Visit in August 2009 by Lesley and Liz

(Click on any picture to go to the photo gallery)

Again one of our trustees came with me on our trip in the middle of August. Liz always pays her own way and it has been wonderful having her company on all our visits as she sees things I don’t and vice versa … and we nearly had her married to a Chief in rural Limpopo….  although we didn’t get to discussing terms I suspect our price for her would have been too high for him! But more of that later

From the airport we whizzed off to northern Limpopo – the province between Pretoria and Zimbabwe where around 6 million people live in rural areas and considerable poverty.  On many occasions in these first few days it was apparent that the children had never seen a living white women, let alone two, and that this was a huge shock… although quite funny when we said Hello, or moved or tried to make the traditional greeting. It’s very good for the morale being a figure of fun!

We were there to see the community volunteer workers who cover these vast areas trying to help vulnerable families and children

Liz and trainees Liz and another group of infant trust trainees

We have funded training for these women and they were telling us their stories about children, whose parents have died, simply disappearing because there is no-one to care for them; but with the help of the Chiefs the volunteers are making progress and beginning to identify the worst perpetrators, resulting in having the Chiefs sling them out from their villages. The community workers are very upbeat about their work and know that they are helping families and feel they are beginning to make headway. Some of the problems are differences in cultural norms – we don’t believe in smacking children, they often believe that beating a child is good for them.. and then there are the rights and rituals of community living, but I take my hat off to these women. Training clearly makes them feel enormously empowered and they will challenge even Chiefs about some practices.  This is unheard of!

At the end of our time there we went to speak with a local Chief in his kraal – we were very honoured. We spoke about our work and our ambitions and he was extremely interested. Then he saw my camera and demanded a picture of himself, with which I was happy to oblige, then he wanted pictures of his Mother and Mother-in-law which I was also happy to do, then in conversation he wanted them sent to him through our partners which I am also happy to send. Then he seemed to spot Liz and in ever regal fashion he pointed to her and said ’Here’ indicating the seat next to him.  He was very taken with her so, at that point we thought we had better leaves, we aid our polite goodbyes and left

The chief

The Chief

 

The Chief liked the look of Liz

The chief and Liz

From northern Limpopo we went a bit further south and visited ‘our’ crèche. The one we have funded from day one with stipends and equipment and materials and, latterly, the Jungle Gym so the children can play outside. These are children aged from 18 months old to 5 years. Outside the crèche

The crèche is setup for some very impoverished, half-starved, highly vulnerable children, from a deeply poor area. There are 75 children now and they first come to the pre-school extremely malnourished and pretty silent. Watching them as the months go by, and as they flourish under the watchful eyes of the four ‘teachers’ with good food, exercise, some development opportunities and families that are informed about the care of children is both astonishing and heart warming. Happy children playing

The head teacher from the local school, who knows the local communities well, came to see us specifically to say what an amazing difference there is between these children from before they came to the crèche and afterwards – a very telling indictment of their situation because to us they look like lots of noisy normal happy children. This is an excellent project – keeping small children safe from harm is vital.

Our next visit was to Imisebeyelanga in northern Tshwane on the outer reaches of Gauteng and North West provinces – no-man’s land. Our friends, who are training many community volunteer workers on behalf of the local centres, are very upbeat about the impact of their work. This is the green T-shirt brigade, which is growing in numbers every week. You may remember that we had a competition about what logo to put on the back of the T-shirts? Well now it is done, and every volunteer work who graduates from the 6 -8 week training course really prizes the green T-shirt ….  and they now carry messages as well.Our new message

One of the things that really strike us, and others, is how much people’s lives are changed, and really changed, by a simple thing like training and believing in them.  These are just a couple of the recent comments by the trainees from Imisebeyelanga:

"Since the beginning of last week my life started getting better, now I understand about abuse and that I must do something about stopping it in my community. I feel really blessed to have come to this training – it is really life changing. Thank you Imisebeyelanga and the infant trust"

"Now I know how to protect our children from physical and sexual abuse; I know how important it is because they are our future for tomorrow. Because of this my life is changed forever. How can I say thank you."

Smiley childrenFor the rest of the trip we were joined by Fred Bridgland, a prize winning journalist, who is keen to write a story about the abuse of infants and our work; he travelled with us to our projects with Childline [all going very well] in the areas south west of Johannesburg. There we visited four crèches where the ‘teachers’ have been through our Caring for Crèches programmes and were extremely positive.

We were told, by the Childline offices that the numbers of reported abuse since starting this training have rocketed and remained high – the training certainly seems to raising awareness as well as the knowledge of where to get help for suspected abuse. However we were also given some figures from research that has just been released indicating that 46% of all boys between the ages of 15years and 19 years have raped at least one person younger than themselves.

Lesley with children in a crècheSo Fred saw the impact of the training we do, and spoke with many trainees who waxed lyrical about the impact of the training on their lives and their work at the crèches.  It is very moving to hear someone talk about a programme that has such an impact in such a faraway place.  The children all seemed very bouncy, yet extraordinarily well behaved – when asked to lie down for photographs they just did it!

The remaining days we visited our friends at Johannesburg Child Welfare to talk about all the training programme they do on on our behalf, we had an atrociously early start [4am] to get to Nelspruit and Mpumalanga province for a day visiting the Childline crèches where training is going on, and to our old friend s at the \teddy bear Clinic where they are treating more and more abused children, to Big Shoes who are trying to do training for volunteers in children’s homes where they take in abandoned babies as well as work with hospitals and the police and social services to try to get abandoned babies to safe medical/social care as soon as possible – see the story Abuse doesn’t always mean sexual abuse

This time there were no thefts, and I wasn’t mugged or burgled ….. I think that counts as a good trip!



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To date, with the help of DHL, we have sent from the UK to South Africa, over 2,500 soft toys for vulnerable children. The outpouring of love and donations of beautiful soft toys has been quite amazing and we thank every child and parent/guardian who have donated. Each and every toy that we sent will be cherished in their new home. We are now stopping accepting toys because those lovely people at http://theteddytrust.wixsite.com/home do this all the time, again with DHL, and send toys to children all over the world. Any kind people who wish to donate will now be referred to them.

Click here for more information

We are proud and honoured that our work has been recognised by the UK Prime Minister, and that he has given Lesley his Point of Light award, stating
With the Infant Trust Lesley has empowered thousands of women across South Africa to protect and safeguard children in their communities. The education and training she has provided has helped to improve the lives of over 800,000 children, tackling the violence and abuse that affects too many of them in their early years. As we mark International Women’s Day this week I am delighted to recognise all that Lesley has done.”
You can find the full story at https://www.pointsoflight.gov.uk/2268-2/


Why are so many small children abused by male perpetrators in South Africa? Our researcher interviewed 27 perpetrators in prison in South Africa; all are in jail after being found guilty of some of the most terrible crimes against some of the most vulnerable children – some as young as a few days old. Those interviewed are all men aged between 16 years and 84 years old, and all have brutalised and raped at least one child. But the findings aren’t maybe what we might expect – it makes interesting reading.  We have been funding research into this for 5 years and it is finally finished and published – you can read the summary here

Our flagship Caring for Crèches programme has reached into some of the poorest communities in five of the nine provinces in South Africa and we have crèche leaders everywhere clamouring for the training. We have now trained over 2,200 people and they in turn have already positively impacted on the lives of over 160,000 children … and will continue to help many hundreds more children for years to come


Just once in a while, amongst all the amazing work that is done to help children in South Africa, we come across a shining star. One such is Wilhelmina who determined to setup a refuge for abandoned children.
Newsletter The report from our most recent visit to South Africa

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