Bringing hope to a child-headed household
*Thandeka Dlamini is sixteen years old and lives with her five siblings and their unemployed father in a two-roomed shack in Sebokeng in the Vaal Triangle, close to the industrial heart of Vanderbiljpark. Thankdeka is the effective head of the household and the shack is far too small for them to live remotely comfortably. The front room is the kitchen/living area and the back room is the sleeping area, containing three beds, which the six-person family shares. Outside a single toilet serves several families on the plot. A tiny vegetable garden, protected from the birds by an orange plastic cover, supplements their meagre diet.
Thandeka is supported by Thy Kingdom child care centre, which is one of the organisations supported by Starfish. Palesa Rosette is the care-worker assigned by Thy Kingdom to assist Thandeka. “Thandeka is a lovely, warm and caring child. She is currently in grade 10, but her schoolwork used to be hampered by several factors: she is effectively the head of the family and has to look after her five younger siblings; the shack is so small and crowded that she cannot do her homework properly and there is a constant battle to feed the family.”
Things have changed dramatically ever since Thy Kingdom intervened. “Thandeka is our focus in the family,” explains Palesa. “Previously, the family often went to sleep without any food, but now we provide them with food parcels and Palesa gets a hot meal every day after school. She also has a proper school uniform and is helped with her homework under supervision at Thy Kingdom, so her school performance has improved.”
But the programme initiated in 2013 by Thandi Khanyile and her team at Thy Kingdom includes more than material assistance. “I am essentially a mentor to Thandeka. I am on constant call in case she needs me. Initially, she was very shy but that has changed. We work hard to protect these vulnerable teenagers from the risks of physical and sexual abuse, drugs, crime and negative peer pressure. All of these evils are constant problems in the townships,” says Palesa.
Thandeka is not the only child being cared for by Palesa. The care-workers, some of whom were sponsored to attend a care-giver training course and receive a small stipend from the funds allocated by Starfish, care for between 30 and 35 children each. “The work is hard but I find it rewarding. It’s so good to see the difference we can make to the lives of people like Thandeka.”
Thy Kingdom does not operate in isolation in Sebokeng. “We have forged partnerships with Starfish Greathearts Foundation as well as with the childrens’ schools, their teachers and the local government social workers. Together, we are definitely making a difference,” says Thandi.
Young Thandeka Dlamini would no doubt agree with that.
*A pseudonym has been used to protect the identity of the child
Written by: Ian Laxton