Workers’ Day: Congolese immigrant works from 5am to 11pm

Bijou Bakole Tshibengu (Tariro Washinyira)
Bijou Bakole Tshibengu (Tariro Washinyira)

This feature is part of a Worker's Day series by GroundUp. 

Bijou Bakole Tshibengu’s working day starts at 5am and ends at 11pm. She runs a pre-school centre and a drop-in centre for street children in Parow, and doesn’t charge the parents who can’t afford to pay.

Tshibengu, 41, has a journalism degree from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She worked there as a journalist but had to flee in 2008.

Under a false identity she travelled to South Africa by road through Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Tshibengu, who now has refugee status, has training in Early Childhood Development and since 2015 has been running a pre-school called El-Theos and a drop-in centre for street children at a Baptist church in Parow. She is married with two sons.

The pre-school and centre take care of 60 children, some of whom come for the whole day and some for part of the day. The families of 12 children do not pay fees. Some even sleep over at Tsibengu’s house.

'They are being exploited'

"When I look at the payslip, my heart breaks.. how much can you charge that mother? The money is too little. They are being exploited. I see the struggle.. refugee single women are suffering and carrying all that burden alone. There is no cousin or any relative to help," she said.

Before she started El-Theos she worked as a cleaner, at a creche and in restaurants and shops. Frustrated by the treatment and the low pay, she started taking in the children of immigrant mothers while they looked for jobs. She helped the women with their CVs and job applications and when they got jobs they paid her.

Then she started helping other immigrants find places in schools for their children and teaching the children English. "We now have children in various schools who are successful because of the foundation that was laid at El-Theos," she said.

She rents a building in Voortrekker road in Parow for the preschool, at R9 350 per month. Children pay monthly fees of R800 for full care, R500 for half-day care and R350 for after care.


She also receives donations from the churches and from the Voortrekker Road Corridor Improvement District. The Baptist church lets her use the premises free from 9am to 12 noon for the drop-in centre.

At 5am the first children arrive at her home, dropped by mothers who start work very early. At 6am Tshibengu opens the preschool. The teacher comes between 6:30am and 7am and the children are taught the alphabet, the days of the week, and life skills.

When she finishes at the preschool Tshibengu goes to the centre and returns to El-Theos at 2:30 pm for after care till 17:00.

At the centre she is helping six children aged between 14 to 17 to prepare to go back to school. They have been on the streets for a long time, and most schools do not want to take them. She found places for them in Green Point at Salesian Institute Youth Projects.

Sometimes the rent on her home is in arrears, sometimes her own children’s school fees are outstanding. But mostly, "God provides," she says.

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