It's not all bad

2013-02-01 00:00

SOMETIMES, I feel that we are sold fear and despair. This happens all over the world. Media spaces are largely occupied by political instability, wars, struggling economies and, in some cases, devastating natural disasters. We worry about the performance of our rand. There are fewer jobs. Don’t even mention the proposed Eskom hikes of 16%. Petrol is going up again. We are constantly reminded of the Millennium Development Goals that we will not achieve by next year. Maybe we have lost the meaning of poverty. We have simply accepted it as part of us. There is just too much to worry about. Does this mean there is nothing good we can identify in this mist? Is the feeling of despair overshadowing the good side of life? My father once said that the bad and the good cannot be divorced from each other. It is not all bad out there.

There is a nice community that lies between Richmond and Ixopo, along the R56. This community completes the scenic views of the Umkhomazi Valley. Ufafa has a couple of sub-villages and the Ufafa Multipurpose Centre is found in one of them. This community resource facility was established in 1997, but only began operating in 2010. There are many similar facilities in other villages across the province.

MaThabethe Miya, the passionate and energetic programme manager of the centre, draws her energy from Thokozane Nene, who was instrumental in resuscitating the operations of the centre in 2010. What do they do exactly? They fight poverty and its consequences, and they bring hope to needy and helpless families.

With a big smile, Miya speaks very highly of Mrs Nondabula and her staff from the Department of Social Development in the town of Ixopo. “Without them and without their call beyond duty, the centre would be dead like others are,” says Miya.

“It is the only public institution that supports us here,” confirms Nene.

The department provides the centre with 30 food parcels per month, which are given to carefully selected and deserving households. They target homes that have no one working or receiving welfare grants, and then help these families to apply for grants. When grants are received, they stop providing food parcels. Other beneficiaries are people taking ARV treatment and, again, they target cases where there is no one receiving any income in the family. Some development practitioners argue that hand-outs like food parcels and state grants create and reproduce dependency.

But hunger exists. Two young boys were caught stealing food in the neighbourhood. The boys were caught by the community members and the centre was immediately informed and intervened. Sadly, these two boys are looking after seven siblings. It’s a child-headed household with no one receiving welfare grants. Theft was a simple act of survival. Worse, their only shelter is falling apart. There are many households like this one — child-headed households are a reality. Nene and Miya took it upon themselves to provide groceries, while they made necessary applications to the relevant public institutions. This is how good Samaritans add value to public services.

More stories kept coming. A young boy, aged eight, was sexually violated by a 27-year-old male. The family of the victim was persuaded not to press charges. They were promised a cow as acceptance of guilt. Despite threats, the centre intervened, took the matter to the authorities and the culprit is behind bars.

Drama never stops for this centre. Three young children decided to hide themselves from the scorching heat last week by getting into the boot of an old car. Not knowing the risks, they accidentally locked themselves inside, suffocated and perished. I met Nene and Miya while they were making arrangements for the sad burial service last weekend.

Last year, the centre provided 482 school uniforms to needy pupils in 10 schools in its community. They have a very simple way of identifying deserving children: they come to the school unannounced to observe the children when they leave the morning assembly. Of course, they involve the teachers in the process.

As I spoke to them, stories of giving hope to their community kept flowing as if they were reciting a poem. The centre draws strength from 35 community caregivers, who are all volunteers. They visit destitute households to provide home-based care, house cleaning, etc.

They are the foot soldiers of the centre and identify cases that need public-sector involvement, be it social services, health, education, the police or municipal services. They have dreams, too, and big plans to be active players in the development of their community. They are appealing for support beyond the Department of Social Development.

Nene and Miya are examples of shining connectors of development. They connect people, especially needy families, to public services. They are their voices and beacons of hope for their communities. They are the ears and eyes of the public service. They create solid platforms for public services to reach rightful beneficiaries. They demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between community institutions and the public services.

We applaud their work and the commitment of Nondabula’s team. This was not the first time we heard of the good work they are doing in these rural communities. It is not all bad out there. We simply need to focus on the good things we do.

 Nqe Dlamini is a rural development consultant.

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