By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Otukpo local government council of Benue state has created a budget to cater for vulnerable children in order to strengthen and support the Sustainable Mechanism for Improving Livelihoods and Household Empowerment, SMILE, projects and intervention for timely intervention and response to the needs of vulnerable children in the local government.
Chairman of the council, Mr. George Ali who made this known at the disengagement ceremony of SMILE intervention in Otukpo, said his administration was inspired and motivated to create the budget by the laudable achievements of SMILE in the area.
Represented by the Council Secretary, Mr. Lawrence Egwa, the Chairman said, “we must therefore commend SMILE for not only impacting the lives of the vulnerable but also encouraging those entrusted with leadership to live up to the expectations of the needy in the society.”
On her part, the Local Government Desk Officer, Orphans and Vulnerable Children, OVC, Mrs. Paulina Ede said SMILE intervention had given boost to the lives of children in the area.
Mrs. Ede said, “Indeed the SMILE progamme has been so wonderful and tremendously helpful to the lives of our children. The programme of course made us to have passion for our children, identifying them and taking care of their needs, I earnestly want to say thank you.
“Permit me to commend the efforts of Otabo Care Giver and the Justice Development and Peace Commission, JDPC, all in Otukpo collaborating with SMILE organization to ensure the success of the SMILE programme.
“Presently, Otabo Care Giver has over 150,000 children while JDPC has about 950 children under their care and management.
“The SMILE programme was able to carryout some of the following projects during their intervention in Otukpo local government and this includes, Birth Registration, handling of child protection cases, Issuance of cash transfer to beneficiaries, collaborating with NGOs and the local government in carrying out programmes and skill training for Otukpo/Akpa District.
“Suffice it to state that as the intervention winds up, we will intensify our concerns and our efforts in ensuring that our children who are HIV positive and are affected by other diseases like Tuberculoseis, Mal-Nutrition etc will be adequately taken care of, since the 2018 fiscal estimate of the local government council made provisions for the Orphan and Vulnerable Children in Otukpo.
“While we commend the council chairman for his passion for the wellbeing of our children, we hope he would take the programme as a baby of his heart as the SMILE programme closes out,” Mrs. Ede stated.
Also speaking, the Deputy Director, Child Development, Ministry of Women Affairs, Benue state, Mrs. Mwuese Tule admonished the beneficiaries of the intervention to own and improve on what had been done by the SMILE project in their various communities and local government areas.
“On the part of government, we are working hard to also ensure the sustainability with the approval of N45million in this year’s budget.
Mrs. Tule urged the local governments to key into the government’s drive by ensuring that the local government systems like Referrals, Improvement Team and Local Government Child Right Implementation Committee, LCRIC, are working.
Also speaking, the Otukpo Divisional Officer, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, Helen Agasi commended SMILE for its intervention in Otukpo stressing that, “the intervention to a large extent drove down crime rate in Otukpo because those who would have ordinarily taken to crime to sustain themselves found succour in the SMILE intervention.
“I therefore urge the beneficiaries to put to good use whatever SMILE has deposited in them for the greater good of the society. They must not allow pear pressure affect them negatively or force them to abandon their dreams.”
The SMILE State Coordinator from Action Aid Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Agia
in his speech explained that SMILE was a five-year project funded by the President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, through the United States Agency for international Development, USAID.
“The project started in April 2013 and closed out in March 2018. SMILE has supported the provision of need based and age-appropriate services to 629,000 vulnerable children and caregivers in the states of Benue, Kogi, Edo, Nasarawa and the FCT.
“The interventions include household economic strengthening, HIV prevention, care and support; nutrition, psychosocial support and educational support. SMILE has also increased access to community childhood TB prevention, care and control activities, and successfully integrated gender across all her interventions.
“SMILE is implemented through an umbrella grants mechanism whereby Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, receive sub-grants to support capacity strengthening and program implementation at the community level.
“The project supports the Nigerian OVC response by strengthening the organizational systems and technical capacity of the five State Ministries of Women Affairs and Social Development, SMWASD, and Social Welfare Department of targeted Local Government Areas to ensure the implementation of coordinated and holistic OVC response in collaboration with relevant line ministries.
“The project is Implemented by a consortium led by Catholic Relief Services, CRS, Nigeria, and includes Action Aid Nigeria and Westat.
“SMILE is implemented in 17 out of 23 LGAs in Benue state. These include Makurdi, Otukpo, Gboko, Gwer-East, Gwer West, Oju, Ado, OKpokwu, Ushongo, Ukum, Vandeikya, Kwande, Katsina/Ala, Logo, Tarka, Buruku and Konshisha.
