Hope Educational Foundation was established in 2004 to empower children to protect themselves from the most devastating threats in their environment. Since that time, our interventions have reached over 1.7 million children.
Children and youth are some of the most vulnerable members of our societies. An estimated 19,000 of them will die every day from preventable causes (UNICEF USA). Hope Education’s mission is to protect children by teaching them the knowledge, skills, and convictions that they will need to combat systemic threats like HIV/AIDS and intestinal worms.
What is a Systemic Threat?
We define systemic threats as any threat to human well-being that is perpetuated through factors indirectly related to the threat itself, and that can largely be remedied or prevented through changes in human behavior.
Simply put, a systemic threat is a potential harm that is spread by a broken system.
Take HIV, for example: while it is largely preventable, high rates of infection persist. It’s not because the virus is so aggressive that it’s spreading; it’s because people engage in high-risk behaviors. The roots of its perpetuation are only indirectly linked to the virus itself, and are instead tied to lack of self-worth and resignation to infection. Even though HIV is avoidable, many children and youth have simply given up, due to the mere fact that they believe there is no way out. This conviction leads them to engage in behaviors that increase their chances of infection. At Hope Education, we strive to teach them that there is hope, and that through understanding their value and modifying their behavior, they can create a better future for themselves and their communities.
Prevention vs. Treatment
Prevention education is a low cost, proven method that equips children with the tools they need to combat major systemic threats. Both prevention and treatment are essential in today’s world; we’ve just chosen to focus our skills and resources on the prevention aspect. We have limited resources, and we’d like to use these to impact the long-term outcomes. By preventing infection now, we hope to reduce overall infection and the need for treatment later. And it looks like it’s working: research shows that participants in Hope Education programs demonstrate increased self-esteem, greater self-confidence, stronger knowledge of threats and higher intention to avoid high-risk behaviors. These children will have the confidence and the knowledge to protect themselves against threats that would steal their futures.
In 2004, a small group of professionals with deep concern for the well-being of children at risk established Hope Educational Foundation International (HEF) in Pompano Beach, Florida. They knew that chronic and systemic threats to children, like HIV and AIDS, malaria, childhood diarrhea, and chronic hunger lead to thousand of deaths, daily, from preventable causes (UNICEF). The founders, including international educators as well as ministry leaders and professionals in medicine and marketing, sought to address this tragic circumstance, and they started in Swaziland. At that time, Swaziland’s HIV infection rate was between 37-40% of the adult population. And at that time, George Hoskins and his cousin Rob met Kevin Ward, a Swazi with a heart for orphans. Their interests coincided and they not only founded HEF but developed the iMatter program to combat HIV/AIDS by building awareness of individual value.
They believed that to combat rampant HIV infection, children need to be re-educated. They need to understand that they can make their own choices, that they are important and they can make a difference in their community. In 2004, many children below the age of 15 were not yet infected with HIV/IDS, yet statistics showed that the rate of infection increased dramatically after the age of 15. In Swaziland, children under 15 years of age accounted for 43.5% of the population; this group offered a “window of hope” for the future.
HEF’s Growing Impact
The iMatter program impacted over 46,000 children in Swaziland before it was handed over to local partners in 2009. In 2008, Hope Education received a $5 million PEPFAR grant to implement HIV prevention education programs in South Africa over the following 5 years. This grant has since been increased to nearly $1.7 million per year. Hope Education currently oversees three HIV prevention education programs in South Africa: iMatter, Families Matter! and Project AIM (Adult Identity Mentoring).
Our programs have allowed us to impact over 1 million young people in Southern Africa over the past 6 years. Our goals for 2013 include another 25,000 children to be reached by HIV prevention education programs. In addition, we are increasing local capacity to ensure that our programs are sustainable and are working towards program management transfer to the South African Department of Education.
We haven’t stopped at HIV, and have recently developed a new program called Hygiene Matters to combat intestinal worms. It combines a creative hygiene curriculum with the administration of deworming medication to keep children worm-free. We hope to see this program implemented in Francophone Africa this year.
While our current programs seem to focus primarily on health concerns, we recognize that systemic threats have deeper roots. That’s why our programs use character education to empower children from the inside out. We also recognize that children don’t only face threats to their health, and we are always interested in new program opportunities.
- Education. Placing the tools for achieving potential in the hands of those most at risk and bringing professional training to those most positioned to help
- Long-term Impact. Targeting young people with life-changing character education that establishes knowledge, life skills and values for long-term well-being
- Effectiveness. Researching underlying causes of unhealthy choices, building programs that target the root cause, and evaluating program impact with objective surveys
- Partnership. Teaming up with local school systems and community-based organizations to keep costs low and potential for local ownership high