A life worthy of children

2010-03-24 00:00

TWO young boys lie on their bellies as they play their own version of Uno in the afternoon light. They are 10 and 11 years old, although they look about eight and nine. Like most boys their age they have come home from school and will spend the rest of their afternoon playing and doing homework. But their parents won’t come to this home at the end of the day, they won’t prepare supper for the boys or tuck them into bed. Instead a group of semi and permanent staff will help them with their homework and nightly prayers.

These are two of 11 boys between the ages of nine and 18 who live at the Khayalethu boys’ shelter in Pine Street.

Khayalethu is one of the many outreach projects of the KZN Youth for Christ organization, which has been helping disadvantaged children since the eighties.

Youth for Christ also has a girls’ shelter in Pietermaritzburg that houses seven girls between the ages of 10 and 18.

The Pietermaritzburg branch places a lot of emphasis on the ongoing operations that try to reunite children living on the street with their families as well as involvement with communities before children leave their often abusive homes.

These operations are carried out by street teams who spend every day of the week building relationships with children who work and live on Pietermaritzburg’s streets.

Thulani Nzimande, project co-ordinator at Khayalethu, says this sort of “early intervention and prevention is so important in keeping kids off the streets”. There are four people talking to children in four different areas every day. “They look at life skills and talk to the kids about things like looking after themselves and crime. They also discuss the consequences of not attending school,” said Nzimande.

“These children do not want to be in shelters and we hope these street interventions will help the children realise that one day they will have to go somewhere.”

For the children who do not live at the shelter, but realise its benefits, there is an aftercare programme that keeps some of those who live on the streets bathed and fed. “The aftercare also helps us to keep in contact with the kids. We put them under the care of mentors at the church and in their own families,” said Nzimande. The children who use the aftercare facilities know the staff at the respective shelters and know what is expected of them.

Working with the children’s families is key in the Youth for Christ programmes. “We try to build trust within the homes while focusing on family issues,” said Nzimande. Most of these children leave home due to abuse that is often fuelled by alcohol.

Sniffing glue is a big problem, but Nzimande said the children with whom they come into contact are not too heavily hooked on the drug. “They do not cry or get violent over the addiction.”

The children who get permanent spots in the shelters will only stay for three to 12 months. During this time, the Youth for Christ team and its volunteers will try to rekindle relationships with the children’s families. If this is not successful the children will then be referred to the Department of Social Welfare for permanent adoption or will be placed temporarily at a children’s home.

Nzimande said the organisation must now start working with the older youth (16 to 25- year-olds) on the street. “They are treated like children but they are not kids anymore. They have different needs from the younger children. They want jobs and skills, so we need an integrated plan to make things happen.”

Youth for Christ is looking for a partner to tackle issues surrounding the older youth living and working on our streets.

Although Youth for Christ is in search of partners for this specific project, it has received sponsorships and donations for its other endeavours.

The children in the shelters attend schools in the area. “Even though they do not fit in the age groups, the schools accommodate them. For example, we have 14-year-olds in Grade 3,” said Nzimande. The Youth for Christ organisation has a programme where members of the community can sponsor a child with books, stationery and food for a year. This drop-in project sponsorship costs R3 500 a year and staff will identify children in need.

Lisa Ellis, the marketing and fund-raising co-ordinator said: “We are so grateful for all the support we get in Pietermaritzburg, but we need more corporate sponsors.” There are a number of organisations that already support the shelter, including local schools, Pick n Pay, Albany Bread, The Wykeham Collegiate and The Witness.

Through these sponsorships more children are afforded a safe environment where they can go to school, eat and play cards with friends in the afternoon.

Londiwe Nxeusa : A shoulder to cry on

 

LONDIWE Nxeusa has been working for Youth for Christ since 2007. She began on the streets, talking to children about their futures and counselling them on the difficulties life on the street brings.

Since 2009, Nxeusa, who grew up in Swayimane, is a full-time Youth for Christ employee based at the Khayalethu boys’ shelter. Her duties include ensuring the children go to school and are dressed correctly. She makes their meals and assists them with homework. Nxeusa is seriously involved in the reunification process, something she takes pride in.

The 22-year-old is like a big sister to these boys and is often a shoulder to cry on when they are experiencing difficulties. This is all a good starting block for Nxeusa, who dreams of becoming a social worker one day. Nxeusa is often the one who has to break up fights between the children living at Khayalethu. “Sometimes the boys use weapons. I try to stop this behaviour by counselling the boys on conflict, violence and crime.”

Nxeusa occasionally has to deal with boys’ cravings for drugs like glue and dagga as well as cigarettes. She will usually refer these children to South African National Child Alcoholism where the children will attend rehabilitation.

Nxeusa often checks that the boys are doing their homework. “Sometimes they come home and say they were given no work. I go to the schools and ask the teachers what work they have and what areas they are struggling in.”

Once the children have been reunited with their families, Nxeusa will make regular visits to see that everything is running smoothly.

There are four permanent staff members at the shelter and three voluntary staff members.

YOUTH for Christ KZN was founded in May 1985. It is affiliated with its national body, Youth for Christ South Africa which was established in 1946.

The organisation aims to develop children and youth mentally, socially, physically and spiritually.

The main tasks of Youth for Christ KZN are to work with homeless children and youth, orphans and vulnerable children, dysfunctional families, poverty, HIV/Aids, gender inequality, life skills, development and team building.

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