PSJ's programmatic initiatives have responded not only to the immediate development and humanitarian needs of vulnerable local communities they serve through direct service delivery, but also seek to tackle the root causes of their exclusion and marginalization, including lack of capacity, feeling of powerlessness, and lack of voice to shape public policy especially at the local level. PSJ’s initiatives to put communities they serve in the ‘driver’s seat’ of their own development are twofold. The first involves strengthening the functional and technical capacities of citizens of local communities to deliver services to their population. The second initiative uses human rights framework to promote awareness of rights as well as empower communities to engage in advocacy to demand for social services and provision of rural infrastructure.
Since 2006, PSJ began training of local people from within communities they serve, as village health assistants and community volunteers. In the past four years, the organization has trained over 120 village health volunteers and 228 community HIV peer educators. For each village served by PSJ, at least two health volunteers are trained. Parts of the volunteers’ responsibilities include training parents in their respective communities on how to recognize common illnesses in their household members. For example, due to high mortality caused by malaria among children, PSJ adopted a radical approach that gives out oral malaria medication to vulnerable families in remote rural villages that lack any health facility, with strict instructions on when and how to use them. This enables parents to start malaria treatment immediately, even before they reach the nearest health facility. Through the Integrated Health and Education Initiative, PSJ has trained 48 rural school teachers who are often the most educated in their villages, to treat common illness as emergency health first aiders for their schools and communities. Each teacher is given medicine boxes and trained with the skills to administer it. In this way, communities themselves take ownership of their health resulting in sustainable access to life-saving health care where they lack health professionals.
PSJ works with local communities to promote awareness of human rights such as right to health care. PSJ’s community-wide human rights education on ‘right to health’ using simple versions of international human rights instruments (article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the article 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights), is having an empowering effect on communities who are becoming better informed on their entitlements as right holders, and the governments’ responsibilities as primary duty bearers.
PSJ has a community mobilization office that advices and equips local people on how to effectively communicate their concerns to the local government authorities. Information and mentorship received through this initiative has enabled community members in rural Mashegu to form citizens’ advocacy groups and have begun using it as a platform to demand their developmental needs such resource allocation and utilization, access to affordable and qualitative primary health care services from their local governments and health service providers. This also provides them the opportunity to actively engage in shaping public policy including at local level.