40 in 1,000 children born in South Africa die before their first birthday.

Philani is on a mission to change that.

Here's how.

Donations to the Philani Fund USA directly support the following programs of the Philani Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition Project in Cape Town and the Eastern Cape Province.

The Philani Mentor Mother model takes a holistic, community-based approach to primary health care with the belief that a healthy, well-informed mother can care for and bring up a healthy family. The Mentor Mother Program is built on respect, empathy and solidarity with the families it serves.

A Mentor Mother is a trained, community-based healthcare worker. She conducts home visits in poor and vulnerable communities on the outskirts of Cape Town and in the Eastern Cape. Many people in these communities are not simply poor but also among the most vulnerable – many of the mothers are living with HIV or tuberculosis, many of the children are suffering from malnutrition, infant mortality is high and mothers struggle to cope, with some having lost hope altogether.

Philani’s Mentor Mothers guide mothers through the rehabilitation of their underweight children, support pregnant mothers to improve birth outcomes, decrease the number of children born with a low birth weight and assist in the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

Each Mentor Mother, when she sets out to meet her families, carries a rucksack (that is her “office”), a scale to weigh the children, and folders to record data. But, most significantly, a Mentor Mother carries her own life experience.

When selecting whom to train as mentors, Philani chooses ‘positive deviants’ – that is women who, despite poverty, have succeeded in rearing healthy children. They are women who have - in one way or another - managed to develop coping skills that have benefited their own and their children’s health. Philani recruits and trains these women in a range of skills and supports them to work within their own community.

The community-based approach of Philani’s Mentor Mother Program has proven to be highly successful in tackling the challenges of maternal and child health, and its long-term effects. We know through stringent research that, with a Mentor Mother’s support, health outcomes for women, children and families are significantly improved. These health benefits have been documented in a rigorous academic study by the University of California, Los Angeles and Stellenbosch University. Additional studies are underway in the rural Eastern Cape.

The Mentor Mother Program has changed the lives of thousands of women and children in disadvantaged communities on the outskirts of Cape Town and in the Eastern Cape. As a result of the program’s success, Philani has helped to establish, and provides support to, Mentor Mother programs in Swaziland and Ethiopia and, in South Africa, is training employees of NGOs and government community health workers in the Mentor Mother model.

"What bothers me the most.... women, particularly in these communities, are the main caretakers. And when women are victims of violence and abuse...their capacity to care is reduced. Violence against women cannot be just left, unaddressed."
- Kwanie, Senior Program Manager of the Mentor Mother Program at Philani

Most children under the age of six living in Philani’s communities are denied the right to attend pre-school. The Philani Educare Program and the Mentor Mother Early Childhood Development project are committed to providing high-quality education to these children, in dynamic and stimulating learning environments.

Philani has eleven Educare classes across their Nutrition Centers on the periphery of Cape Town, serving more than 270 children between the ages of three and six. All Philani’s teachers have formal training, with qualifications ranging from a National Vocational Qualification to degrees in primary education. In addition to learning and playing, children receive nutritious meals daily.

In the rural Eastern Cape, Mentor Mothers specially trained in early childhood development run 20 daily playgroups, serving 200 children. Children receive daily nutritious meals in the playgroups, too.

The Educare Program and the Mentor Mother playgroups are consistent with Philani’s mission of promoting good child health and development. Educare classrooms and Mentor Mothers playgroups are places where children can learn and play in a safe environment. Philani believes that children who play not only enjoy developmental benefits, but also recover faster from illness and malnutrition.

"I started teaching at Philani in January 2011. I came here right after college to gain experience - to implement what I had learned, to embrace it by teaching our leaders of tomorrow. I want to help children develop holistically and give them love. Some of these children are neglected at home and school is the only place where they feel happy and safe. I have gained so much experience from working here... I like working with people. I am more confident. And I have a passion for working with children."
- Lerato 
Pre Grade-R teacher at Philani

Lack of education, training, and employment create powerlessness and dependency in women, and make children vulnerable to malnutrition and illnesses. To address this problem, Philani offers art education and skills training to mothers.

Philani volunteers, and a few part-time staff, teach mothers the arts of silk-screen printing, weaving, linoleum printing, fresco painting, collaging and beading.  Mothers are then able to practice these income-generating skills and sell their works at Philani’s Development Center or any of the five Nutrition Centers based around Khayelitsha. This program makes it possible for women to earn a living from their craft. They can use this income to provide nutritious food for their children, pay their children’s school fees and provide their families with other necessities.

The women participating in this program are mothers who are or once were enrolled in Philani’s Mentor Mother and Nutrition Programs, women referred from community organizations, and mothers with social problems and children at risk. The women who participate say that, in addition to providing them with income, learning to produce the work gives them a new self-esteem and sense of accomplishment, a place to go in the mornings with a sense of purpose, and the company of other women working to overcome similar challenges.

The program offers support and a way out of extreme poverty for mothers and, combined with the work of Philani’s health programs, helps to improve the lives of vulnerable women and children.

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"Philani… in isiXhosa, it means to be well. Now... I am well. It is well with me. When I started here, I wanted to learn how to weave. I knew how to sew already - and that is still what I love the most. It was hard at first… but I have learned to lino-paint, to collage, to do beadwork… I have even learned to draw. I have learned so much. So when you ask me what Philani means to me… Philani has meant the opportunity to learn. And I love that."
-Stembile, Talented Seamstress and Artist
Part of the Philani family since 2009