Ingrid le Roux - Philani Project

Ingrid le Roux - Philani Project

The Philani Project was established by RUC member Ingrid le Roux in the ‘illegal’ squatter community of Crossroads in 1979 to provide basic child health and nutrition services to a community ignored and neglected by the health authorities of the time. Philani developed out of a Shawco mobile paediatric clinic operated by medical students.
Many of the children who came to that clinic were severely malnourished and attended the clinic week after week with recurrent infections. It became clear that something needed to be done about child malnutrition and the first nutrition rehabilitation centre was built in Crossroads in the early eighties.

Under the difficult and traumatic mid eighties when Crossroads was a war zone and a big part of the community was burnt down, one brave nutrition worker kept the centre open and operating but many of the families Philani had contact with fled to Khayelitsha. Philani followed and over the next few years built another five centres in Khayelitsha and Philippi. By this time each centre had a weaving workshop and a preschool established as a response to the need of mothers to earn an income and the need of children for stimulating activities while on rehabilitation.

On the 27 April 1995 the Philani headquarters was opened in Site C Khayelitsha with offices, weaving and silk screen printing workshops and training studios, a women’s health clinic and a preschool. At present more than 100 women earn a reasonable income through weaving and silkscreen printing. Making it possible for women to earn an income has become more and more important with the AIDS epidemic. Women who are economically independent have better control over their lives and relationships and a greater chance to protect themselves against HIV.

In the mid nineties Philani, together with other organisations in Khayelitsha, did a survey to establish among other things how severe the problem of malnutrition was in that community. The team weighed and measured children in over 1300 households and found that more than one in four children under the age of six suffered from chronic malnutrition (were stunted) while 12% were malnourished. The most severely malnourished children lived in marginalised and disorganised households where there was no insight into the dangers of malnutrition and little initiative to look for help.
Philani decided to go beyond the centres into homes to reach these children and started an Outreach Home Based child health and nutrition rehabilitation programme. This is now our biggest program with 100 trained outreach workers covering a population of half a million people, each responsible for children within a specific geographic area. Together they at present have more than 4000 malnourished children registered on the programme.

The Outreach Workers go door to door and weigh and measure children. A malnourished child is often an entry into a family with many problems and his or her family is invited to participate in an intervention programme. This is based on creating a good and respectful relationship with the family and through that relationship helping parents to change behaviour in a way that benefits the child.

When we found that half of our malnourished children were born with a low birth weight and never caught up we started a Mother to Be Programme in an attempt to improve birth outcomes. On their rounds the Outreach Workers find child-headed households, orphans looked after by grandmothers, an overwhelming number of vulnerable children that need help with school fees, uniforms, applications for grants etc., many living in unbelievable circumstances. A programme for orphans and vulnerable children was therefore started in 2008 and is already overwhelmed by the need.

Thanks to a scholarship fund Philani can for a limited time support struggling families, while with a building fund started by international students we can build simple houses for mainly women and children who do not have a roof over their heads, often due to having been abandoned because of HIV or having fled from a partner because of domestic violence.

The HIV epidemic has hit these communities especially hard, causing a deepening poverty, with women (some of whom we have the privilege to serve) bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

Visit www.philani.org.za for more information.