Blue Monday? Not in France

2010-02-19 00:00

FEW of us like Mondays. Mondays mean back to school or work, to doing things you’d rather not do. It’s the first of another five long days before you get to relax again.

However, for a significant number of children in a suburb just outside Pietermaritzburg, it means something entirely different. Monday, for many children in the France Township, means breakfast again after two days of going without. It means food for another five days and the satisfaction of starting a day with a full tummy. For these children, school is eagerly anticipated and they begin queuing at the back of Mpumelelo Primary school from 7 am for their bread and cups of soup.

“By the end of last year we were feeding about 300 of the most needy kids here,” explains Melanie du Plessis, founding director of Reach Out, a charity that assists this community of over 50 000 people. Every morning she packs her little Hyundai Atos to the roof with bread donated by Albany Ba­keries, and takes it to the school to supplement soup provided by Save Cash & Carry.

“Many of these kids come from child-headed households,” she says. It’s a euphemistic term for orphans left to fend for themselves, and every year their numbers grow.

“When we started supplying breakfast last year, there were 50 kids on the first day,” says Du Plessis. “The next day there were over 100 queuing for food.”

“This year,” confirms school principal Jimmy Khanyile, “we identified 421 pupils who need breakfast every morning.”

That’s more than a quarter of the children in the school.

Although there is a mid-morning government-sponsored meal, many need something before then, as their last food would have been the previous day’s 10 am meal.

“Learners used to collapse by 8.30 am,” says Sinegugu Nkosi, a Grade 7 teacher, “It happened every day.”

“This food has made a huge difference in their schoolwork,” she says, pushing forward a bright-eyed 11-year-old. “Zinthle was a quiet child; if you asked her a simple question she wouldn’t answer.

“Now she’s more active in class,” Nkosi smiles as the little girl chatters on about how much better school is and how she one day wants to be a nurse.

But Reach Out is not claiming victory yet.

“Many kids leave school on Friday for a bleak weekend,” says Du Plessis.

Reach Out’s new Community Centre being built in France will help these children. Liberty Properties has contributed R2,4 million for its development and Grinaker-LTA has volunteered as the main contractor. It will include a soup kitchen, laundry facility, homework support service, community room, social worker’s office, and a clinic. It will also have a child advocacy centre to support, counsel and protect children.

For a growing number of children in France, it promises an opportunity to one day dislike Mondays just as the rest of us do, and it couldn’t have come soon enough.

To help with the work Reach Out is doing, please contact Minoli Chetty at 033 341 9570.

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