Staff of The Homestead and Patrick's House share a few anecdotes, some poignant, some amusing, about their lives working with street children in Cape Town
The voice is official: “Will you accept a reverse charge call from Mark Gombard?"
"Yes", we say, “of course".
His voice is on the line, “Can I come back, Principaal?"
"Are you okay Mark – where on earth are you phoning from?"
"A coin phone on the Parade, Principaal – can Claude come too?"
"Yes", we say resigned, “Yes, you can both come back again. Come home!"
Leslie comes home early. “Were you in school?" we ask.
'"Yes" he said, “I went to resign and I gave back all my books!"
"Weren't they cross?"
"No" he said, “They seemed quite pleased".
The boys go for an outing in the Lees' private cars. Chris is crazy about cars.
"I went in a Ballade, I would have much preferred a BMW. But it wasn't too bad, Mister Jacobs went in an old Mazda 323".
The boys at Learn to Live make candles one day. They seem proud, and attached to them.
"We want our own candles" they say, “to take home to The Homestead."
By the time they reach the intake centre, they have sold the lot! Contented, they make their way to the video games arcade.
One little entrepreneur uses all his pocket money to buy a bottle of thinners. He sells it to his “brothers" for 50c a sniff. As they get more stoned and more eager, he puts up the price. By the time Linda finds them he has R12.00 and they are all high as kites. She confiscates the money, shepherds them back to The Homestead, and spends the ill-gotten gains on videos.
They sit on their bunks and stare sullenly at the TV screen.
Five boys from Patrick's House are working as packers at Checkers supermarket on Saturdays and Sundays. They earn quite good money – R37.00 a weekend. The company is pleased with them, but you should hear the uproar should we deduct the mandatory 30c fine for “fighting" from their R1.60 per week pocket money! On reflection, this is perhaps an indicator of resocialisation. The 30c surely cannot matter, so we can only assume that it is our disapproval and the stigma attached to pocket money fines, which upsets them. It is an effective deterrent to bullying and fighting.
Children who say, “I need a haircut", always get money from the Principal's box. It's an indicator, we think, that they are starting to care for themselves and “appearance" in adolescence is so important. Barbers do not always give receipts, but generally charge R4.00 and the shorn head is proof that the money has been legitimately spent. Then we discovered a backyard industry! Waldo gets R2.00 to effect a hasty shearing, and the other R2.00 is kept by the boy who is “starting to really care about his appearance".
They are always a step ahead of us: systems are to be beaten and entrepreneurs flourish in the home as they did on the streets “elaborate locking devices are met with enthusiasm: “That's really a hard one Principaal!" We fail to keep them in, or keep them out, with locks and keys. Finally we have to laugh and celebrate their ingenuity.
Sir George Borwick came to visit us in December. “What happened to your head?" he asked Firagh.
"My friend stabbed my with a knife," came the reply.
"My goodness," said Sir George, “What do your enemies do to you?"
Andrew picks up a book on my desk, “Oh boy!" he says “A new video!"
It falls open. “What is this?" he says, “What's wrong with this video?"
"Andrew," I say. “it's a book, a BOOK! Believe it or not these things still exist".
"How gross," says Andrew.
Boykie was watching a fisherman whose catch lay flopping about in a shallow rock pool.
An anxious passer-by said, “Those fish are going to fall out of there."
"Don't worry Lady" said Boykie. “They can swim!"
Katie, with very careful instructions, gives some boys R10.00 to buy loaves of bread: “Take them through the till, to the bread cutter and slice the 6 loaves for sandwiches".
They come back with the bread AND the R10.00.
"We did exactly what you said", they say. We laugh and give them chocolates for being so honest – after all they did bring back the R10.00!
A journalist is talking to a child in the Homestead. “What did you do with the money you got at the traffic lights?" he asks.
"Did you buy food?"
The child looks shocked. “Oh no!" he replies. “I never waste my money!"