Report of Lesley’s visit to South Africa, April 2009
This visit has been a bit longer coming than my usual 4 months, but I especially wanted to be there over election time as I missed the one in 2004, and we get a somewhat biased view from the UK media – it is all mainly doom and talk of how it could be another Zimbabwe in the making; I don’t find that way when I’m in South Africa and I travel around and talk to people – they are very caught up in the democratic process and even those with little hope for a better life have thoughtful and engaging ideas. Yes there are huge problems; Yes there are millions of people out of work and on the breadline; Yes the crime is shocking and experienced by me and many others each time we visit…. and yet, and yet, it is wonderful and diverse country full of many good people.
So I heard the election promises and observed the candidates and watched the pundits and listened to the puff; then on Election Day I saw the queues of people patiently waiting to vote in the 72% turnout and thought that democracy is alive and well. I hope the new government does well; they certainly have a lot to do, and a lot of promises to keep.
So where did I go? Well, first off to rural North West province to meet with our Childline friends and see how the crèche teachers training programme is going – last year we funded the training of 90 crèche staff in the townships around Potchefstroom and we are planning the same this year, but out in the very rural areas where there is little else for small children and where abuse often goes unreported. The 2009 programme is due to start in May and I went to meet some of the crèche ladies, at their nurseries, who are about to embark on the training – they are so excited; they have heard from their friends that it is really good.
|A rudimentary crèche in North West Province|
I heard about some of their problems with families and general neglect of children and their own sense of helplessness to assist these children. We know from other training that the numbers of abuse reported during and after this training rapidly increases and stays high so Childline are yet again bracing themselves for further work.
|Do I want my picture taken…|
The next day I went to north-west Tshwane – north of Pretoria - to visit our friends at Imisebeyelanga. I was treated to such a time!
We fund training programmes for home based carers and those providing community support for orphans and vulnerable children [OVC] based in a sprawling dusty area that feels like the middle of nowhere. The programme consists of 5 weeks fulltime learning on an accredited programme and those attending are folk who have no access no paid employment and instead commit themselves to community work – the training is one way we can support and empower women, and men, help children impacted by HIV/AIDS or disability, and identify and tackle abuse as well as provide potential employment opportunities via a recognised certificate. The training takes many cultural issues into account and the expert trainers try hard to debunk the astounding amount of myths surrounding HIV/AIDs!
|Lesley talking to the newest group of trainees|
They had arranged the graduation ceremony for the last cohort of trainees to be during my visit and I was given the honour of presenting the certificates – that was after a lot of speeches, wonderful singing, little dramas, more speeches, more singing and more dancing – we have a lot to learn from these folk… how they love to party - and eventually I presented the certificates to the bashful graduates accompanied by the cheering of their friends and families and colleagues.
A very proud moment for him and for me
Waiting for the ceremony to begin
|Singing a song in praise of their training|
Later on I was able to present a huge box of second hand football kit collected by our friend Karen – a football manager in the UK – and sent overseas free [!] by our friends at DHL. To add to all the kit were 4 footballs I had taken in my suitcase and 50 balloons blown up on the car journey northwards and given to the children who were ecstatic [it’s hard to describe the joy on a the face of a child who has never seen a balloon].
|My first balloon
The football kit has arrived – thanks DHL
We send the football kit because a} we know they will never be able to get any kit, let alone any like the stuff we casually throw away and b} because we know that with the 2010 world cup coming up, harnessing that growing anticipation in the country by having local football teams helps to keep young people from getting into trouble, offending and falling into lives of crime and prison.
|A special moment as the footballs have arrived|
Then further on from north Tshwane to rural Limpopo to see the crèche for 74 children that we fund and to see how the children and the teachers are getting on …. and they are doing so well. Last year we funded training for the teachers and we now pay most of their monthly stipend until the area can be self supporting. The whole set-up is making such a difference to these children’s lives with good cooked food, a structured day, regular activities and exercise, children who we know would otherwise be left alone all day, often on their own sometimes as young as 2 or 3 years and highly vulnerable.
