We had a chat to CHoiCe Trust’s Director, Nikki Stuart-Thompson, to find out more about CHoiCe Trust
How has CHoiCe evolved over the years?
CHoiCe came from a very health specific history – we’ve always been focused on health. Over the years we have become more development focused as we recognise that health is one part of the holistic wellness of a community. In the recent years we’ve diversified our projects and become far more responsive to a wide variety of issues at community level. Covid has taken us back to health, but in reality, a lot of what we are doing is giving support for fear and trauma, information & advice and food security. We showed ourselves that we were able to step up into the emergency space created by lockdown.
Tell us a bit about why CHoiCe is different from other NPO’s?
People often don’t know what a big impact CHoiCe has on the community – we have a staff component of 50 and over 160 community facilitators who are on a stipend to provide support in communities. Our operations are big and our reach extends to Capricorn, Sekhukhune, and Mopani districts. CHoiCe also has strong administration, open and accountable financial systems, and policies and procedure that allows us to access international funding – key to an NPO’s success. In addition we are able to transfer that directly to community services because of where we are based in Limpopo. The money we access is also directly transferable to community services; this is in contrast to funding that goes to a lot of larger organisations which often needs to be channeled down into smaller organisations. CHoiCe is able to take on funds AND we have our feet in the community at the same time. It’s a key success of our projects. And there are fewer and fewer organistaions in South Africa that are able to do that. We don’t make the change because there’s money, we find the money to make the change. NPO’s can be disconnected from the communities, but not at CHoiCe. We are passionate about getting involved because these are the communities we live in and are part of.
What do you aim for in all of your projects?
We want communities to build resilience and to make sure that they access the facilities that are there for them. There are times that we step in with direct services partnered with the Department of Health but essentially what we want to look at is capacity building. That’s the space we constantly try to develop – capacity and resilience building within our local communities.
What exciting programmes are you currently working on?
HIV & Children
One of the big programmes in 2021 that we are running is focused on children, particularly children with HIV. Across the world children with HIV tend to have poor health outcomes as a result of lack of adherence to their treatment, which is a key intervention for us. While CHoiCe works to support children living with HIV, the organisation is also committed to prevention work and is a partner in the DREAMS programme in Limpopo. Dreams is a HIV prevention programme focused on adolescent girls & young women. It covers a lot of different layered interventions which are designed so that the next generation of young girls grow up to be Determined, Resilient, Empowered, Aids free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS).
Food Security & Community Gardens
Climate change has altered how households are able to adapt. In our area, we typically saw communities able to benefit from three seasonal crops. In recent years this has diminished to two seasonal crops due to changing rainfall patterns (increased drought periods) and much hotter temperatures. CHoiCe is offering food security training and helps people to establish food gardens and training on Climate-Smart Agricultural practices. CHoiCe worked as the Facilitating Agency in the Mopani District to allow communities to access international climate change adaptation funds for local projects. We supported the establishment of three community food gardens (in Greater Letaba and Giyani areas) and made use of Climate-Smart Agricultural practices such as; under ground reservoir, solar driers, charcoal cool room, rainwater harvesting, inter-cropping, shade, netted nurseries and composting. There was a lot of work done by Choice to prepare the community for the social dynamics, but essentially these are all community driven. They now have the capacity to manage the gardens & the project has been successful for around 3 years.
On a more individual food security level CHoiCe also focuses on household gardens. It’s been exciting to note that since Covid a lot more people are interested in their household gardens and have come forward to our lead facilitator with questions. When community members are taught the techniques and given a head start (with seedlings & information) it’s wonderful to see people helping themselves.
Moving forward, what do you hope to see?
As we move forward we want to focus on farmers and farming companies locally. Farm workers are recognised as a vulnerable population and it’s for a variety of reasons (although primarily because of their mobile lifestyle). We are seeing increased vulnerability to HIV with regards to high number of new infections, and also challenges for those who are HIV positive in accessing monthly treatment. CHoice has focused on farm-based programmes in the past but funding constraints mean that we do not have the capacity currently. We want to create an enabling environment where farmworkers are able to access health facilities to the benefit of the farmer. And we want to work with farmers without it impacting productivity. Channeling funding through CHoiCe can make it a sustainable tax deductible project for local companies, and we are excited to set up these private-public partnerships to benefit our communities in the future.