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Report by Lesley Rudd on visit to South Africa, September 2012.
(Click on any photo to go to the picture gallery)
Our financial help is a drop in the ocean but still means a great deal to those on the ground who want to defend and nourish the smallest of children.
First stops for me were various townships and squatter camps, which have benefited from our crèches programme in the Eastern Cape Province. In just 3 months Childline trained 87 women and 2 men from 48 crèches. Here they are dealing with children living in shacks, in huge static drainpipes and under stairs at railways. People are scratching a living from rubbish tips.
You always hear horrific stories wherever you go. One crèche lady I visited told me of a gang of 10 year olds, high on tik (crystal meth), who had attacked and beaten a couple of 8 year old girls. They were raped and badly injured [one is blinded] seemingly just for fun; the girls had no money, nothing worth stealing. Regrettably the stories of child on child violence seem to multiply.
I’ve been to the Ekupholeni Mental and Trauma Centre [EMHTC] a few times but never cease to be amazed by their work. Football is used as a diversion for seriously troubled, violent boys, with our old friend, Happy, playing an important role. A national football tournament had been organised and everyone was getting very excited. Over 200 boys and girls were coming from all over the country in all colours and shades. Each of the Ekupholeni boys would have a small group to mentor and help. This is incredible progress and a great indication of the power of these diversion programmes - in the past these boys have shot people without compunction and now they are looking after visitors.
The other activities of EMHTC go on apace. They have been doing a lot of work with abused girls but are struggling with the attitude of the mothers, who wants their girls to earn, and that usually means selling their bodies. Sons have more chance of getting an education.
Later, I visited Johannesburg Child Welfare where a member of staff appeared with a very small and extremely undernourished young baby. The baby had been discarded in the ‘hole in the wall’ facility manned by Johannesburg Child Welfare volunteers; sometimes they receive up to 10 babies a day. Most of the mothers of these babies have no wish to be identified or found as the baby is often the result of abuse or single or gang rape.
I visited Childline in Potchefstroom, where the Caring for Crèches [C4C] programme started in 2007. The first programmes of Caring for Crèches went very well with excellent feedback, but the current two are proving extremely testing for the trainers and I have given the okay to temporarily stop the training.
There are many tensions between local people and outsiders who come to work in mining. Lorry drivers are on strike and food supplies are low. Throw in extreme heat and this is a tinderbox waiting to spark. Our C4C programme was being delivered in one of these mining towns near Klerksdorp, and while the trainer felt she was doing a good and useful job, the crèche ladies were caught up in the local problems. The trainer was at some personal risk, so we have withdrawn. We had already pulled out of another programme, near Rustenburg, where the recent violence happened, and many other towns in this province are looking almost as dangerous.
Meantime the Caring for Crèches programme run by Childline in Mpumalanga goes on apace and, without the same levels of local violence, [although they have other ‘challenges’] they are managing to forge ahead in a most impressive way. They recently used the feedback and outcome from this programme to provide evidence for what proved to be a successful bid for USAid funding; this means that when we finalise plans for this province – and after four years it will soon be time to move on. They have used the time well so the programme has shown a significant impact for thousands of children that is both sustainable and ongoing.
I visited Imisebeyelanga on the borders of Northern Gauteng and North West Province to see a different version of our Caring for Crèches training - 50 small and informal crèches are really benefiting from the training with, as usual, many emerging stories of abuse and violence against small children that are now being reported to the welfare services. Part of the problem in these areas is that there are so few services including lack of water [it got turned off] and very spasmodic electricity supply added to which there is virtually no police presence and all welfare services are based miles from the far-flung rural townships. It is a difficult place in which to survive and yet there seems astonishing resilience and such committed and strong women prepared to fight for the children.
Because of the national decision to withdraw funds from existing local Not for Profit organisations in South Africa the folks at Imisebeyelanga have been existing on a knife edge for months; in August they did finally receive the lottery money they had been promised. This should keep them going until early next year. I could make no more promises of help.
Then it was off to Mogodu and Wilhelmina’s children. She is having a really tough time. They have lost their funding from every source despite being now a registered safe haven for homeless and damaged children. Social welfare turned up recently with a fourteen year old girl and her 3 week old baby – the poor girl had been raped by her father and needed a safe place. The father has fled and the mother has turned the girl out of her home – such a terrible and familiar story. Social welfare brought her to Mogodu but pay none of the money they are supposed to for all the children who are formally brought to this safe place. It is the biggest disgrace, and the authorities still want to place more damaged children when the need arises despite no funding. The only money she has coming in is our R2,000 every two months and the same amount that Imisebeyelanga offer; this is barely enough for food. To add to her problems they have no water and the electricity is dependent on a meter that they must feed with non-existence coins. All her helpers have left because she has no money to pay them.
It was a sad way to leave: hot, very hot, dusty and Wilhelmina struggling day in day out to make life better for 24 abandoned, abused and damaged children.
But I live in hope that the generosity or our supporters will continue. Every pound donated goes a long way to help a small child in South Africa.
the infant trust