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SAPP Forum: Q&A with Alka Subramanian of Power of Love Foundation

September 7, 2010

SAPP is delighted that Asma Ali was able to spend some time with Alka Subramanian for this interview.  Alka is Executive Director (and member of the Board of Directors) at the Power of Love Foundation, based in San Diego, California.  She has been in this role since founding the organization in 2002, and is an expert in the field of international economics and development.  Prior to founding Power of Love, Alka was a tenured Professor of Marketing at the University of South Dakota.

1.  Please tell us a little bit about your organization. How did it come about? What does it aim to accomplish?

Our mission is to provide healthcare to children and families impacted with HIV/AIDS in Zambia, Kenya, and India. The HIV/AIDS crisis is astronomical; we had to do something about it. There are 14 million children who have been orphaned in sub-Saharan Africa, and 33 million more are living with HIV/AIDS. We especially target families with children under 5 years old. A number of our children are orphans. There are almost 2 million AIDS orphans in our target countries.

Our interest in this work began from reading about the problem and visiting Africa.  We discovered that since so many young people were affected by HIV/AIDs, we really had to do something. It was heartbreaking.

2. What is the foundation’s Micro Finance program about?

We at Power of Love (POL) Foundation believe that the silver bullet for solving the global HIV/AIDS crisis is to empower women. This, in turn, will strengthen communities. When we first entered  the community, many kids had AIDS. Their parents were sick, dying, or already dead. They were being cared by grandmothers, aunties– sometimes even siblings– who were only a few years older themselves. We offered these families resources– food/medicines/weekly health visits/soy supplements for the  kids. We also provided training for their direct caregivers.

As we did our work, it became apparent that the families needed a way to become self-sufficient. Thus, we began our MicroFinance program. Microloans provided through this program enable women and their families to become self-sufficient. When people are self-sufficient, their health is  more stable, women can take care of their families, and they can have proper nutrition. Power of Love tackles the AIDS and health care issues from many different angles.

In the future, we would like to expand our programs to include HIV intervention for younger kids, schools for kids with HIV, and comprehensive counseling services.  It is all part of the multi-point, complete care we wish to provide for kids and their families.

3. What has the response been to your work in the South Asian community?

The response has been pretty strong. We have forged ties with several south Asian groups including GiveIndia, the American-India Foundation, and local South Asian philanthropies. We have fundraisers that are well-attended and the potential for more partnerships. On the ground, we collaborate with other groups, and are working with a couple of organizations in both the U.S. and abroad. We need to expand, particularly to reach more street children.

We wanted to provide healthcare for children and improve quality of life for kids. It is not enough to provide only food and meds – so many programs already do that. We really wanted to impact and make a difference in their lives.

4. Tell me a little more about your partnerships with other agencies and the communities themselves.

One of the problems we faced initially was that we needed to gain the trust of the community.  It was a huge endeavor to gain the trust of community members, local government clinics, and church leaders. A big part was working to identify a need, not just duplicate existing services and work. This required a great deal of involvement—we spent time living in the community, we got to know everyone…

Before we partner with an NGO, we have several meetings with them to ensure that funds are used to improve the quality of lives of community members. We believe that the community has answers to its own problems and that we need to help them implement effective, sustainable solutions to these challenges.  Also, we try to utilize resources that Africa has plenty of – namely the community members, and their culture of providing care to extended family members.

A key part of our program is the community health workers.  All of our health workers and staff are from the community itself and know the community.  Power of Love’s health workers and nurses visit the child in his/her home every week. During each visit, the child is given a health check-up and the caregiver is given instructions regarding the care of the child and their current medications. The children in POL’s program range in age from 6 months to 18 years.  The program was developed to suit their needs as well as the braoder needs of the community.

5. What are the current challenges of the program?

Our program is ready for replication once we have the funds. We would like to expand our program to rural Zambia. We are currently raising funds for 2011. One hundred percent (100%) of dollars raised from private donors goes to the program itself. Funds for overhead costs are provided by founders or raised separately from large, private foundations.

Currently, our model has been successful and we would like it to expand to benefit a much larger number of children and families.  For example, in the Matero compound alone, there are 3,000 children who can benefit from this program. We have 135 children in our program at present.  However, we are recognized as a role model in the community and we improve the quality of life for our participants and their families.

6. What have been the keys to your success?

Building trust is such a vital part of the intimate nature of this work. We had to understand the community through our first hand experience.  Suresh Subramanian, the founder,  lived in the community for several months and made connections with the families, church leaders and community leaders.

We have had very successful partnerships with the community—through our health workers and government relationships. We have also had successful partnerships with other organizations such as the Harvard School of Public Health, MIT, CIDRZ (Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia),  and numerous financial and in-kind contributors in America. We rely on these partnerships and hope to partner with others working in our target community

Thank you for sharing this important work with us, Alka!

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