WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS VERY LITTLE FOOTBALL
Child and youth care centre? We used to call them orphanages in the bad old days. The fact is, when legal firm Spoor & Fisher decided to hold their annual Christmas Party at Makhulong, we hardly knew what to expect.
Supported by nearby Doxa Deo church, Makhulong is one of dozens – hundreds – of such “shelters” around Tshwane for the children of families who don’t quite make it. These are the kids removed from their homes because, officially, they have been “maltreated or sexually abused”. The two brave little buildings in the middle of the local High School a few miles from Mamelodi also house AIDS orphans and those whose parents have passed on… or simply moved on.
|HO HO HO! Santa Hlogi and Courage hand out goodies|
with help from elves Morgan and Matthew
The two homes, Jabulani House and Shalom House are not doing that badly. The kitchens are well-appointed but poorly stocked, the bathrooms are clean, the bedrooms sparse but neat. The lounge or living areas, when we got there for the first visit, are cramped but comfortable, though I’ve got to ask Docky Dockrat about getting DSTV provided – they were watching an ancient Jungle Book video when we first experienced the magic of Makhulong.
Ages vary from six – twins Martin and Phillip who laugh heartily at my attempted Sepedi – to awkward 18-year-olds with no future other than the one they can carve out for themselves.
Next year George, who is repeating standard 11, may find himself without a home. Makhulong is offering a future to one of its four matriculants, but they simply can’t provide for all. Jobs are scarce for everyone... particularly orphans. George, though initially withdrawn, is a cracking bloke. Big Kaizer Chiefs fan, helpful, strong, handsome, articulate, knows his music (though I explained Steve Hofmeyr was not my choice, he put it on because he assumed…) and I’d offer him a job given half a chance.
Peace, the little guy in the check shirt aged 7, lost his mum two years ago. Rose, who runs Jabulani House 24 hours a day with her daughter and husband on site, explains: “Sometimes Peace just goes quiet. And tears begin to flow. We don’t know how to deal with it.”
The tragic stories come thick and fast. They are not unique to Makhulong, in fact when you get under the surface around Tshwane, they are common-place. Parents who can’t cope, take drugs, drink or have died of AIDS. Fathers who lash out, mothers who can't cope.
Like parts of Slough where I used to live in England, this is the dark side of the modern, consumer world. The kids they left behind. This is not just a South African problem. Or even an African problem. It’s global. But South Africa lacks the safety-net to provide much in the way of state help.
These children would be street kids if it wasn’t for Doxa Deo, Rose and Tecla and their exhausted helpers. They would be unprotected, abused, addicted and (as another Highveld storm rolls in), cold, wet and hungry.
On the Thursday between our two visits, a mighty hail-storm smashed nearly every east-facing window at Makhulong, it tore through foliage turning the dirt-red car park dark green – oh, and a roof collapsed in Tecla's house, Shalom.
But when Spoor and Fisher turned up for Christmas with a bakkie for a sleigh you wouldn’t have known they’d suffered a nightmare of tennis-ball sized ice and screaming children just 48 hours before.
|Dancing in the house: Benjie, Morgan, Peace, Mpho,|
Phillip, Eva, Martin, Dikaledi, Tumelo, and in the
background, big George
With young trainee trade mark lawyer Courage Morero in charge of Santa’s elves and 2005 Pretoria Boy’s High School first XV flanker Hlogi Kgothadi donning the beard as Saint Nicholas himself, we were able – briefly – to turn Makhulong into a hail-protected, tear-free Winter Wonderland with former Bidvest Wits professional footballer Nolo Makhutle in pole position as DJ.
It won’t solve the problems parent-less children face in the world. It won’t stop the tears, the frustration, the heart-ache. But just for an afternoon, Corporate Social Responsibility had put its money where its mouth is with Spoor & Fisher refusing to divulge the exact amount spent on everything from a bag of stationary and toiletries for each child to bikes, guitars and much-needed clothes.
The braais burned, the kids danced, the shoeless bouncy castle… well… bounced. Christmas in blazing sunshine. I’ll never quite get used to that. But the smiles were universally Yuletide. After about three hours the true Peace was breaking out, smiling and interacting.
Over the past two years, Spoor & Fisher have backed the vast Africa Tikkun sports day, sent a CHOC team to the 94.7 cycle race, built an R80,000 RDP home in Orange Farm, erected a wooden jungle gym in the desolate Tankwa wasteland and painted a home for abandoned children in Lyttelton.
|Kings of the Castle: Eva about to leap!|
But nothing quite prepares you for Makhulong. We left our little friends struggling to ride their bikes, little Eva, 8, sweating as she ran alongside Benji, 9, struggling to keep his balance. In truth, Rose and Tecla need about 18 mums and as many dads to get through an ordinary day. Or the average scream-punctuated night.
But they soldier on. A band of children cast adrift in the world. And they’re the lucky ones. We left them two goals and a few footballs. They walk the dirt road and take a bus to school every morning. Some of them - like Dikeledi and Thabang - are top of the class, big George and little Eva are struggling but “willing to work harder” they tell me with earnest voices.
Yes, there were tears when we left. Most of them inside our car, if I’m honest. If you get the chance, perhaps you could contact a bloke called Riaan de Wet on +27 12 808 9950 or firstname.lastname@example.org and offer to visit, or help… or just give some cash to Doxa Deo’s network of half-a-dozen children’s homes (see http://www.doxadeo.co.za/ChildrensHomes.aspx).
If you can’t be bothered, I understand. If this sort of thing doesn’t move you, fine. But just take a second to think. What would it have been like for YOU growing up without mum and dad? Nobody to kick a football with. Nobody to kiss Phillip’s bike-damaged shin better. One mum to put a dozen children to bed at night.
Think about it. It’s real. They’re out there. The nearly-forgotten kids. Even as the rain lashes down.
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