OAfrica was founded by Lisa Lovatt-Smith in October 2002.
Lisa is an established author whose published work includes 13 books on design and photography. She was an editor at Vogue magazine for many years while living in both Spain and France. In 2002, Lisa decided to volunteer with her daughter at an orphanage in Ghana. Here she met more than 100 destitute and abandoned children living in horrific conditions, some brought to the ophanage by police or social welfare workers because the children’s parents had died of endemic sicknesses such as malaria, AIDS or tuberculosis. Very often, however, the children were abandoned simply because the parents couldn’t afford to take care of them.
This experience proved to be so life changing for Lisa that she left behind her glamorous lifestyle in Europe and moved to Ghana full-time. Her desire to help the children was a long-lasting and substantial one, driving her to found OAfrica with the aim of ensuring that no child need to grow up in an orphange or institution—unloved and with few prospects for the future.
OAfrica’s philosophy has evolved over the years from helping a small group of children in one orphanage to supporting hundreds of children in families. We feel that by offering families extensive parenting training coupled with education, healthcare and financial support, we ensure that parents can care for their children, resulting in fewer abandoned or orphaned children and a strengthened community. Our programs initially focused on providing educational scholarships as a way to keep children out of orphanages and in their own families, along with a parallel program to support traumatized young people who were exiting institutional care with no support or plans for their futures.
We also developed a shelter integrated into a rural community, specializing in care for mentally and physically disabled babies and children and those affected by HIV or AIDS. Our shelter received an award for its ecological design and has been called a model in West Africa, and was featured in numerous UNICEF documentaries and reports.
In 2006, OAfrica adopted a new policy—in line with the guidelines of UNICEF, the UN and the Government of Ghana—to avoid institutional care for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) whenever possible. Under the motto “every child deserves a family”, we decided to place our emphasis and resources on the support of the local social welfare system in Ghana in order to encourage the preservation of family ties.
Starting in 2007, we collaborated with the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) and UNICEF to implement the Care Reform Initiative. This was created to change the way OVC are cared for across Ghana. It was a significant move by the government away from care based in institutions to care based in families. As a further reflection of our policy change, we transitioned all children out of our shelter into family based care. Most were placed with their extended families while some, who needed special attention due to disabilities or abuse, were placed in foster families.
When the Government of Ghana launched their National Plan of Action on Orphans and Vulnerable Children in October 2010, OAfrica was proud to be the only private NGO in Ghana mentioned as an implementing partner. We have since then developed IT tools for case monitoring and shared our expertise in rescue, tracing and reunification and case management with many other local child protection partners.
In 2012, Lisa’s work in favor of vulnerable children was recognized by Face Africa (New York) and by the prestigious Femme Dynamizante Clarins Award (Paris, France.) Increased recognition has resulted in OAfrica being able to carry out its support for families with greater consistency, benefitting over 5,000 children and young people a year. Many of these children have been trafficked, have been affected by HIV or AIDS, are disabled, are refugees and victims of war, have been victims of child labor or have experienced sexual and psychological abuse.
In 2013, OAfrica’s third 5-year Strategic Plan outlined an ambitious vision:
To create an environment where orphans and vulnerable children grow up in safe, permanent and loving family settings with appropriate care and protection and with equal rights and opportunities.
To support the implementation of the NPA by migrating our family support programs to other specialized stakeholders and focusing on the areas of:
(1) De-institutionalization—removing children from orphanages
(2) Tracing and reunification—reuniting children with their own families or within foster care families
(3) Training of parents, foster parents and social workers—to support the deinstitutionalization, tracing and reunification programs in the NPA so OVC inappropriately placed in homes (usually for reasons of poverty) can live in family-based care.
In addition to our headquarters in Ghana, today OAfrica has offices registered in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, UK and the United States, all sharing the common goal of raising awareness and funding the important initiatives being implemented in Ghana.
In 2014, Lisa’s memoir “Who Knows Tomorrow” was published by Weinstein Books in the US and UK and by Random House in Australia, as well as an audio book. You can buy it here. In 2015, it was published by Arthaud in France and by Turner Libros in Spain. Lisa also gave two TEDX talks in Abidjan in 2015 and Accra in 2016 as well as many TV, radio and press interviews.