France community centre will make young mothers’ tough lives a little easier

2010-03-16 00:00

AT AN age when more fortunate young adults are just starting their careers and families, Silindile* already has four small children of her own to look after, as well as a 12-year-old brother.

For her, 25 is not an age that signifies the start of a bright future, but yet another year of daily struggling, with no prospect of improvement. Her days are spent trying to meet the needs of the innocents in her care — and each year it gets harder.

Silindile grew up in a large family with four brothers and sisters, and a mother and father. But when her mother fell ill and died in 2007, and her father followed shortly thereafter in 2008, she and her two sisters and two brothers (22, 18, 27 and 12) were suddenly left to provide for themselves, and for offspring of their own (Silindile’s two sisters each have toddlers too).

“To feed and clothe the children is hard,” says Silindile, as a seemingly unending stream of almostnaked kids run in and out of the small single-roomed, government-built house in France, a sprawling township on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.

Luckily, it’s a sweltering hot day, so being in their natural state is exactly how the children want to be. But one shudders to think what it will be like in winter on this bleak hillside.

Silindile does not collect a government grant. She has no identity document, she says, and when she tried to get one she was told she needed a “sponsor”.

Not knowing what this meant, and not knowing what to do, she gave up.

A big family is what she grew up with, so it’s understandable she would expect a large family of her own too. She didn’t expect her parents to both die young.

“We want to reach out to the children,” says Melanie du Plessis, founder of the Reach Out foundation, a charity that helps the needy in this township. With sponsors — such as Liberty Midlands Mall, Liberty Properties, Grinaker-LTA, Quad Africa, Bentel Associates International, Crane Registered Quantity Surveyors, RPP Consulting Engineers, AKI Consulting, Building Code Consul­tants, GHC Africa, Bongers & Associates, C & M Safety Consul­tants, The Witness and Southern Sun — they are building a community centre in the township that will help needy families like Silindile’s.

At the centre, a soup kitchen will help supplement the meals of destitute and child-headed households. Its clinic will ensure children like Silindile’s receive adequate health care, and people will be educated on pregnancy and HIV/Aids.

Importantly, rights-based awareness programmes will promote leadership activities for women to encourage them to have a voice. It’s a step towards empowering many disenfranchised people and can go a long way towards a potentially brighter future for many.

The building of the centre has already begun.

Du Plessis has since confirmed that the “sponsor” Silindile was referring to is in fact someone to vouch for Silindile at Home Affairs. Du Plessis will be assisting Silindile to get her ID so that she can apply for a government grant.

* Not her real name.

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