The women at the South African Children’s Home embody the expression: “To be a woman is to carry the weight of humanity.”
Originally known as the orphan house, the non-profit organisation, based in Gardens, was the first welfare institution established in the country, in 1808.
It is now a child and youth care centre that provides a loving, warm, happy and secure home for children of all ages and races.
The general manager of the home, Sandra Collins, said they currently have 44 children, 30 boys and 14 girls with 10 childcare workers on different shifts. The children are in 17 different schools in Cape Town.
Ms Collins said they have an increasing number of children who cannot go to mainstream schools.
“Many of the children who come here are very traumatised. Some have learning problems, some with severe emotional problems and some can’t concentrate, and we are grateful to the schools who continuously try to accommodate our children,” she said.
Ms Collins said the children at the centre are placed by the court and there’s multiple reasons and it’s not only that they are poor but they are mostly neglected, abused, abandoned, or orphaned.
She said they are temporary place of care because children are not supposed to stay their whole childhood in an institution.
“They are supposed to live in their communities, live with their parents and that is why the court orders to keep them for only two years.”
She said they are running a therapeutic programme for children because they want the children to go back to their place of birth.
The home is also running a programme where the children go to their families every second weekend and during holidays. “The families are screened to see if it’s safe for the child to go back home, or if there’s supervision, food and everything to ensure the child’s safety.”
Ms Collins said in situations where children can’t go back to their families, there are host families – people who applied to be an alternative custodian.
“They are also screened by the social workers and they become a host parent for children and that is wonderful because there are various people in the community who have opened their homes for our children to visit,” she said.
Touching on their effort to keep families together, Ms Collins said if they receive an application for a family of three, they try to accommodate them all because they try not to split up siblings who are already traumatised about not being with their families.
“We have some children who have been split up, but we make contact with other homes to try and form the link between the kids because they are all they have. We have two siblings here who are still in pre-primary. We had the brother and the sister was in another home and last year, we asked her to be transferred here, so they are together now in the same pre-primary school. This is to ensure that they know that they can grow up together under the same roof,” she said
For the children who have completed school and could not go back to their communities and families, the centre puts aside a budget for the child. “We have six school leavers this and we’re planning on what they are going to do next year. They are attending open days at some of the higher institutions and we have them assisted by industrial psychologists to give us some guidance as to what they can do in terms of a career plan.”
Ms Collins said they have students who are now studying in different universities in Cape Town. “We have contact with them on a twice monthly basis, we assist them financially but they also have to work and pay for some of the things,” she said.
Ms Collins said there are children who fall through the cracks and don’t take the opportunity.
“It’s always sad to see this but for me I need to know that I’ve tried everything possible with my team to try and assist this child and give opportunities to the child, making psychological and educational services available to them.”
She said although their work is meaningful, it’s also emotionally difficult.
“The childcare workers are 24 hours a day in the presence of the children. They are a sounding board for the children. They are the people who have to deal with children when parents make promises and disappear and don’t turn up. They deal with the anger and frustration of the children for being disappointed by the biological parents.”
She said the women in the home render the most meaningful work, looking after vulnerable children.
Child carer Barbara Mntuyedwa said when she joined the centre, she thought it would be easy as she had five children of her own.
However, she realised that this was different. “This is not like taking care of the ordinary kids at home. These kids are vulnerable, they have been through a lot and have special needs that we need to meet. Sometimes they can be rejecting and we have to understand where they are coming from.”
Sharing her sentiments, Nomvuyelelo Cimi said she’s learnt a lot working with the children.
“Patience, understanding, and the ability to control your temper are all skills needed when dealing with the vulnerable kids.”
She said she’s realised that the children are not really angry with them but they are working on their anger so she’s learnt to never take things personally.
Fundraiser Zilpha Buziek said 40% of their budget is covered by the Department of Social Development and the rest in fundraising.
“This becomes a challenge for us because most companies do not fund running costs, the upkeep of our space, painting, replacing windows and the need for more volunteers,” she said.
Members of the public are urged to lend a hand by availing themselves and assisting the kids with their homework. The centre allocates a child to a specific person and the children in high school need people who could assist with maths and science. For more information call 021 423 1328 or email firstname.lastname@example.org