Vanessa Jooste’s childhood memories are harrowing, yet she speaks of them fondly. She describes how she, along with her 8 siblings, were evicted from their home in a garage, and how the family then spread out into kindly neighbour's homes each night, but first always gathered as a family to share an evening meal in one shack.
Despite enduring a tough upbringing, Vanessa says her memories are filled with lots of fun and laughter, and that wit was the foundation of their lives. She credits her parents, siblings and neighbours with instilling sound values and morals in her.
Perhaps this is what led her to establish Kingdom Kidz Construction Ministry, a registered NPO, through which she reaches underprivileged and vulnerable children in Cape Town’s gang areas.
As for how hiking became a huge part of her intervention programs, Vanessa says that when she started gathering groups of children, she would tell them about her own childhood mountain adventures.
Vanessa’s brother, Robert, was a scout leader, and she recalls taking the late bus to Constantia Nek, hiking to Ash Valley and sleeping in the caves in the early 70's as her first introduction to the mountains.
"The kids were intrigued and asked me to take them out to hike and sleep on the mountain," Vanessa told Parent24. "I contacted the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) and asked if they could make our dream of taking the kids on an overnight hike come true."
In September 2004 Urs Huber of the MCSA took 12 kids on an overnight at the MCSA hut, followed shortly by another hike with 12 more kids in October, "and we were all hooked" Vanessa says.
"We saw how much the kids loved, appreciated and enjoyed the mountains, waterfalls, rivers, fauna and flora, and we knew that we had a winning combination to host camps and teach life skills, values and morals," she says.
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Kingdom Kidz and MCSA soon started monthly hikes, and the relationship has gone from strength to strength over the last 15 years.
"We have 2nd generation hikers in our organization. Our youngest hiker is 7 months old!" Vanessa says proudly. "We greatly appreciate the opportunity and support given by MCSA Outreach volunteers and coordinators to expose our community kids to the mountains."
Vanessa describes how a lack of recreational resources and recreational activities is assisting the scourge of alcohol and drugs to destroy the quality of life in local communities. Vanessa explains that many of the children they help come from poverty-stricken households, headed by struggling single mothers.
"The MCSA Outreach programs have been instrumental in helping our beneficiaries become environmentally aware and to appreciate nature and explore the mountains," she says.
"We ensure that we do programs that gives them beautiful memories and much joy and laughter," Vanessa explains. "My heart is always so grateful when I see how much fun they have."
Vanessa also shared her experience of doing community development programs with children from underprivileged areas, many of whom suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and drug related issues.
"When I started in 2004 in Lotus River, I observed that the children did not listen when spoken to," she says. "They do not know how to follow instructions. They were restless and could not sit still for long. Their concentration span was very short. They lacked self-esteem and self-control and it was extremely difficult to get them to complete tasks."
"I knew that alcohol and drugs were prevalent in our communities. Pregnant mothers smoked, drank alcohol and used drugs," Vanessa describes. "I realised that I needed to equip myself and our volunteers to understand the behavioural problems we were dealing with."
Vanessa and her volunteers attended various certificate courses at the Parent Centre to equip themselves with effective parenting skills.
In conjunction with observing how the kids appreciated and enjoyed the outdoors, the team structured programs around the 5 senses, allowing the children to develop confidence in their strengths.
"This concept worked beautifully and together we became a family – community unit," Vanessa says, describing how many of the children have become peer leaders, and later, leaders and volunteers themselves.
Financially, it is tough to fund these outings, and Vanessa hustles to find adequate funding. It costs R 1 400 to take about 30 children on an outing, to cover the costs of petrol and snacks and while the MCSA sponsors the hikes, Vanessa says they face challenges with regards to funding.
Kingdom Kidz runs other programs that need funding, such as holiday camps, overnight hikes and leadership development programs among others.
If you’d like to know more about Kingdom Kidz, or to sponsor a trip and help Vanessa with her life's work to "keep the kidz safe and off the streets", please email us for details.
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