Heartbeat Centre for Community Development

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Heartbeat Centre for Community Development (Heartbeat) was founded in 2000 by Professor Sunette Steyn in response to the massive orphan challenges found in South Africa. According to a research paper by the South African Institute of Race Relations on the state of the South African Family which was published in March 2011, a total of 3.95 million children had lost one or both parents by 2008, an increase of about a third since 2002. The Medical Research Council estimated in 2002 that “by 2015, some 5.7 million children would have lost one or both parents to AIDS.”

Heartbeat’s first intervention was to buy a pair of school shoes for a child. This child wrote a letter in which he proclaimed that he was now “just like all the other children”. This phrase up to today still directs Heartbeat in deciding on interventions and programmes. The organisation carries the interest of the child at heart and aims to ensure that children are just like all the other children in the community due to their interventions.
Heartbeat's mission is to empower orphans and vulnerable children to reach their full potential through quality service provision, development and capacity building.
Heartbeat's vision is to be a nurturing organisation, empowering orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and those who support them to be responsible leaders of the future.
The Heartbeat Model
Heartbeat has operated in 14 sites in seven provinces over the past 12 years. The organisation has trained and mentored 50 organisations to increase its reach. Collectively, Heartbeat has reached more than 55 000 orphans and vulnerable children over the past 12 years through a variety of interventions and services.

Heartbeat reaches these children through two approaches:
Heartbeat’s own projects are physical communities from which the organisation runs its services.  Heartbeat reaches three specific categories of children in our own projects, namely:

  • Children living in child-headed households, approximately 10 percent of the children;
  • Children living with relatives - (mostly grannies / aunts) headed households, approximately 60 percent of the children and;
  • Children living with a primary caretaker that is terminally ill.  

The programmes Heartbeat delivers seek to contribute to the positive transformation of the whole child are sustainable and primarily focuses on the programmes mentioned below which are delivered through project sites called After School Centres (ASC). These programmes include:

  • Material support;
  • Education;
  • Children’s empowerment;
  • Rights and Access to basic services;
  • Capacity Building;
  • Sponsor a child in Need (SACIN).

The SACIN programme is an over-arching programme, as well as a sustainability vehicle, through which Heartbeat ensures that the other five programmes are delivered in the long-run. Heartbeat’s risk of loosing funding and ultimately being unable to deliver these programmes in the communities is therefore minimised through this individual sponsorship programme where individual sponsors help carry this risk.
Training and Mentorship:
Apart from implementing their recognised Heartbeat Model of Care for OVC, the organisation has also developed a Mentorship Programme to extend their reach to more children by empowering existing organisations, for instance community-based organisations and  faith-based organisations, to do what they do. The ‘Tswelopele Mentorship Programme’ is currently in the final stages of accreditation with the South African National Training Authority and comprises course work, internships and practical implementation. At graduation the participant organisation should have a fully operational OVC response in their community. The training focuses largely on the principles guiding the Heartbeat model to allow participants the flexibility to adapt the model for use in their own organisational context and community, according to their own culture and indigenous knowledge.  Throughout the training process, a Heartbeat-appointed mentor assists and literally walks with trainees to ensure that practical implementation runs smoothly.

Another expansion initiative is the development of Heartbeat Learning Centres to expand the organisation’s reach geographically into all provinces of South Africa.  Currently, Heartbeat has established Learning Centres in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, with the aim of expanding to have such centres in all nine provinces of South Africa.
Challenges and Opportunities:
Heartbeat provides material services

  • Due to the lack of school uniforms, stationery, food, clothing within the communities that they operate, and provide school uniforms and stationery; ASC meals and food parcels and clothing.

Mental and social well-being services

  • Lack of parental care / support (counselling, support groups, workshops, and memory work);
  • Conflict with guardians (counselling, support groups, and workshops);
  •  Sexual abuse (counselling, support groups, workshops, and referrals to relevant departments);
  • Substance abuse (counselling, support groups, workshops, and referrals to relevant departments);
  • Low self esteem (counselling, support groups, workshops, referrals to relevant departments, and access to basic needs like food and uniforms).

Educational services

  • Poor school performance (homework support and extra lessons);
  • Poor school attendance (encouraging school performance, assisting with school uniforms and stationery, assisting with school fees exemptions);
  • Lack of school fees / money to go on school trips (assistance with applying for school fees exemptions and payment of trips).

Access to social protection and public services

  • Difficulties in accessing social grants (assistance with applying for social grants);
  • Difficulties in accessing identity documents (IDs) and birth certificates (assistance with applying for IDs and birth certificates);
  • Poor health (referrals to clinics / hospitals).

Impact of Activities:
Heartbeat’s programmes effected significant changes in the well-being of OVC, families, and communities.

Heartbeat services have led to various changes in the well-being of OVC; observed changes
observed include:

  • Better performance at school;
  • Improvements in their material circumstances because of material support, food provision, and access to social protection;
  • Improvements in their emotional wellness and their life skills;
  • Increase in their knowledge of HIV / AIDS prevention;
  • Improvements in their physical health.

The most significant change that was observed in the OVC is the improvement in school
Heartbeat services also contributed to some changes in the family or households of OVC.

  • Providing food and material support helped to alleviate the burden of provision on caregivers, which they were otherwise frequently unable to meet;
  • Obtaining access to social protection made it possible for households to begin to meet their basic daily needs;
  • As the emotional well-being of OVC improved, their relationships in the household also improved.

Heartbeat also contributed to an important change at the community level. A Heartbeat centre in a community increases the community’s capacity to care for its OVC, since it provides the community with a local organisation to which they can refer OVC for assistance, through which they can mobilise and channel resources to take care of their OVC, and through which they can participate in activities to care for OVC by volunteering their time.

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