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Social Service Workers Transforming Care for Children

Meet some of the essential members of the social service workforce who are transforming care for children:

 Vanessa Guillermo

“My principal motivation for working with children and adolescents is the opportunity to make a positive change in their lives.” 

Vanessa Guillermo currently serves as the Case Management Coordinator of the Changing The Way We Care initiative in Guatemala, where she is committed to the development of children and adolescents. She is responsible for the supervision, coordination and implementation of activities which promote care reform, specifically those that involve moving children from residential care to a family-based environment.

Vanessa designs approaches and tools to support this effort. She is also in charge of coordinating a team of psychologists and social workers who lead case management processes for children in the city of Zacapa. One of the goals of this process is to model the importance of case planning, preparation and monitoring as key components of the case management process—all of which aim to result in safe, caring and sustainable child reintegration placements.

Throughout her career, Vanessa has also worked with Mercy Corps, where she oversaw and coordinated community and municipal work with youth, women and children aimed at violence prevention and community strengthening. She previously worked with the government within the Attorney General's Office, where she was responsible for interviewing and conducting psychological evaluations of children, adolescents and adults and was a part of the team in which "rescues" were made, for children whose rights to protection had been violated. Similarly, Vanessa was responsible for providing group and individual therapy for female child survivors of sexual violence in a public residential care facility. Vanessa has also been an auxiliary teacher responsible for the supervision of practice for students studying Social Psychology in the municipality of Amatitlán, where she was in charge of the coordination, supervision and orientation of the group.

As for her academic preparation, Vanessa holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Child and Adolescent Development Management.

Her advice to people interested in working in the care and protection of children is: "Working with children and young people is worth it. It's not an easy job, because it takes a lot of heart and empathy combined with specialized training, but it has a lot of satisfaction."

Vanessa Guillermo actualmente, se desempeña como Coordinadora de Manejo de Casos, de la iniciativa Changing The Way We Care en Guatemala.

Entre otras acciones, le corresponde supervisar, coordinar y ejecutar acciones encaminadas a promover la reforma del cuidado infantil, para pasar de un modelo basado en el cuidado institucional a uno basado en el cuidado familiar. En ese sentido, busca mejorar la coordinación entre las instituciones del Sistema de Protección, el desarrollo de estrategias de implementación de rutas de trabajo concretas y la capacitación y formación a actores clave dentro del sistema.

Vanessa también tiene a su cargo la coordinación del equipo de psicólogas y trabajadoras sociales que desarrollan el proceso de manejo de casos en el departamento de Zacapa, en Guatemala, que es el área de demostración de CTWWC, a fin de que sirvan como evidencia de que las integraciones familiares, cuando son bien hechas y son producto de un proceso adecuado de monitoreo previo y posterior, sí son posibles.

A lo largo de su carrera, también ha trabajado con Mercy Corps, donde supervisó y coordinó el trabajo comunitario y municipal para la gestión de proyectos en favor de jóvenes, mujeres y niños, en prevención de la violencia y fortalecimiento de comunitario.

También ha trabajado con el Estado, en la Procuraduría General de la Nación (PGN), donde le correspondía entrevistar y realizar evaluaciones psicológicas a niños, niñas, adolescentes y adultos y formaba parte del equipo en que se hacían “rescates”, en defensa del bienestar de la niñez y la adolescencia del departamento de Sacatepéquez, Guatemala. De igual forma, ha realizado trabajo psicosocial, consistente en terapias grupales e individuales con niñas víctimas de violencia sexual, en el Hogar Solidario Virgen de la Esperanza en San José Pinula, donde le correspondió trabajar con jóvenes que tenían algún conflicto con la ley. Vanesa ha sido docente auxiliar en la supervisión de práctica social comunitaria de los alumnos de la carrera de Psicología Social en el municipio de Amatitlán, en Guatemala, donde tuvo a su cargo la coordinación, supervisión y orientación del trabajo grupal e individual de los estudiantes.

En cuanto a su preparación académica, Vanessa cuenta con un Profesorado de Enseñanza Media en Psicología, con una Licenciatura en la misma área y es Magister en Gestión del Desarrollo de Niñez y Adolescencia.

