Back in 2003, the very first Children’s Walk took place. The first partner to benefit from the funds raised was the European Coalition of Positive People (ECPP), who used it to support the construction, equipping, running and maintenance of seven HIV/AIDS orphan centres.
The centres were located in rural southern Malawi-Mulanje District, an area close to the Mozambican border, which was highly affected by HIV/AIDS.
Joan D'Souza was the Director of Operations at ECPP at the time and wrote the original proposal mapping out why there was a need and how the funds would be utilised. Over the years, together with the directors of ECPP, she saw her vision come to fruition. Over 3,000 children in total were supported through the centres and where they were fed a daily meal, provided with school uniform, practical skills training, and the chance of a secondary school education.
“It was very important for us to build a sustainable project where the children wouldn’t become dependent on the centres their whole lives but could rather learn the skills needed to become independent, whilst remaining within their communities,” she says.
The children received training in skills such as tin-smithing, carpentry, and knitting. Local community leaders and villagers were trained to manage these centres, encouraging self-reliance, community engagement and empowerment.
Joan submitted a second proposal to develop the College and Tertiary Bursary Programme, where students could learn practical skills enabling them to get a job or start their own small enterprises once they had graduated.
“I am still close to many of the children who came to the centres or the college, and to see how they have progressed through their careers and grown is extremely rewarding,” she says. “I even have children named after me! Re&AcT is a programme that keeps on giving and that is viable. I am so proud of what we all achieved together.”
In 2016, Re&Act’s work with the ECPP was completed, and the orphan and practical skills centres were handed over to their local communities. They are now fully self-sustaining, with trained staff to run the establishments and income generated from the activities and output.
But with so many other similar initiatives ongoing, what is Joan’s message to participants of the Children’s Walk?
“Just please keep walking,” she says. “There are so many children who need support. These children are the next generation, and as we have seen, the difference we can make to their lives has a domino effect. So please, keep walking”.
Joan was the Operational Director of ECPP, supporting HIV/AIDS orphan centers in Malawi, which was one of the first NGOs supported by the Children's Walk. Since then, more than 328,000 Roche employees have raised over CHF 22 million in donations for children’s projects around the world.