by Phoebe Giffey-Brohaugh
Vuyisile, Ruth, and Silvia feed up to 100 children twice per week in Embonisweni, South Africa. Growing up in the township life is a rollercoaster; it is a simple, communal culture, and it is filled with difficult obstacles that both children and adults must face everyday. The township of Embonisweni is no exception. Embon and many communities across South Africa are facing a mountain of problems, seemingly alone and left with no hope for the betterment of their homes and families.
But when you hear these three ladies’ talk about their home, both the good and the bad, you realize that not only is there hope for the future, but the change is already happening. Even as they talk about the very real challenges, they do so with honesty and vulnerability, yet with smiles on their faces and a joke placed here and there to let you know they’re not completely discouraged. Yes, these challenges are not acceptable for any human to have to face. Yes, it is unfortunately their reality, and yes, most importantly, those things are slowly, but surely changing. These three women are what gives their community hope.
Vuyisile: Mother of one teenage girl; been working in and helping to lead the program for 7 years.
Silvia: Mother of 4, grandmother of 2 girls; has been working in the program for 7 years.
Ruth: Mother of 2 boys, and one baby girl; has been working in the program for 4 years.
Last week I sat with them and listened to what they had to say about the township life, specifically Embonisweni, and how their feeding program fits into that. Here’s what they had to say…
Q: Why do you work at the program?
Vuyisile: We have love for the children.
Silvia: We believe that things will be better. We are patient, because we are hoping that change will come.
Ruth: It is in our hearts to work with these kids. We want to be with them and to educate them and to play with them.
Q: What do you enjoy about the program?
Vuyisile: The children come every time. No matter what, they come.
Silvia: The kids come because they find love in the program.
Ruth: They [the children] get love from us, and they like what we are cooking and the way we cook it. They like to be here because they are safe.
When we started discussing the challenges the community has, we realized there were too many to answer in one sentence. Here is the list the ladies compiled together:
Challenges the children in the program, and the entire community, are facing:
- Not enough food and clothing at home
- No one to look after them when their parents or caretakers are at work
- Lack of uniforms that fit well
- Not enough textbooks at school
- Lack of school supplies, such as typec [writing paper]
- Safety (many kids are left unattended after school, and this leaves room for dangerous accidents in the house amongst other things; there have even been incidents of children reporting rapes, other children have even gone missing completely)
- Peer Pressure (teenagers are afraid to come to the after school program, even though they want to, because other kids at school will laugh at them and tease them)
Challenges within the entire community:
- Lack of water (there are 3 or 4 functioning public wells for the entire township, and almost none of the houses have access to running water)
- High rates of unemployment
- Too much alcohol consumption
- Lack of transportation (many families don’t have cars, so they must use buses or taxis to go to town, to work, or to study; public buses only come and go from the community very early in the morning and at the end of the day shift; taxis only leave Embonisweni when they are full enough to cover petrol expenses)
- Teenage pregnancy
- No streetlights
- Poorly maintained roads
Q: How has being part of the After School Program helped you?
Vuyisile: I know more information about children and understand how to raise them and interact with them.
Silvia: It helps when there is extra food at the program, and we [the ladies] can take home extra food like beef bones, butternut, and beetroot.
Ruth: Before I had low self-esteem. Now I have confidence; I learned so much on how to share and to communicate with each other and to give one another love.
Q: What are you hopeful for?
Vuyisile: I hope one day Embonisweni will have a Community Hall. Maybe someday our After School Program will have a new and improved location. I hope one day my family will be able to buy a car.
Silvia: I hope one day life will change for the better. I want to finish building my beautiful house. I want Mbali [my granddaughter] to go to school and find an education.
Ruth: My children are my biggest hope. I hope someday things will change. From the little generation, from them, I think there will be a lot of changes. I hope that someday a Good Samaritan will come and help us and the children in our programs.