“A los jóvenes, les diría que tomen el riesgo de trabajar por los niños y adolescentes, pues se necesita mucho corazón y empatía. No es un trabajo fácil, pero tiene muchas satisfacciones. Mi principal motivación de trabajar con niños, niñas y adolescentes es poder tener la oportunidad de hacer un cambio positivo en sus vidas.”

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Marta Xico Xicay

“I like my job because it is child focused. Due to their age, they are often invisible to others and that puts them at greater risk of their rights being violated.

Marta Xico Xicay is a Mayan Cakchiquel woman, an indigenous community in Chimaltenango, Guatemala. In her work, she primarily focused on vulnerable groups, in particular children and adolescents, whose realities are often invisible in many situations. Currently, Marta serves as part of the Changing the Way We Care team. She focuses on reintegration of children from residential to family-based care. Marta believes and her work demonstrates that children in families, whether biological, extended or foster families, are the best place for a child to grow and develop. It is in these environments that affective attachment is developed, and children are prepared for the future. Marta is convinced that working with children and adolescents is critical and makes a point

She is convinced that working with children and adolescents is important because it makes them feel recognized and they know that their needs are taken into account.

During her professional career, Marta has also learned the importance of working with parents and caregivers by supporting them with the necessary tools and knowledge to respect children’s rights and care for them in an appropriate manner.

Marta’s career has also provided her with the opportunity to work with other vulnerable groups such as those living with HIV. In her work, she was able to help mobilize community resources and local support networks. She has also been involved in the development of actions with various local governmental and non-governmental sectors around violence prevention.

Marta holds a Bachelor of Social Work and a Master's Degree in Project Development. She has specialized in the care of children and adolescents in the justice system and is currently studying a diploma course on Effective Child Development Policies through the Inter-American Development Bank.

Marta’s advice to people interested in working in child protection and care is, “You should work in this sector as you will surely be helping to transform the reality, in many cases an unjust reality, of many people.”

Marta Xico Xicay es una mujer Maya Cakchiquel de una comunidad indígena del departamento de Chimaltenango, Guatemala. En su trabajo, tiene una alta proyección social, pues labora con grupos en situación de vulnerabilidad, en particular con los niños, niñas y adolescentes, cuyas realidades son invisibilizadas en muchas situaciones.

Actualmente, se desempeña como parte del equipo de la Iniciativa Changing The Way We Care, desde donde se promueve una transformación del modelo de cuidado infantil, para pasar de uno basado en el cuidado institucional, a uno basado en el cuidado familiar. En tal sentido, está convencida que la familia biológica, ampliada o de acogimiento es el espacio más efectivo para el desarrollo integral de los niños y niñas, porque este espacio es donde se consolidan los vínculos afectivos y de apego, esenciales para la integración exitosa de estos niños, niñas y adolescentes en el futuro.

Está convencida de que intervenir en la niñez y adolescencia es un espacio que sin duda marca la vida de éstos porque, “uno se constituye en la voz y el canal de ellos para que sean reconocidos y tomados en cuenta”.

Durante su carrera laboral y profesional, también ha confirmado la necesidad de brindar orientación a los padres o cuidadores de los niños, niñas y adolescentes, pues es algo esencial para no vulnerar sus derechos.

Su vida laboral también le ha permitido trabajar con grupos en situación de riesgo, como personas viviendo con VIH, intervención que incluyó la parte de estudio de caso, así como la posibilidad de movilizar recursos desde las redes de apoyo comunitario o local. Asimismo, ha estado involucrada en el desarrollo de acciones con diversos sectores locales gubernamentales y no gubernamentales para la prevención de la violencia.

Marta es Licenciada en Trabajo Social, con una Maestría en Formulación de Proyectos Sociales. También cuenta con una especialización denominada “Enfoque Social en la Atención de la Niñez y Adolescencia desde el Sistema de Justicia” y actualmente estudia un diplomado sobre Políticas Efectivas de Desarrollo Infantil con el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID). “A los jóvenes que sientan el deseo de trabajar por los niños les digo que lo hagan porque seguramente estarán contribuyendo a transformar esa realidad, en muchos casos injusta, que les ha tocado heredar. Me gusta mi trabajo porque está enfocado a la niñez. Ellos por su edad, se convierten en un grupo invisibilizado para muchos, situación que los pone en mayor riesgo de que sus derechos sean vulnerados.”

