“I asked the local municipality for some land to start a child care centre and they gave me a dump site.” Thandi Khanyile recalls the inauspicious start to what is today a thriving centre in Sebokeng that assists 450 orphaned and vulnerable children from the local community. “I was totally committed to setting up the centre, so I just went ahead anyway.”
That was in 2012. Today, the care centre is one of the many thriving projects supported by Starfish Greathearts Foundation. In those early days, funding was a real challenge. “We had no money,” recalls Thandi. “We received a few cash donations and food and clothing from churches in the area. We could pay no one, so we were all volunteers. Starfish has changed all that. Now we are able to offer a stipend to some of our care-workers and can give proper support to the children.”
Like many parts of South Africa, Sebokeng and Evaton, which lie close to the industrial heart of the Vaal Triangle, are wracked by poverty, unemployment and crime. “In these conditions, children are at risk from poor nutrition, sub-standard education, physical and sexual abuse, illness, teenage pregnancy and drugs. Many of them are orphaned victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and live in child-headed households or with ageing grandmothers. I could not sit by and watch this happen. I had to do something,” explains Thandi.
The former dump site, although still limited in size and sophistication of infrastructure, now has a small playground, a kitchen, a meeting room with a small library, boys and girls toilets and several other small teaching and recreational rooms. It is impeccably neat and ordered.
Thanks to the support from Starfish, the community centre is able to provide a range of benefits and services. “We cater for children right up to matric level. Given the pressures on teenagers today, they are just as much in need of care and guidance as the younger ones are. Their needs are just different,” explains Thandi.
The children live at home but receive a cooked meal each day after school and are assisted with school uniforms and educational equipment. But help goes far beyond their physical needs. “Feeding their bodies is one thing, but feeding their minds and souls is another, more important factor,” says Thandi. “Each child is offered daily assistance with homework and is also assigned a dedicated care-worker, who helps them with emotional issues, peer pressure, abuse situations and general life orientation. These mentors are available at any time to assist with any problem the child may have.”
The atmosphere at the centre is clearly one of positive hope and optimism. The dump site has gone; a place of hope, love and care has replaced it. Thandi, her team and Starfish are making a real difference.