Molweni! Greetings from a cold South African Eastern Cape! Having left 45 degrees C heat (113 degrees F!) in the United Arab Emirates, I found myself in the wee hours of a wintery morning at Johannesburg Airport boarding a small airplane to fly south over the snow-covered Drakensberg Mountains towards the town of Umtata, stepping off the airplane into a temperature of -4 degrees C (25 degree F). Brrr!
Welcome to SOS Children's Village, Umtata!
At Umtata Airport I was met by Barrington Makunga, Director at the SOS Children's Village there and Seeng Mamabolo, NACCW Isibindi Mentor for the Region – my hosts for the day – who took me to meet child and youth care workers and children at this Eastern Cape SOS Village opened in 1997. SOS Children's Villages are said to be the world's largest charity providing for orphaned and abandoned children. SOS Umtata provides care and education services for children and young people in 15 family houses, a clinic, kindergarten and school that also provide day services to the local area, and a youth training facility helping young people prepare for independent life in the community. Nelson Mandela was born in a small village not far from Umtata, making him the most prominent son of this region.
A family house at SOS Children's Village, Umtata
From Umtata we carried on by car to the village of Cala, a drive of roughly 100 km. There we were met by Sr Raphaela and her colleagues at Holy Cross Convent for lunch, a visit to the Isibindi Safe Park, and a meeting with the Isibindi team. Isibindi – meaning Courage – are an innovative development promoted by the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) of South Africa with 68 projects spread around the country. Each project identifies and trains unemployed community members to become child and youth care workers who are then deployed in their own communities under the supervision of a qualified social worker to work with children at risk as a result of poverty and HIV/AIDS. Isibindi projects allow child orphans to stay with their siblings in their own homes and communities whilst receiving ongoing nurturing and care. This is a truly innovative approach to child and youth care work!
At the village of Cala in the Eastern Cape
The Cala Isibindi Safe Park started off with a plot of land and a donated shipping container that was turned into an office base. They now have a total of 4 shipping containers which are used for a variety of activities, including one that contains a toy library. Rather than children taking toys from the toy library, children from child-headed households in Cala come to play and engage in activities under the supervision and support of community child and youth care workers.
Isibindi Safe Park and Community Gardens at Cala
With real excitement, I was shown the new “roundabout” or “carousel” in the Cala Safe Park that can be used for children's play while at the same time pumping water into a water tower to provide plenty of clean water for use by children, carers and community members visiting the park, as well as the community gardens. Very clever engineering concept provided by a Danish firm! The Safe Park is fenced, not out of fear for the children's wellbeing but to ensure all the facilities remain intact.
Sister Rapheala and the Cala Isibindi Team!
A memory of this visit will always be the singing, helping these child and youth care workers to support each other in the most challenging work situations imaginable!