Local youth centre a lifeline for young boys

2018-05-23 06:01
Director of the ACVV Khayalethu Youth Centre, Dr Marietije van der Merwe, with Khayalethu old boy, Nkosinathi Mangqangwana.                           Photo:THANDI SETOKOE

Director of the ACVV Khayalethu Youth Centre, Dr Marietije van der Merwe, with Khayalethu old boy, Nkosinathi Mangqangwana. Photo:THANDI SETOKOE

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CURRENTLY, home to more than 30 boys, aged between four and 21, the ACVV Khayalethu Youth Centre, a Christian organisation based in Kragga Kamma Road in Theescombe, is making a difference in the lives of many young boys.

Established in 1996, after a definite need was identified for a permanent alternative for boys living on the street, Khayalethu, meaning “our home”, provides the boys living at the centre with the necessary tools needed to prepare them physically, emotionally and intellectually to become responsible, functioning members of society.

According to Khayalethu’s director, Dr Marietjie van der Merwe, the boys are placed at the centre through social workers, following a thorough selection process.

“As soon as we have a vacancy at the centre we contact the social workers. What one needs to realise is that on the streets the boys build their own little families, they know where the soup kitchens are and nobody tells them what to do. So, for them, it’s not all negative, they survive,” Dr Van der Merwe said.

She described how the best way to break the cycle was to get the boys off the streets as quickly as possible, adding that the shorter they stay on the streets the better.

“Coming to the centre is a big change for them because they now have to accustom themselves to a different way of life – simple things like brushing their teeth, taking a bath and learning etiquette.”

The children’s home has since expanded when the Khayalethu Oliver House was established in 2007 to accommodate the older boys and students from Khayalethu.

Offering various programmes, this halfway house is aimed at equipping the boys with the skills and maturity they need for independent living and to become proud, confident workers, husbands and fathers.

“According to government regulations, the boys must leave the youth centre either when they leave school or turn 18 years old. This presents enormous challenges for boys who are not yet fully equipped to re-enter society on their own which sometimes leads to the boys returning to the streets.

“Hence, the development of Khayalethu Oliver House for the older boys,” Dr Van der Merwe explained.

She described how, at Oliver House, the boys are given more freedom and responsibilities and more focus is placed on skills development and practical life lessons.

The boys are also placed in work skills programmes with various local companies where they are absorbed into the workforce and earn practical traits as well as social skills to equip them for the future.

An old boy of Khayalethu, Nkosinathi Mangqangwana (28), who arrived at the centre at the age of nine said he would forever be grateful to Khayalethu for moulding him into the man he is today.

“I honestly don’t know what would have become of me had I not been taken in at the centre.

“I have learnt so many valuable life lessons and skills that I will carry with me wherever I go,” Mangqangwana said.

Now, giving back to the centre by volunteering as a child care worker and gumboot dancing teacher, Mangqangwana described how they attended weekly prayer meetings and mentorship programmes which taught them the value of prayer and fellowship.

“The men at the prayer sessions would offer us counselling which really helped a lot. I am now a Christian and have grown so much spiritually,” Mangqangwana added.

Another success story is Thobela Meyane (22). He shared how when he arrived at the centre, he did not know a word of English but can now speak, read and understand it fully.

“At Khayalethu I was given the opportunity of getting an education and I was also enrolled into a bricklaying course,” Meyane said.

The young man who arrived at the centre at the age of 14 now lives on his own and works at a local garage.

Praising the leadership of Dr Van der Merwe he said, “Doc’s love and care for the boys is absolutely amazing. How she was able to put up with all of us is truly special,” Meyane added.

Responding to where he sees himself in five years time, Meyane said he planned on furthering his studies and following his greatest passion, music.

“I love singing and I’m hoping to become a gospel singer one day. I also want to work as a fisherman for a couple of years and during that time, I will be saving up money to buy a brickmaking machine, so, I can start my own business,” Meyane said.

Khayalethu is only partly government subsidised and the Oliver House receives no government funding at all, making fundraising a vital key to the survival and success of the projects. The boys also volunteer in various community projects and are also involved in sporting activities.

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