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Featured Article - 11 December 2023

Funda Nenja: A Beacon of Hope in the Fight Against Rabies Through Community Engagement

In the heart of Mpophomeni, a vibrant township just outside Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, a remarkable initiative is making waves in the realm of both child development and One Health. Funda Nenja, which translates to 'learning with a dog' in isiZulu, is a non-profit organization with a mission to nurture children into caring and responsible young adults while simultaneously promoting their self-development. At the core of this one-of-a-kind approach lies a powerful bond between children and dogs, a bond that goes beyond teaching discipline and respect for each other; it's also a crucial step in the fight against rabies.

Funda Nenja's Model: Fostering Empathy, Responsibility, and Health

Funda Nenja was founded in 2009 with a vision to create a safe and secure environment where the children of Mpophomeni could learn, grow, and develop essential life skills. The program consistently draws over 100 children each week, with participants as young as five and an average age of eleven and a half. But it's not just about children and dogs coming together for fun; there's a much deeper purpose to this heartwarming collaboration.

Teaching Responsibility: The Role of Dogs

Funda Nenja employs a unique approach, using dogs as mentors to instill valuable life lessons. Children interact with these canine companions, creating an important bond. The dogs serve as teachers, instilling principles of empathy, compassion, and responsibility. Through this interaction, children not only learn how to care for and respect animals but also apply these principles in their interactions with parents, teachers, people of different cultures, and the environment. 

A Community Hub for Animal Welfare

Funda Nenja's dog school serves as a hub for various critical community services, including veterinary care and animal welfare education. Dogs that become part of the training program receive essential health services such as deworming, vaccination against rabies, Parvo, Distemper, Adeno-1 and 2, and Parainfluenzavirus, and sterilization. This not only protects the dogs but also contributes significantly to the broader goal of eliminating rabies, which remains a serious health concern in many parts of South Africa.

Free Rabies Vaccination and Beyond

The organization's impact goes beyond its weekly dog school activities. Every Friday, during dog school sessions, the local community has access to free veterinary services. These clinics provide rabies vaccinations, deworming, 5-in-1 vaccinations, tick and flea control, and basic veterinary care to 20 to 40 dogs in need. The significance of these efforts in controlling the spread of rabies cannot be overstated.

Education as a Catalyst for Change

Fundamentally, ignorance is often the root cause of neglect and cruelty toward animals, such as tying up dogs without shelter or clean water. To address this, Funda Nenja operates a home visit program. Educators provide guidance and advice during these visits, fostering meaningful improvements in animal care and well-being. Education is the key to changing human behavior, and it is evident in the transformations occurring within these communities.

Extending the Reach: School Education Program

In addition to its core activities, Funda Nenja runs a school education program. Skilled facilitators impart life skills and knowledge about animal and environmental welfare to primary school learners. The program extends its benefits to caregivers, parents, and extended family members through a family support program. The social worker's services are readily available to provide assistance and support for the broader community.

Funda Nenja's holistic approach, centered around the remarkable connection between children and dogs, is proving to be a catalyst for change. This innovative initiative not only nurtures a sense of responsibility and empathy but also actively contributes to the fight against rabies. As Funda Nenja volunteers visit schools and homes, they are sowing the seeds of awareness and change, one child and one community at a time. In the spirit of "learning with a dog," Funda Nenja is helping communities in South Africa to end rabies and create a brighter, more compassionate future for all.


Article contributed by: Daniela Hughes (Steckler)