An island of hope in a sea of need

2010-02-15 00:00

WE’VE all seen the statistics, heard of child-headed households, and know Aids is a tragedy ripping communities apart. But you don’t fully appreciate the reality of this until you stand before a boy trying to be a man, a boy who has had to contemplate life without anyone — just a little brother and sister totally dependent on him. He knows his mother, the only person he has left to turn to, is gravely ill, and the unbearably heavy burden of his future has given him the eyes of a grown man.

“Sifiso*, calls to me during the night,” says his mother, Theresa*. “He asks, ‘Ma, are you still alive?’”

“I don’t know what will happen when I am gone,” she sobs.

This is the stark reality faced by many in France, a vast suburb of small government-built houses just outside Pietermaritzburg. Over 5 000 tightly packed little homes swarm over the hillsides — a sprawling mass of humanity that includes some of the poorest in the city.

But in the midst of this sea of tin roofs and grey concrete, a patch of green stands like an island on the floor of the valley. This is the site of the soon-to-be-built France Community Facility Centre, a project co-ordinated by the Reach Out Foundation and involving a team of sponsors that include Liberty Properties and the construction firm, Grinaker-LTA.

This state-of-the-art centre will offer destitute residents a range of services, including a community room, social worker’s office, pension payout point, laundry and clinic, as well as a child advocacy centre to support, counsel and protect children.

It is a beacon of hope to thousands.

Theresa can do little for herself. Thin and frail, and suffering from tuberculosis and symptoms of Aids, she relies on her 13-year-old son to look after her.

“Sifiso baths me and makes the food for the children and looks after them,” she explains.

But when he is at school, she has to try to cope alone with her three-year-old, who has special skin and eyesight needs due to albinism.

“Last week I fell and cut my head. The ambulance took me to hospital, and my small one was left alone.

“He played outside by himself all day and was asleep on the grass when I came back.”

For many in Theresa’s situation, this community centre could be a lifesaver. Its clinic will almost certainly provide life-saving healthcare; its soup kitchen will supplement families’ meagre diets; and the laundry facility and homework support service will help children like Theresa’s cope with what life has dealt them. Perhaps its education and training facility will make the difference in Sifiso’s life that will one day help this brave boy become a leader in his community.

For many, the centre is something to look forward to.

Other project sponsors include The Witness, Quad Africa, Bentels Associates International, Crane Registered Quantity Surveyors, RPP Consulting Engineers, AKI Consulting, Building Code Consultants, GHC Africa, Benny Bongers Land Surveyors, CM Safety Consultants, and Southern Sun Hotels.

* Not their real names.

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