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Report by Lesley Rudd on visit to South Africa, February/March 2012.
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On this latest visit to South Africa I was joined by one of our trustees, Liz. Together we saw some of the excellent work being done to protect children, and we also witnessed again the depth of the problem.
We headed into the townships near Port Elizabeth where violence, unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, and substance abuse are rife.
At one crèche 58 children, aged from 2 to 5 years, were crammed inside a small shack. It was like an oven inside yet no-one was playing in the small scrubby garden. It turned out the children were being kept indoors to avoid being shot; several gangs roam the streets and anyone can get caught in the crossfire.
In Johannesburg we visited the Ekupholeni Mental Health Centre run by the saintly Antje. Over the years she has run therapy groups for hundreds of children and adults – those abused and those who perpetrate violence.
One success story is a boy who fell into gun crime after being orphaned at the age of 10. He and his gang were robbing trains at gunpoint before he joined the Ghetto Boys, the programme using football to divert young men away from crime. He eventually returned to school and is now at Pretoria University studying civil engineering.
One woman was shot in the chest by her husband. After extensive surgery she went home, salvaged her children and booted her husband out. Her husband wasn’t charged because she refused to testify. Her price is that he goes to the men’s domestic violence group and has finally disclosed that he was raped and beaten repeatedly as a small child.
These two stories exemplify the lives of so many – complex, convoluted, dysfunctional and repetitive, all stemming from a childhood of abuse, neglect, violence and lack of care.
We will continue to support Ekupholeni in their work helping victims and deflecting abusers.
We caught up with Anne Parker, who provides puppet shows to help pre-school children protect themselves from harm. Her assistant, Nichole, tells the most unnerving story of her own childhood – the unwanted child of a teenage mother, raped at 5 years old, neglected and later molested. She worked to put herself through university and trained and practiced as a teacher. Anne and Nichole want to see a generation of children who have not been abused - not a small ambition.
They are currently in the process of writing and shooting a series of TV programmes for showing on public television and in schools. We have funded the equipment.
We continue to fund bursaries for accredited social auxiliary worker courses. We know the courses provide people who are, pre-qualification, working as volunteers often with little support. One recruit had a dramatic start on her first day as a volunteer: with no training at all she was asked to visit a house because a neighbour was worried about two little girls left in the care of their 14 year old brother. It turned out the boy had been systematically raping his 3 and 5 year old sisters; the parents were nowhere to be seen. It later emerged he had been raped from about the age of 5 by an uncle who had vanished. Now imagine being 22 years old, having no community experience, your first day of work as a volunteer and you walk into that.
Our visit ended in Potchefstroom, south west of Johannesburg, looking at crèches we've been supporting for the past five years. The ladies at the crèches were warm and so welcoming, clearly overwhelmed by the training and so positive about what they could do for the children. But scores of children were crammed into a tiny space, with no area to play outside. It must have been 45C. And there they sit, stinky nappies everywhere but good as gold eating or being fed mealie meal and some sort of vegetable gravy.
The therapist at Childline told us of one particular child she has been working with since October. The girl had been playing outside when she disappeared. She was found the next day staggering along the road confused and bleeding. She had been raped several times and there had clearly been an attempt to beat her to death. The child identified several men who had raped her, and then she identified her aunt who had initially abducted her. The men are free and the aunt is released on bail, now living two streets from the girl who is said to be ‘doing well’ and is back at her crèche. The little girl is just five years old.
the infant trust