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Lutheran Development Services

By Marie McGrath, ENN

Name Lutheran Development Services (LDS) Formed 1994
Address P. O. Box 388, Mbabane, Swaziland Director Bjorn Brandberg
Telephone

+268 404-5262 /
404-3122

Number of staff 42
Fax +268 404-3870 Main office Ka Schiele, Mbabane, Swaziland, with a field offic in Ndzevane
Email lds@realnet.co.sz Annual Turnover 4.5 million Emalangeni (approx 750,000 US dollars)

 

L to R: Bjorn Brandberg, Meketane Mazibuko, Euni Motsa, and Nhlanhla Motsa (picture taken in complete darkness!)

An ENN trip to Swaziland offered the opportunity to profile one of the local NGOs, Lutheran Development Services (LDS), working there. Thanks to a very accommodating team who gathered together at only an hour's notice, I spent a couple of hours talking with four of the organisations' key staff. The Director of LDS, Bjorn Brandberg, joined the organisation in 2004, replacing the retiring director, Pamela Magitt. As an architect and a Sanitation Advisor, he first began working in Africa in 1976. Many years were spent doing consultancy work in the region with the World Bank/UNDP/UN Habitat. The desire to work with his own team was one of the reasons for joining LDS. Meketane Mazibuko, Gender and Advocacy Co-ordinator, and Euni Motsa, HIV & AIDS Coordinator, joined LDS as food distribution personnel in 1995. Halfway through the interview we were joined by Nhlanhla Motsa, the LDS Emergencies Project Manager, who began working with LDS in 1995. While I was impressed with how each had worked their way up the organisation into key roles, I was particularly taken with Euni's openness in sharing how 2002 was a particularly challenging year for her, where her appointment as HIV/AIDS Co-ordinator coincided with her learning of her own HIV positive status. While it has not been easy, the support and "gentle nudges" of her LDS colleagues has meant that she now heads up the HIV/AIDS section and is an inspirational example of positive living with HIV/AIDS.

Bjorn began by explaining how LDS emerged from a trend within the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) to shift from LWF owned NGOs to localised NGOs. LDS is the development arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa Eastern Diocese. It is an autonomous NGO governed by a Board of Directors whose chairperson is the bishop. LDS was formed in 1994 and is one of the first localised NGOs that is church owned. Geographically it covers Swaziland and part of Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. In practice, activities are concentrated in the droughtprone lowveld region of Swaziland, the area where there is the greatest need.

Given the high prevalence of HIV in Swaziland (42.6% at antenatal clinic screening), I asked Bjorn how significantly HIV/AIDS influenced their work. He responded that HIV/AIDS infiltrates, "even dominates" pretty much every aspect of their programming. One way or another, most of their activities are motivated, are influenced or viewed from a HIV/AIDS standpoint. This is helped through a LDS team that is dedicated to HIV/AIDS programming. While now an integrated project within LDS, this was not always the case. "When I first started with LDS", says Bjorn, "HIV/AIDS was a separate sector, actually located in a separate office to the rest of the LDS team. In an attempt to pull HIV activities of the church together, the HIV/AIDS team had been located in one unit". Meketane and Euni add how, despite the original good intentions, this had actually marginalised the group so integration was not very obvious, though they themselves couldn't see this. "So I had to take them by the ear, and drag them in", smiles Bjorn. "Literally", laughs Meketane, "every day he would come in and ask, 'when are you joining us in the LDS main offices?' and finally one day he came and said, 'you are moving in now, today' and so we did. It was only when we moved in that we realised how segregated we had been. Since then, the HIV/AIDS team have felt very much part of the LDS family."

"The next step is to drag the Lutheran church in as well", says Bjorn. "We have a common vision and goal and are doing everything but work together". He explains how the LDS network is much smaller than that of the church and, if they were to join forces, would form the biggest most powerful network. Extending their activities equally to all areas would really stretch their resources and dilute their efforts - something that working with the church network would help overcome. Recent developments have been encouraging. Fuelled by some lobbying by LDS - described as " putting the cat amongst the pigeons", by Bjorn - greater institutional pressure is now coming from the HQ of the LWF in Geneva and from the Nordic countries (who are the big funders for churches) to work with organisations like themselves. So while this collaboration is not as good as they'd like, Bjorn feels the "wind is now blowing in the right direction".

Three quarters of LDS's work is emergencies- related programming, with sustainability and community involvement at the core of what they do. "Our mission statement says it all", says Bjorn, "in that we work so that 'the poorest of the poor develop quality of life through acquisition of knowledge and skills for self-reliance and sustainability in enhancing their livelihoods'". But he adds that "preaching this is one thing, practising is quite another - we have high ideas about helping people to take charge of their own futures, but these can be too tough to implement on the ground". The team go on to detail some of the income generating activities (IGAs) they have been involved in, such as a beadwork project for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in a day care centre in Bethal whose products are sold within South Africa. Other IGAs involve agriculture, poultry farming, and they are developing plans for some gardening projects. The hope is that with minimal input, IGAs can develop and reduce dependency on aid. Bjorn reaffirms that the challenge is to achieve this in areas of acute need where people have very limited capacity to help themselves, like in the lowveld region.