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Lorena Velasquez

"I am passionate about defending the human rights of children and adolescents. They represent the majority of our vulnerable population, so they must be considered a priority."

Lorena Velasquez is the Director of Departmental Offices of the Secretariat for Social Welfare (SBS) of the Presidency of the Republic of Guatemala. She works with empathy and commitment, coordinating and leading teams that provide specialized care services for children and adolescents in vulnerable situations in Guatemala. As a professional with training, experience and a passion for working with children and adolescents, she has worked for more than eight years in strengthening the government child protection system. She is responsible for coordinating work at the departmental (county) level for the 16 offices of SBS, which is mandated with providing services to vulnerable children. 

Lorena’s work is carried out in three main concentrations: a) Family Prevention and Strengthening, b) Protection and Restitution of Rights and c) Reintegration of Adolescents. Lorena is also responsible for accompanying and supervising multidisciplinary teams working with children, preparing proposals to adapt human rights standards, promoting family reintegration programmes and advocating for the reinvestment of funds, in order to promote the right to family of children and adolescents. Lorena aids in the legal representation of children and adolescents in strategic litigation of child protection cases and criminal proceedings, in coordination with the the Attorney General's Office (PGN). As part of her work, Lorena was also involved in emergency response such as caring for families affected by the eruption of the Fuego volcano. She was particularly involved in serving children who were left without family or temporarily placed in residential care. 

Lorena studied at University of San Carlos de Guatemala, where she graduated as a Lawyer and Notary. She then continued her education at Rafael Landívar University, and in 2018 graduated with a Master’s in Child and Adolescent Development Management. Her outstanding results were recognized by the Myrna Mack Foundation, a prestigious human rights organization.   

For young people interested in working in child protection and care, Lorena provides this advice: “Investing their time and energies in seeking the well-being of children and adolescents and their families and communities gives the satisfaction of fighting for a more humane world."

Lorena Velasquez es la Directora de Sedes Departamentales de la Secretaría de Bienestar Social (SBS) de la Presidencia de la República de Guatemala. Se desempeña con empatía y compromiso, coordinando y liderando equipos que brindan servicios de atención especializada a la niñez y adolescencia en situaciones de desprotección en Guatemala. Ha trabajado más de ocho años fortaleciendo el sistema gubernamental de protección especial y actualmente se desempeña como responsable de coordinar el trabajo en el nivel departamental de 16 oficinas de la SBS, institución que tiene a su cargo la desconcentración de programas y servicios a favor la niñez y adolescencia. 

Su trabajo se desarrolla en tres ejes principales: a) Prevención y Fortalecimiento Familiar, b) Protección y restitución de derechos y c) Reinserción de adolescentes. Su objetivo es empoderar y capacitar a los equipos de la institución para promover la rectoría de la protección especial y para fortalecer las redes de coordinación local. 

Ha ejercido la representación letrada de niños, niñas y adolescentes en litigios estratégicos de procesos de protección y procesos penales para establecer rutas de investigación y restitución de derechos humanos, en coordinación con la Procuraduría General de la Nación (PGN), haciendo valer su derecho de opinión y partiendo desde sus historias de vida. 

Como parte de su trabajo, se involucró en la atención a las familias afectadas por la erupción del volcán de Fuego, priorizando el interés superior de la niñez y de la adolescencia vulnerable, como los casos de niños que quedaron en la orfandad y otras situaciones de vulnerabilidad, promoviendo el cuidado en un ambiente familiar. 

Lorena estudió en el en la Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala donde se graduó de Abogada y Notaria, con mención Honorífica CUM LAUDE, en el 2013. Continuó su formación especializada en la Universidad Rafael Landívar, y en el año 2018 se graduó de Magíster en Gestión del Desarrollo de la Niñez y la Adolescencia, con mención Honorífica CUM LAUDE. Debido a que obtuvo el Primer Mejor Promedio en la Facultad de Ciencias Jurídicas y Sociales de esa Universidad, obtuvo un reconocimiento de la Fundación Myrna Mack. 

