How to spread it – Mmatsatsi Mokgohloa: A passion to serve the community

2014-09-29 08:00

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Mmatsatsi Mokgohloa is an educator and social worker?–?and she is the saving grace of the community of Mabopane outside Pretoria.

The 59-year-old mother has two master’s degrees and is a former lecturer at the University of Pretoria as well as Unisa.

She had been running her own training institute, Korema, for social auxiliary workers, for a number of years. But in 2010, her path took a more philanthropic turn.

An old clinic was about to close due to a lack of funding and one of its matrons felt the community could put it to use. “I knew my students needed a place to practise,” says Mokgohloa. “I wanted to start an organisation that would ensure they dirtied their hands through working in places that needed their services the most.”

That was the beginning of the Care-Net Development and Support Organisation’s centre for vulnerable children. It is run by Mokgohloa and community members.

Without funding, apart from her pension and that of her husband’s, she cleaned up the place with help from volunteers. Then she took her students into the community to find out what was needed.

They came back with a long list, but the biggest issue for Mokgohloa was that the children in the community were in need of food, a place to do homework?– and someone to talk to.

“We found there were many orphaned children who were not performing well at school because the grandparents they lived with could not help with homework. We decided to take in the kids after school for at least an hour to help with homework and other issues they were experiencing.”

Each student social worker has their own group of children who they talk to about what is happening at home, their difficulties at school and how to take care of themselves.

But Care-Net also has to ensure that the children, who spend two to three hours a day at the centre, are fed.

“My students began raising funds and people began donating bread and anything we could give to the children in the afternoon.”

Sometimes, when the centre runs out of food, Mokgohloa takes the essentials from her own home. She also “borrows” her own children’s educational DVDs and games to stimulate the children at the centre.

“I used to take so much from the house that my husband would say, ‘You marry a social worker, you are going to be so poor!’ But I am privileged that my family runs a farm down the road and I usually ask for the leftover produce. The board members also chip in.”

The farm, which Mokgohloa helped establish, runs at a profit and provides food for the centre and the community. It is run by staff from the area, most of whom are women.

This year, the department of social development organised for Tiger Brands to donate a few basic food items.

“We don’t get a lot of donations for meat and expensive food, but we’ve learnt how to cook what we have and ensure it nourishes the children and is also exciting and flavourful.”

Last year, Mokgohloa was given an opportunity to get back into the department of social development as a retired social worker, but even though the “easy money” was desperately needed, she quit.

“It was easy money because I could do the work in my sleep but I resigned because it didn’t touch my heart.

“What drives me here is that I am allowed to think and be creative and actually see the impact of my passion in this community,” she says.

Last year, Mokgohloa won the Inyathelo Award for philanthropy in community development as the centre now takes care of more than 200 children daily, feeding them, stimulating them intellectually and listening to their problems.

It is also tasked with renewing the SA Social Security Agency grant documentation for community members, and Mokgohloa writes up reports for court matters involving foster children in the area.

At times, she questions why she started the project of lending a hand in one of the worst-affected areas in Pretoria in terms of poverty and food shortages, but she says there is nothing else she’d rather do.

“We still have difficulties, for example the centre is near a tavern; it’s not very child-friendly and

there isn’t a suitable place for the kids to play. But people support us because they know the children have nowhere else to go,” she says.

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