GREENSBORO, North Carolina — Young Heroes is a nonprofit organization in Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, that provides resources for families with children that are unable to provide basic necessities. Despite being one of the smallest countries in the southern hemisphere, Eswatini has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS on earth. Due to this, 58% of children are growing up as orphans and live in extremely vulnerable conditions. The organization serves the youth of Eswatini, from ages 0 to 19, and provides monthly stipends for food and clothing.
HIV/AIDS in Eswatini
According to the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), in Eswatini, at least 45,000 children aged 17 and under are orphans due to AIDS-related reasons. It is also reported that nearly 30% of adults are HIV positive, aged 15 to 49. Additionally, as approximately 59% of the population lives below the global poverty line, according to a 2017 study, there are socio-economic barriers in receiving HIV treatment and aid. Not to mention, the recurring droughts in 2015 and 2016 have made it increasingly difficult for rural communities, where 70% of the countries population still live as subsistence farmers, to receive timely aid.
Steve Kallaugher on Providing Hope for Eswatini’s Vulnerable Youths
The Borgen Project had the opportunity to interview Steve Kallaugher, the founder of Young Heroes. He originally served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Eswanti and, upon finding the resources for orphaned youths lacking, founded Young Heroes and Young Heroes Foundation in 2006.
The Borgen Project: How did your involvement with the Peace Corps reshape your worldview and inspire the creation of this organization?
Steve Kallaugher: I was 52-years-old and had traveled the world extensively when I joined Peace Corps, so I cannot say that it reshaped my worldview. I was inspired to create Young Heroes because I disagreed with Peace Corps’ approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Swaziland. According to the country director at the time, we were supposed to “sit under a tree and teach about AIDS.”
With the growing number of orphans, I saw all around my village, that did not satisfy me. So, I approached the country’s national AIDS council (NERCHA), which tasked me to find a way to help the children.
Peace Corps forbade me to do the project — and threatened to send home anyone who helped me — so I left the organization and became an employee of NERCHA in order to create Young Heroes.
TBP: What are the main components of starting a nonprofit from the ground up?
- SK: Know the territory fully before you begin. Learn the culture of the population you hope to serve so you can tailor interventions that fit.
- Get buy-in from that population, to make sure that what you hope to accomplish is something they want and will accept.
- Also, get buy-in from the partners you will need — government, business, donors, etc. — by having a complete business plan that details how your organization will work (income, expenses, material needs, etc.) and how its success will be measured.
- Patience and persistence are critical. Start slowly; underpromise and overperform, and don’t take no for an answer.
TBP: What have been some of the organizations’ main accomplishments throughout the years?
SK: We were the first — and remain the only — organization in Swaziland to directly address the needs of orphans and vulnerable children on a national basis. We have successfully created a comprehensive set of financial, medical and educational services for those children and their caregivers. We now reach over 15,000 children, adolescents, young adults and caregivers with our programs.
In 2020, we also became the first Swazi organization named as a prime USAID grant recipient — a $4 million grant for a three-year program beginning [in 2021].
Young Heroes, Aiding Vulnerable Children and Alleviating HIV/AIDS in Eswatini
Under the guidance of the Young Foundation’s Executive Director Khulekani Magongo, Young Heroes provides various essential programs that provide youths with community support and skill training courses. Two popular programs are the STEP and WORTH programs.
The Skills Training Empowerment Program (STEP) offers orphans aged 19 a free, year-long training course on one of 10 vocations, including agriculture, pre-school teaching, computer studies and plumbing. STEP was created to “equip [youths]with the skills and knowledge needed to become employed or to start their own businesses.”
Other programs, such as Life Support Grants and Healthcare, offer holistic services that “help orphans and vulnerable children thrive and become engaged citizens able to give back and contribute in their respective communities,” says Jacquelyn Eisenberg, the Executive Director of the Young Heroes Foundation.
While HIV/AIDS continues to be a significant issue in Eswatini, nonprofits like Young Heroes are working steadily to alleviate HIV/AIDS illnesses and bring awareness to the issue. With the continued efforts of the Young Heroes and Young Heroes Foundation, Eswatini children orphaned due to AIDS-related illnesses are able to receive education, healthcare and aid to get back on their feet.
– Natalie Whitmeyer