“A los jóvenes que puedan estar interesados en el trabajo social, les digo que invertir su tiempo y energías en procurar el bienestar de la niñez y adolescencia y de sus familias y comunidades da la satisfacción de luchar por un mundo más humano.”

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Jorge Manual Vargas Berreondo

"I like my work because it allows me to help populations whom I consider to be “lights of good,” as are children and young people, who deserve a dignified life."

Jorge Manuel Vargas Berreondo is responsible for the Municipal Office of Children and Adolescents in Zacapa, Guatemala. He works closely with the Changing the Way We Care team to ensure coordination of efforts to promote actions that prevent family separation and promote family care over residential care.

Jorge Manuel has a broad and recognized gift in his ability to serve the most vulnerable groups in society, such as women, boys, girls, young people, people with disabilities and older adults. With Jorge’s help, these themes have been promoted throughout the Municipality of Zacapa. Jorge Manuel was also part of the team that launched the first Municipal Women's Public Policy, which aims to promote the human development of women as integral at the local level. 

Through his efforts to coordinate the many actors in this field, his work recognizes that children are one of the main vulnerable social groups. As such, it is important to involve each actor in the process of ensuring the well-being of children and adolescents within their family nucleus. 

Currently, Jorge is participating in the drafting of the first Municipal Public Policy of Children and Adolescents, which is focused on promoting the development of families, children and adolescents in the Municipality of Zacapa. 

His advice to people who might be considering a career dedicated to social service work targeting children is "we all have a purpose in life, a unique gift or a special talent to share with others that we have to put towards the service of society."

Jorge Manuel Vargas Berreondo es el responsable de la Oficina de Niñez y Adolescencia de la Municipalidad de Zacapa, en el departamento de Zacapa, en Guatemala, donde acompaña la ejecución de las acciones de Changing The Way We Care. Esta iniciativa, busca, en conjunto con esta oficina municipal, promover acciones en favor de los niños, niñas y adolescentes, para prevenir la separación familiar y para promover el cuidado familiar por encima del cuidado institucional.

Jorge Manuel tiene una amplia y reconocida experiencia dando los servicios hacia los grupos más vulnerables de la sociedad, tales como mujeres, niños, niñas, jóvenes, personas con discapacidad y adultos mayores. Debido a ello, estas temáticas han sido impulsadas en la Municipalidad de Zacapa, gracias a su iniciativa y a la de otros colegas suyos en el lugar. También formó parte del equipo que puso en marcha la primera Política Pública Municipal de la Mujer, que tiene como propósito promover el desarrollo humano integral de las mujeres en el nivel local.

En la actualidad, su trabajo consiste en coordinar con dependencias municipales, instituciones del Estado y organizaciones de la sociedad civil, acciones que coadyuven a mejorar la calidad de vida en los niños y adolescentes del municipio de Zacapa; haciendo hincapié en que son uno de los principales grupos sociales en estado de vulnerabilidad, siendo necesario el involucramiento de cada actor en velar por el bienestar social de la niñez y adolescencia dentro de su núcleo familiar.

Actualmente, participa en la formulación de la primera Política Pública Municipal de la Niñez y Adolescencia, cuyo objetivo es promover el desarrollo de las familias, de los niños, niñas y de los adolescentes.

“A los jóvenes que sientan el deseo de trabajar por los niños les digo que todos tenemos un propósito en la vida, un don único o un talento especial que compartir con los demás, que tenemos que poner al servicio de la sociedad. Me gusta mi trabajo porque me permite ayudar a poblaciones que considero entes de luz, como lo son los niños, niñas y jóvenes, que merecen una vida digna.”

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Crispus Natala

“Having the ability to leave a positive indelible mark in the lives of those I touch through serving them as a professional, or otherwise, is my best gift.”

Crispus Natala is a professional social worker with over nine years of professional work serving the community, and especially children and families. His professional experience includes working with children in the justice system, residential care, street connected children and children living with HIV and AIDS. Crispus considers himself a committed and results-oriented professional who believes in bringing out the best in the individuals within the communities he interacts with. He is a family man that who strives to find a work-life balance. When not working, Crispus spends time with his family and he never misses the chance to watch his favorite team (Arsenal) play football.

