Promoting Healthy Development in South African Children through Thanda’s Character Virtues Development Programs​
TWCF Number
Project Duration
October 1 / 2021
- September 30 / 2024
Core Funding Area
Character Virtue Development
Amount Awarded

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Richard M Lerner
Institution Tufts University

This project, a collaboration between Thanda and the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development (IARYD) at Tufts University, will evaluate Thanda’s After-School (AS) character virtue development (CVD) program through a longitudinal study. Led by project director Richard Lerner and founder and executive director of Thanda Angela Larkan, the study will inform program design and implementation regarding the ways in which CVD may lessen stress and its deleterious impacts on health and overall thriving.

In the Umzumbe Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Thanda (which means “to love,” in Zulu) seeks to promote thriving among children living in extreme poverty. The development of positive instantiations of character, which Thanda labels as character virtue development (CVD), is a key goal of the organization’s child development programming aimed at promoting health outcomes of South African children.

Thanda supports 550 children in its AS program (ages 6-13 years). Children in Thanda’s programs suffer from multiple health challenges, including chronic stress and “failure to thrive” both physically and emotionally. There is evidence that the nurturing that children receive from facilitators, and the improved nurturance children receive from primary caregivers as a result of Thanda’s parent-education efforts, begin to reverse widespread physical and emotional failures to thrive. 

However, Thanda recognizes the need for theory-predicated and evidence-based evaluations to inform its efforts and is therefore partnering with IARYD in this effort. IARYD’s longitudinal evaluation of CVD and health outcomes will measure the progress of children in Thanda’s AS program against that of a propensity-scored matched group of comparison children. Significantly, IARYD will create and use both child-specific behavioral measures of CVD as well as traditional survey measures in order to better understand the comparative usefulness of different measurement approaches for studying the impact of CVD on health. 

Project outputs will include webinars for practitioners, researchers, and international organizations about study findings and the efficacy of IARYD’s new behavioral tools for CVD assessment for health and whole-child thriving. The team also aims to publish articles in scientific and practitioner-oriented journals and the creation of a platform for other CVD programs to consult with the leaders of the project.

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