly expanding skills development classes. When the building is finished, it will provide a safe space for our young people take classes and work on their projects.
Currently, we have a couple girls and women who were trained in our sewing classes, who have branched out and started selling their own designs using traditional Venda cloth. In addition to the sewing classes, we have a group, mostly boys, who are learning carpentry. We have limited resources at the moment, but they have been hard at work making benches using old wood pallets. The ultimate goal is for them to learn to make different types of furniture using pallets. In order to meet this goal, we were in need of basic carpentry tools, and were fortunate that our friends at Hope for Limpopo were able to donate the money we needed to buy a basic set of tools. One young member of the community who has also been involved with VMS over the years, is graduating from the local carpentry college in May 2017 and has agreed to share his skills and be a part-time trainer for our young people wanting to learn carpentry. Our next carpentry classes start in May and we have 4 young boys who are not doing well at school and have expressed interested in the class. Stay tuned for updates!

Permaculture Gardening

The young people from the support group noticed that the garden on the school grounds needed a little maintenance, so on April 12, 2017, they organized 10 members of the young adult support group along with 6 caregivers to come the school and spend a day working in the garden. Their actions helped improve the garden and make sure it is productive in the coming months.

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