Crispus currently works with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as a Project Officer supporting the Changing the Way We Care initiative in Kisumu County, Kenya. Crispus works closely with the Department of Children’s Services and local implementing partners (NGOs) to ensure that community-level activities are geared toward ensuring children return to and thrive in safe and nurturing families. His work is made possible by using a well-documented case management for reintegration approach.

Before his current position, Crispus supported the implementation of the MWENDO program which served children living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. He was the Department of Children Services (DCS) contact person in Busia County.

Crispus holds a Master’s in Project Planning and Management from the University of Nairobi and a Bachelor of Social Work from the same university. He also has a Certificate in Counseling Studies from the Kenya Association of Professional Counselors. His educational background is necessary for engaging with children and families. He is also an accomplished trainer who enjoys preparation and delivery of content that eventually is used to transform the lives of children, their families and communities at large. His post-graduate research was focused on how community programmes can be supported by donors without necessarily having children in residential childcare facilities (orphanages). He conducted this study as he worked on a project aimed at deinstitutionalizing children. Through this project, he proactively and successfully spearheaded family-based care through the reintegration of children.

Crispus previously worked with the Child Welfare Society of Kenya, UNBOUND, and the Street Families Rehabilitation Trust Fund in different capacities that all aimed to ensure that children are well taken care of within a family and community to achieve their true and fullpotential.

“There is joy in working with children and young persons to promote, protect and secure their rights for them to realize their full potential and lead happy, fulfilling and fruitful lives. I believe the potential that exists within us (especially in children) is limitless and largely untapped and we need not think of limits since by doing so we only create them. Going by the words of Eliud Kipchoge as he became the first human to break the two-hour marathon barrier on 12th October 2019, no human is limited! Humanity’s ability to endure and keep raising the bar is what inspires me to enjoy my job and give it my all every new day.”

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Jane Dzame Karisa

"Always leave people better than how you found them, hug the hurt, kiss the broken, befriend the lost, and love the lonely."

Jane Dzame Karisa has been a social worker for five years. Her work primarily focuses on children and families. Her professional life includes a commitment to serving the needs of children and families. Jane works with a non-profit organization known as Kesho Kenya, located in Kilifi town. She works with children, young adults, individuals, and families through the Changing the Way We Care initiative using a diverse approach tailored to the unique needs of each new client.

Jane received has received extensive training to enhance her own skills and knowledge about how best to serve her clients. She is well versed in the areas of positive parenting and crisis intervention. Jane is especially sensitive to the needs of vulnerable children, especially those who have social, emotional or economic challenges that create barriers to their safety and positive development.
Jane has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies (Community Development) from Kenyatta University. She has a passion for social work stemming from courses she took while at the university.

She draws the motivation for her work from the knowledge that her efforts have a positive impact on the lives of vulnerable children and families. Jane believes that she is making a difference as every day she gets to see an improvement in the lives of the people she serves in the communities she works in, and this gives her a lot of fulfillment.

Jane loves her job because she believes that change happens when people receive guidance. She believes that every person has strengths but just needs to be reminded of what they are so that s/he can realize his/her potential to live fulfilling and happy lives. She provides an environment of compassion and support to help individuals and families overcome obstacles to move forward and thrive.

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Janet Mwema

“I believe I can be an agent of change by participating in making policies that positively affect their lives.”

Janet Mwema is a sociologist with more than a decade of professional experience working with children and their families within their communities. Outside of work, she spends most of her time with her family and doing volunteer work such as visiting the elderly and the sick.

Janet is currently stationed at the National Council for Children’s Services (NCCS), the government body responsible for developing policy and guidance on child protection which is anchored under the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Department of Social Protection. NCCS is mandated to coordinate, supervise and provide oversight on the rights and welfare of children in Kenya. In her current position, Janet helps coordinate partners working for children, attends Child Protection Coordination meetings and workshops, participates in development and dissemination of policies, and advocates for children’s rights and welfare. She also helps to draft the Periodic State Party reports to the African Union and to the United Nations.

