The Epicenter Strategy is made up of twelve programs or thematic areas:
Figure 6: Epicenter Strategy Programs
Summary extracts from THPM’s Program Description Documents are given for each program below by way of introduction:
4.1 Community Mobilization
The Epicenter Strategy recognizes the community as its partners in development; it aims at empowering them with skills to end their own hunger and poverty. Epicenter community mobilization is a capacity building process through which community partners plan, carry out and monitor development activities in a participatory and sustainable way, to meet their own needs with their own initiative or stimulated by others. This program involves training the Epicenter leadership in various thematic areas, identifying and training animators at Epicenter level, establishing functional community committees in each of the thematic areas, organizing the Epicenter into a legally recognized institution for sustainability and capacity building of the community to effectively demand their rights from duty bearers.
- Goal: Mobilize rural communities that continuously set and achieve their own development goals
4.2 Food Security
Low crop yields, limited access to and use of improved farming technologies, limited crop diversification, low family incomes, low community resilience to negative impacts of climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices are some of the underlying causes of food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa. To combat this, the Epicenter Strategy assists communities by promoting modern farming technologies, non-rain fed agriculture, sustainable land-use practices, off-farm household income opportunities and the establishment of community food banks.
- Goal: To improve land productivity and resilience of smallholder farmers and mitigate the effects of climate change
4.3 Microfinance and Livelihoods
The Epicenter Microfinance Program is a savings and credit program that addresses a critical missing link in achieving the end of hunger: the economic empowerment of the most important but least supported food producers on the continent – Africa’s women. This involves promotion of off-farm household income, women-only and men-only credit groups, the establishment of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) groups, creation of community Savings and Credit Cooperative Organizations (SACCOs) and training in business development and management.
- Goal: To reduce the incidence of poverty in rural communities
Health: Maternal mortality rates remain high in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death and disability among women of reproductive age. The objective of this program is to improve access to basic primary health care services in situ to the Epicenter communities. Epicenters work with the Ministry of Health at district level to achieve this by; building a clinic and/or a maternity facility within the Epicenter building, with the Government providing personnel and drugs for the facilities; providing accommodation for nurses near the clinic to allow for 24-hour emergency medical care; providing an out-patient dispensary stocked with necessary medications and vaccinations enables on-site and distributing Insecticide Treated Mosquito Nets for free to the community.
- Goal: Improve access to and use of health resources in rural communities
HIV/AIDS: AIDS is 100 percent preventable. If empowered with accurate information, and freed from social taboos, attitudes and behaviors that fuel the epidemic, the people of Africa have proven that they can protect themselves and their families. Empowered HIV/AIDS animators conduct village-based HIV/AIDS workshops disseminating facts and addressing cultural-based myths about the disease and use of condoms as well as ART services. Epicenter clinics provide testing, care, treatment and support services for people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. Support groups provide nutrition advice and access to targeted microfinance loans and farm input loans to people living with HIV. Action groups against Gender Based Violence (GBV) are formed who monitor and counsel offenders and victims and report GBV.
- Goal: Improve access to and use of HIV&AIDS related services
The first 1000 days of a child’s life characterize cognitive, intellectual, and physical development. Epicenters therefore focus much of their efforts on maternal nutrition, safe delivery for pregnant women, lactating women and infant and young child feeding practices. Epicenters conduct nutritional counselling for caregivers with children below two years old and pregnant and lactating women. This involves promotion of crop diversification for dietary diversification, eating the six food groups with emphasis on growing and using high nutritional value crops, promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for children below six months and complementary feeding when a baby reaches 6 months, proper feeding of a sick child and infant feeding in the context of HIV. Other activities include promoting good water and sanitation practices for disease prevention, promoting good health and hygiene practices for good nutrition at household level and promoting growth monitoring and health seeking behaviors.
- Goal: Reduce prevalence of hunger and malnutrition, especially for women and children
4.7 Women’s Empowerment
Women are still frequently marginalized in many societies in sub-Saharan Africa. This is characterized by lack of access to education, limited ownership of productive resources such as land, farm inputs, micro-credit and limited contribution to leadership positions. Improving the situation requires society acknowledging women’s rights and allowing women access to development opportunities. Epicenters train women’s empowerment animators (1 female per village) to conduct village-based workshops to promote gender equality in development, legal rights education, sexual reproductive health rights, and leadership skills. Other activities include counseling to GBV victims, raising awareness on effects of the malpractice, and guidance on referral points; promoting women’s access to productive resources and micro-credit through the Microfinance Program and educating women/couples on how to write a will, and know its benefits.
- Goal: Empower Women and Girls in Rural Communities
Many communities have no/limited access to improved fresh water sources, basic sanitation and hygiene facilities. In most cases this has led to increased incidences of waterborne illnesses. In many cases women are the most affected group as they have to walk long distances to fetch water, often in darkness of the early hours of the morning, which is both unproductive and unsafe. Epicenters address this issue by training animators to increase community awareness on hygiene and improved sanitation facilities (latrines, rubbish pits, hand washing facilities, drying bays, drying lines etc.); drilling of new boreholes; establishing and training community water point committees; improving school water access and access to school sanitary services.
- Goal: Improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities
In Malawi, this is not a separate program area, but is combined with WASH. The main activities under Environment are around forestry, as deforestation is a major issue facing Malawi, impacting smallholder farmers particularly due to increases in erratic rainfall patterns and soil erosion. Both of which are linked to deforestation. Activities aim to educate communities on the benefits of trees and encourage tree planting and protection.
4.10 Literacy and Education
Education is seen as a pre-requisite for combating poverty, empowering women and protecting children from labor and sexual exploitation. Of equal importance, adult literacy is seen as a necessity for people to conduct a basic business and is therefore a pre-requisite for participation in Microfinance groups and other developmental activities. To address this challenge, each Epicenter establishes a Nursery School, staffed by two teachers identified by the Epicenter Committee and trained by the Government. Classes are held every weekday for children between two and a half and five years old. Every child receives a nutritious meal, with ingredients supplied by the Food Bank and parents’ contributions. Epicenters also run Adult Functional Literacy courses. Instructors are identified by the community and trained by the Government to deliver a 10-month program to teach basic reading, writing and simple arithmetic. Epicenters also have a Rural Resource center, a library where the community can access educational material.
- Goal: Improve literacy and education of rural communities
4.11 Youth Engagement
This program is not yet operation in Malawi but is under development at the time of writing and will be part the Epicenter Strategy going forward.
4.12 Monitoring and Evaluation
Effective Monitoring & Evaluation procedures are crucial ensure quality and efficiency and to be able to demonstrate these to funding partners. The Epicenter Strategy believes in building the capacity of the target community themselves to conduct their own M&E activities, interpret the outcomes and use it as a management tool. The Epicenter Strategy advocates an outcome-based approach to M&E in line with a Theory of Change (ToC). Activities under this program include; a comprehensive baseline study, establishment and training of community members as M&E Animators to perform collection of output based data on a monthly basis on each program,
capacity building of M&E animators to develop their processes, facilitating backward reporting platforms, acting as a quality control for program reflection, documentation of success stories and related photos, conducting outcome evaluation surveys in three year intervals.