At Bergville, starving school children are relying on one meal a day

2013-12-17 00:00

AS most people prepare for the feasting and abundance associated with the festive season, there are others who face a bleak Christmas.

The Witness recently visited Jabulani Primary School in the Bergville area where many children survive on just one meal a day, which they get from the school, community organisations say.

The Department of Education’s Sihle Mlotshwa said the they had identified about 151 vulnerable children at the school.

Meals on Wheels, the charity organisation in Estcourt, recently exposed the children’s suffering, revealing that many were starving and were without school uniforms.

They estimated there were 160 orphaned children at the school.

An Estcourt community newspaper published a picture of some of the affected children sitting in the back of a bakkie. One child walks in his socks as the soles of his shoes are gone.

A source close to the school would only say, “The children’s situations here are terrible”.

During the visit to the area, The Witness discovered that four of the boys with worn-out school uniforms lived with their aunt and grandmother.

The aunt, Nomazweni Mlangeni, who looked sickly (she had just come out of hospital), said their children were struggling. “Some of these children are receiving government grant money, but all that money is consumed by food, which leaves nothing over to buy them school items.”

The organisation found that in one family, a 10-year-old boy, who lives with his mentally disturbed aunt and grandmother, only had rotten food waiting for him after school.

The boy, who cannot be named, is in Grade 2, way below the grade he should be in for his age.

A worn-out yellowish shirt and a pair of tired, dirty-looking grey school pants, torn open underneath, are his best school uniform.

On several occasions, teachers are said to have sent him home because of the state of his uniform.

He has often come home crying after being teased by other children.

His sister is 18 and is still in Grade 7. She recently ran away from home to live with a man, but is now back at school after police intervened.

“She needed hygiene and sanitary products but I could not buy them for her because social workers took her mother’s pension card and gave it to someone else to administer, so there was no money,” said a relative.

Bheki Maphalala, a community worker, said children in the area had little or no option to escape poverty. “There are no industries to support this area … The only jobs around here are to work in a farm or those odd construction jobs.”

Samkelo Mlambo, the director of Meals on Wheels in Estcourt, said, “I had to use my own money to buy a young boy a pair of shoes because of the state of shoes that his were in … Many children in this area are in a similar situation.”

Mlotshwa said the school was facing many challenges associated with vulnerable children as it is in a poor community.

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