Before joining NCCS, Janet has worked as a Sub-County Children’s Officer for more than seven years, including three years at the Department of Children’s Services Headquarters in Child Protection in Emergency Section. Before joining public service as a Child Protection Officer, she worked with World Vision Kenya which provided her a wealth of experience and opportunity to work with children and their families.

Janet holds a Bachelor’s in Sociology from Maseno University. She has obtained certificates related to working with child offenders, home-based care, and drug and alcohol addiction, and she is a certified chaperone for the Kenya Children’s Assembly. She has been trained as a Trainers of Trainees on Case Management for Reintegration Package, which is an added advantage in her championship as a strong believer of family and community-based care for children.

“I derive pleasure and satisfaction when I see a child helped to fully realize their potential as a human being. I feel like a conqueror when justice is served to children and their families, especially for cases of abuse. I feel good when I see a child growing to an adult in a nurturing and thriving environment. What I don’t like is when I see justice denied for children and their families,” she said. “What I can recommend to a newcomer in this field is that there are many hurdles to jump, however there is self-satisfaction when one interacts with children whose rights and welfare are protected and safeguarded.”

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Kennedy Owino

“I believe that children in most circumstances cannot stand up to speak for themselves and are therefore vulnerable. I  feel satisfied and rejuvenated when the rights and life of a child have been enhanced and fulfilled as a result of  work.”

Kennedy Owino works at the the National Council for Children’s Services (NCCS) which is a government body charged with the responsibilities of coordinating, regulating and overseeing all child welfare activities and programs in Kenya. NCCS is also responsible for advising the government on child protection matters.

Currently Kennedy is working within the Standards and Compliance section of NCCS and his duties include: regulating the provision of child welfare programs and services by all stakeholders involved in child protection and welfare activities. Under this mandate he also oversees registrations of Charitable Children Institutions, monitoring and supervising their operations to ensure that they comply with existing standards and policies.

Previously, Kennedy served under the Department of Children Services as a children’s officer in various sub-counties within the country. In this role, he gained a myriad of experience in coordinating the promotion and enhancement of child protection matters. “For example, I was very involved in the roll out of the of the Child Protection Information Management Information Management System (CPIMS) and served as a trainer. He has also participated in the Situational Analysis of residential care facilities and in the development, dissemination and implementation of various guidelines and policies related to care reform.

Kennedy holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Nairobi. He has also participated in a wide range of trainings in the decade he has been working including safeguarding and other child protection related themes. He believes that these have equipped him with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively undertake his current responsibilities.

Kennedy has a passion to serve children and other vulnerable members of society. This passion comes from deep within.

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Richard Mutisya works at the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics Trust (CICC) as the coordinator for the Changing the Way We Care initiative. Before his current role, Richard has been an active social mobilizer around child protection issues in the Coast region of Kenya for more than a decade. He is a facilitator, mentor, and coach to many established social groups committed to child protection issues in the coastal region. He is one of the pioneers of the child protection department at CICC. The department is also responsible for spearheading peacebuilding engagement using inter and intra-religious dialogue.

Richard Mutisya

Richard focusses on the planning and implementation of the child protection program at CICC. He works closely with religious leaders from all faiths to support them to articulate and champion the social responsibilities they have toward the children in their communities. Through the already established structures in CICC across the counties, Richard is engaging the organization’s members in forums and capacity building sessions.

Additionally, he has been instrumental in empowering children with skills and information. The various areas he leads are child protection, peacebuilding, life skills that promote self-reliance, and confidence-building techniques. Richard regularly strengthens his own skills and knowledge on relevant topics by attending trainings and workshops.  

In his current role, Richard leads a team of three staff, 200 religious leaders, and more than 300 children who have been reintegrated from institutions back into family and community care.

Richard holds a Bachelor’s degree in community development and numerous certificates in child protection, safeguarding, and alternative family care and social mobilization.

Richard was orphaned at the age of 18 and it has greatly impacted his views on life and his work. His mother has always been an inspiration to him and been the driver that has helped him find educational and professional opportunities, all aimed at making a positive impact on those who are less fortunate in his community.