Responding to Needs of Vulnerable Children in South Africa
As I visited with community elders, I was most impressed with their sense of optimism. This was due, in part, to a sense of hope created by a Project HOPE-UK project.
“…we shall be as a city upon a hill — the eyes of the people are upon us.”
President-elect John F. Kennedy
January 8, 1961
I was reminded of these words, as we drove west from Johannesburg. For my destination of Munsieville, a city of 39,000, sits high on a hill, overlooking the plains of the Rand District, here in South Africa. It is the site of a novel approach by Project HOPE-United Kingdom (PHUK) to respond to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children.
The health of Munsieville is at risk — economically and medically. The nearby gold mines have shut down, resulting in 70% unemployment. 10,000 live in corrugated tin shanties. Two clinics and two ambulances serve the entire city, without a hospital.
Yet, as I visited with community elders, I was most impressed with their sense of optimism. This was due, in part, to a sense of hope created by PHUK’s “Thoughtful Path” project, designed and carried out to “give orphans and vulnerable children the opportunity to develop into healthy, productive adults.”
The project’s early success is related to finding solutions, from within the community, to needs in early childhood development, after school care, youth support and development, community strengthening, child and youth sports programs, child rights and protections, as well as partnership capacity building.
Kelina Ndlovu is the Executive Manager, Health and Development, for the Rand District, comprised of four municipalities, including Munsieville. A nurse, now administrator, she exuded energy, as she described her commitment to its children, during my visit with her. She, in fact, led the creation of one of the city’s two clinics.
Betty Nkoana is the present Project Manager for the “Thoughtful Path” effort in Munsieville. As we visited two Early Childhood Development Centers (EDCC), one of the clinics and the homes of members of the community, the love the members have for her was clearly evident.
As leadership will be passed, in time, to a younger generation, the city will be well served, as seen in visits with two of its outstanding, young people. Ivy began, from the bottom up, a for-profit EDCC, one which is very successful. Bucs began as a journalist intern — and is now the city’s lead print and electronic writer.
I was most taken with a woman, now in her mid-sixties, who has lived in the Shantytown section of the city, since arriving from Mozambique in 1991. She leads the Village Savings and Loan program, begun by HOPE in the 90’s. A micro-lending program, it saw 45,000 rand in revenues (repaid loans and interest) last year, with a very low default rate, all of which is a tribute to the women who run it.
A testimony to the community’s caring and concern, and that of this woman in particular, was seen in a young 13-year-old girl, recently arrived from Mozambique. Her grandmother had succumbed to the entreaties of a neighbor, who brought the girl to Johannesburg under false pretenses, then disappeared, leaving her alone. The Shantytown women brought her in, clothed and fed her, in the face of this attempted human trafficking.
Plans are now afoot to create a sports center, a service center and a nearby hospital. These will be funded, in time, by the central government, the municipality and private donors, including those of PHUK. These are all consistent with the goal of giving young people the “opportunity to develop into healthy, productive adults.”
I left Munsieville with a new image of “a city upon a hill,” a current-day version, inspired at that, of what President-elect Kennedy had in mind, as he spoke in Boston in 1961.