Despite their origins and links with the Lutheran church, LDS sources no funding from the local church community. "While we preach self sustainability, we then live as beggars ourselves" says Bjorn as he describes their funding sources. LDS gets most of its funding through the LWF and their core donors are Bread for the World, Church of Sweden mission, Finn Church Aid and Action by Churches Together (ACT). They also get funding from WFP, UNICEF, the National Disaster Task Force (NDTF) and UNAIDS as implementing partners. At the same time, they are trying generate funds through income generating projects that offer the freedom to use the proceeds and profits as they see fit. One initiative underway involves setting up a medical psychologist in a clinic in Mbabane where he will run his own facility, charging those who can afford to pay, and in doing so generate income to support services for those in need and fill the huge gap in psychosocial services for those living with HIV/AIDS in Swaziland. Euni describes how, despite her positive approach and the support of her workteam, living with HIV/AIDS can still feel like a "disaster waiting to happen." This isn't helped by a lack of high profile role models in Swaziland living with HIV/AIDS and the considerable stigma still attached to the diagnosis. Bjorn goes on to elaborate on another plan in progress, to build a Conference Centre on the land surrounding their office which is owned by the church and which is the most economic use of the land. With his background in architecture, he was involved in drawing up the detailed plans a number of years ago. The process of approval has been long, but with the arrival of a new bishop for the diocese who is very supportive Bjorn feels that this project is coming much closer to fruition.

The arrival of Nhlanhla marks a good point to elaborate on LDS's emergency activities. LDS implements general food distributions under both WFP and the NDTF. School feeding programmes, mainly concentrated in the lowveld areas, provide children with a snack of Corn Soya Blend (CSB) and a cooked lunch. Through clinic feeding programmes, pregnant and lactating women and malnourished children under five years receive a take home ration of CSB. A newer innovation has been Neighbourhood Care Points (NCPs) for children who, for a variety of reasons, are not attending school in the drought affected region and are particularly vulnerable. Many come from child headed households. As well as providing a cooked meal, the NCPs offer the opportunity for informal education, and psychosocial support for children. While the NCPs started out in the lowveld region, they have spread to other areas. Food For Work (FFW) is being developed for those currently volunteering to support the NCPs, which is one of the ways LDS feels will help to transit between food aid and recovery.

Targeting is another challenge facing the emergencies programming. Nhlanhla describes how the Relief Committees are responsible for targeting food, mainly composed of women and a few men. While they have carried out training with committees and traditional leaders, there are always the few with vested interests who would like to wield their influence. "Sometimes those who are relatively well off still want to claim food", says Nhlanhla, " as they feel they are entitled since they come from a drought affected area". Targeting is particularly challenging when it comes to support for PLWHAs. Nhlanhla describes that there is still a lot of stigma associated with positive HIV status and people will travel out of their area to get tested where they are unknown. This initially made targeting very difficult and people were slow to come forward and reveal their status within their community. Nhlanhla continued that this has improved when it became policy that those who were targeted through HIV/AIDS were guaranteed their full food ration when stocks were running low and where distributed rations would need to be reduced. This proved enough of an incentive for those to come forward.

LDS have also been cooperating with LUSIP on a small holder project, SWADP (Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Project). The lowveld region has very fertile soil and bringing in water to irrigate can increase productivity up to twentyfold. Sugar cane is the most profitable crop and can also be used for fuel production. "We wanted to make sure that this developed in the right way", said Bjorn, "we were worried that turning smallholders into shareholders might mean losing their identity, or the challenge of managing a monetary economy would prove too much." The project is in it's first phase, "trying to keep people as landowners with technical input and support for irrigation". As with all of their programming, they are taking a holistic approach, and will add on to the programme as needs emerge.

Suddenly, we are thrown into darkness due to a (typical) power failure and the team leap into action using the light of several mobile phones to finish the meeting. Bjorn feels that one of the biggest programming challenge for LDS is "figuring out how we can have the best impact". Lots of resources are taken up with orphan care, with food aid, and with increasing numbers or people becoming infected and becoming ill. "We want to be proactive, avoid children being orphaned, keep a productive force and keep people alive on treatment". The team feel that the roll out of anti-retroviral treatment (ART) is far too slow with very few clinics offering this. Transport distances means that it is often too difficult to travel to a clinic, queue, attend and then return in the one day. One of their organisational challenges comes from those churches that still describe HIV/AIDS as the 'curse'. Dealing with orphans is one of the big emerging challenges in Swaziland. "Even with the development of NCPs", says Bjorn, "these children are growing up without parents, they are streetwise but have little education, no psychological support and no one is passing on life skills". The team feel that the recent 'orphan farmer schools' being piloted by the WFP/FAO/Ministry of Agriculture in Swaziland is a significant move in the right direction, equipping community-identified vulnerable children with practical agricultural and life skills that they would not otherwise acquire.

After all the difficulties portrayed by the team they were keen to emphasise that they are by no means discouraged. This was very obvious from the enthusiasm, comradeship and openness that they demonstrated throughout the interview. In the NGO sector, negative assumptions about church-based NGOs often surface, i.e. having an evangelical agenda. However, with LDS it seems their only agenda is helping the 'poorest of the poor' to help themselves as best they can.

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Reference this page

Marie McGrath (2006). Lutheran Development Services. Field Exchange 28, July 2006. p24. www.ennonline.net/fex/28/agencyprofile