During this trip I went to meet the Vice Principle of the local primary school and he tells me that the difference in the children who had been to the crèche and those who came from home is enormous several areas: in their understanding of the school day and structure; because they have the elementary skills of understanding letters and numbers; their concentration is better and so they get more from school – just the way in which a good pre-school should prepare them.
Clapping and singing
The daily programme
My second week started with another long trip into very, very rural Limpopo, about 1½ hours from Polokwane into the very mountainous regions in the east of the province. Here the infrastructure and communications are poor and the people live poverty stricken lives often dictated by [relatively] benign tribal chiefs. We are funding the training of groups of community workers all across the province – although to be paid R300 [£26] a month for 4 days work a week hardly counts as paid work in my book, but we don’t fund the stipends so that is out of our hands – whose role it is to help families and children with health issues, our funded training specifically deals with children’s health, recognising abuse and counselling. There are many cultural aspect of local life to contend with in their work; I was told that girls here are pressed to marry at 12 – 14 years, and to think themselves lucky. I met with one lady who was so married, and at 42years she has 9 children the oldest of which is 30, is widowed, and they survive on her grants and this stipend… she says she has to advocate health eating but can’t afford to feed her family in a healthy way. I heard that it is not uncommon for families to feed their children on alternate days – that means a child only eats every other day. There were many other stories of bad treatment of children that make your hair curl.
The next day concluded my rural travels and so back to Johannesburg and Soweto. First to Protea, part of Soweto, where we support the stipends and training of 5 community workers who are supporting fractured families and children with problems that sometimes defy explanation – many of our professionals would wilt under some of their seemingly intractable problems.
I am going to tell a story that is not pleasant, but is a good example of what families are grappling with, and where community workers - often very briefly trained - are trying to help:
Within a family there is a [now] two year old child who was born with deformed feet – probably trouble with his Achilles tendons – no help was offered other than an operation, so this child had both his legs amputated below the knees; he now struggles with stumps that regularly bleed and have not really healed properly for the last 18 months as he keeps trying to walk on them. The mother has three other children that are all by different men [she may be feckless, but she has also had three men die on her], she drinks copiously and makes little attempt to help the child to walk on his artificial limbs – these were given to him when he was 6 months old and the mother hasn’t taken him back for a re-fit. The community worker is currently trying to get this child some physiotherapy.
This may not be sexual abuse, but the treatment and subsequent care of this child is shocking … in anyone’s book, this child is being neglected and abused. All we can say is that without the community workers, and their organisation COPES-SA, there wouldn’t be anyone to help.
Still, on the bright side there is the play park we helped to get off the ground
Thanks for the play park
We love this roundabout
It is a true miracle of change and a testament to the commitment of those at COPES-SA. The land where the play park now sits was a truly, truly ghastly rat-infested piece of waste ground that boasted tons of disgusting rubbish where broken glass and danger lurked everywhere - children were regularly abducted, raped, beaten or worse…. and there is worse. Now it is a flat haven of grass and swings and roundabouts with a football pitch and a fountain and places to sit – a quite remarkable transformation. I am told that the swings regularly have 5 children swinging – let’s just hope they don’t collapse!
Swings, slides, roundabouts - everything
A sobering reminder of what we are trying to prevent
The rest of my trip was spent in rooms and buildings in Johannesburg talking to partners about the progress of all our other programmes – but more about those in the stories section.
All in all, up to the last two days, a thoroughly worthwhile trip, and a most welcome comment from Joan Van Niekerk, the Head of Childline, South Africa on my last day:
Thanks for all you are doing for the children we work with – we would never cope without the assistance of people like yourself. I am so grateful that you come yourself and view projects; so often donors do not visit – especially the outlying provinces - and therefore they do not see the real needs.
However, towards the end of my trip I had my handbag stolen by two young African women pretending to be shopping for their mother in Angola. In my bag was my wallet with all my money, my keys, my credit cards, my driving license, my cell phone and my ticket. I was appalled, and in not some little difficulty. Luckily I have friends who were very helpful, but it really takes the shine off a visit.
* for more pictures of this trip visit the photo gallery