“There are 18 CSOs implementing the project in these LGAs namely Women Children Health and Community Development, WOCHAD, EFA-Eying Foundation for Family Health, EFFH, Vandeikya, Kejie Health Foundation, KHF, Association for Grassroots Counsellors on Health and Development, AGCOD, Integrated Health Program Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, IHP, Justice Development and Peace Commission, JDPC, Catholic Diocese of Otukpo, Anglican Diocesan Development Society, ADDS, Emmanuel Teryila Memorial Liberty Foundation, EMTMLF, CARITAS Gboko, JDPC, Gboko, Foundation for Justice Development and Peace Commission, FJDPC, Katsina Ala, Pearls Care Initiative, PCI, Advocates for Community Vision and Development, ACOVID, Initiative for Social Change in Africa, VOFCA, Global Health & Development Initiative, OSA Foundation, Community Links and Human Empowerment Initiative and Otabo Caregivers Otukpo.”
Continuing, Agia said, “to achieve the goal of SMILE, Otabo Care Givers and Justice Development and Peace Commission, JDPC, Catholic Diocese of Otukpo has provided a variety of need based services to 22,567 vulnerable children and 7,235 caregivers in Otukpo LGA of Benue State in the past years of implementation.
“On Access to education, block grant initiative facilitated institutional relationship with the benefiting schools to offer quality services to OVC.
“Essentially, the school agrees to waive levies and other charges for enrolled OVC in exchange for an investment made by Otabo Care Givers and JDPC through SMILE to improve teaching and learning outcome of the school.
“Mutual agreements were reached between Otabo Care Givers and JDPC with 5 primary Schools respectively. This strategy eliminates barriers to access to education, which is largely associated with the inability of caregivers to pay tuition and other statutory levies.”
On household economic strengthening, Agia said “SMILE enhanced household food security during the 2015, 2016 and 2017 farming seasons.
“A total of 3,617 caregivers were provided with pro-Vitamin A cassava Planting stem, 538 provided with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes vines and 2,459 provided with quality protein maize, QPM, respectively.
“In May 2018, 1,931 caregivers were provided with Pro-Vitamin A Maize and QPM seeds and in early August 2018, 3,995 improved oil palm, coconut and mango seedlings respectively.
“These crops served as income sources for the households either from the sale of the roots, grains or their processed products. This initiative was made to enhance household food and nutrition security and ultimately to strengthen their household economically.
“Another 2,251 caregivers have benefitted from the project’s cash transfer program to support consumption and improve their resilience to shocks.
“A total of 51 older vulnerable children and caregivers were enrolled in 2016 and 2017 into different vocational skills including tailoring, hairdressing, computer appreciation, phone repairs, tiling and mason, knitting, electrical works, plumbing, pastries and soap making.
“The total number of person’s and trainees that met prerequisites for graduation and start-up support, were provided with start-up materials in their respective chosen vocations.”
On child protection, he said, “Since nationality is every child’s right as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties securing their recognition before the |aw, safeguarding their rights, and ensuring that any violation of these rights does not go unnoticed. SMILE facilitated the Vital registration of 5,528 children in the 48 benefiting communities of LGA.”
On health Agia said, “22,567 children and caregivers have been supported for HIV Counseling and Testing Services to know their status. 342 positive caregivers and 47 OVC were under care and support to access escort services for HIV treatment.”
On nutrition he disclosed that “a total number of 22,565 comprising 10,941 females and 11,624 males persons in the Community Infant and Young Child Feeding support groups, C-IYCF, across the three benefiting Communities of Otukpo LGA. Otabo Caregivers through the SMILE program conducted nutrition assessment for enrolled 22,565 VCs and regularly served VC that are 05 years of age on growth monitoring.”
According to him “SMILE project has put structures in place at the Local government and community level and to entrench informed, evidence-based and coordinated programming for child protection in the Area.
“This includes and not limited to; functional Child Right Implementation Committee at the Local Government Level, Functional Referral Mechanism at LGA Level and, functional Quality Improvement Team, QIT, at LGA level and Community Quality Improvement Team, CQIT, in the LGA and across 48 communities of intervention.
“Mentoring and series of trainings have been provided to staff of Otukpo LGA. This resulted to the creation of Local Government Area Child Protection/Social Welfare unit (desk officer) that handles child protection cases in the LGA.
“Otukpo LGA is an active member of the Benue State Vulnerable Children Stakeholders Forum, VCSF, tasked with the responsibiiity of supporting the VC response in the state by providing up to date report on the activities of the LGAs, CSOs, Networks, INGOS to the High Level Management Committee, HLMC,” he added.
Several others who spoke at the occasion lamented the winding up of the SMILE intervention in benefiting communities however commended the project for improving the wellbeing and livelihood of the less privileged in all communities that benefitted from the intervention.