South Africa, April 2014: Guiding vulnerable children towards a brighter future
April 2014 – As she writes down her name, the young girl’s brows furrow in concentration. Her hand is trembling slightly as she puts pen to paper, but the hint of a smile is playing on her lips. Many children will regard the ability of noting one’s own name for granted, but for Bongile the ability signals a future far brighter than her family could ever have imagined for her.
The name she just wrote down so carefully belongs to a girl who has never spoken a word, a girl who until recently could only dream of playing with other children, a girl who until a year ago could not hold a pencil, a girl who at the age of fifteen can live with hope for the first time in her life.
Bongile was born with mild cerebral palsy. The disorder prevents her from speaking and she will never be physically as mobile as the other children in her neighbourhood. The little girl limps as she crosses the room to greet visitors, but nothing about her circumstances seems to detract from the smile that appears to be a permanent feature of the young girl’s inquisitive face.
A breakthrough moment for Bongile
It is hard to believe that a year ago Bongile was confined to the little one bedroom house she shares with her mother. She was not interacting with other children, never went to school and rarely left the house. That was until the day that Lazola, a woman living three doors down from her, started making inquiries about the girl not going to school.
As a trained Isibindi community worker, Lazola noticed the little girl who was not given the opportunity to live out her full potential. The Isibindi model of care was developed to relieve the effect of AIDS and poverty on South Africa’s children. Developed by the National Association of Childcare Workers (NACCW) and supported by UNICEF, the programme screens and trains community members to support vulnerable children in their own homes.
“I was concerned about her, and made inquiries about her,” says Lazola. “I was told that the little girl can’t go to school because of her disability and that she is not allowed to leave the house.”
Lazola would soon become an integral part of the family – a journey of compassion that ultimately led to changes benefitting Bongile’s aunt (her main caregiver) and her mother.
“Isibindi Child Care Workers are a lifeline. They accompany children to school, clinic or hospital, and help them get official documents and services,” says UNICEF’s Orphans and Vulnerable Children Specialist, Heidi Loening-Voysey.
Isibindi workers become a part of the family
Committed to give Bongile’s family new hope for the little girl’s future, Lazola set out to find a facility fitted to the young girl’s needs. It was no easy task, but after weeks of searching Lazola found a facility catering for children with special needs.
Lazola’s commitment to Bongile and her family was the catalyst for changes that reached beyond assisting a vulnerable girl to live a fuller and more meaningful life. Since Bongile started attending the facility during the mornings, her aunt has gone back to work. She can also rest assured knowing that Bongile is in good hands thanks to Lazola.
In carrying out her commitment to Bongile and her family, Lazola's day begins at the break of dawn when she helps Bongile to get ready for her day. Lazola also draws up a roster every week that allows for a set routine to Bongile’s life – an integral need for every child.
“Before Lazola became involved in Bongile’s life the young girl was shy and withdrawn,” says Isibindi child protection specialist Moefeeda Salie-Kagee. “She has become the girl she has always been deep inside – it is rare to see her without a smile on her face. Since she started attending the special facility, she can distinguish colours, and for the first time in her life she is making friends.”
Thanks to Isibindi’s intervention Bongile no longer stands apart from society. She is starting to fit in as a member of society – a young vibrant girl known for her beaming smile and ability to give hope to those privileged to spend time in her presence.
The Isibindi model of care is a community-based programme that trains unemployed community members in accredited, integrated child and youth care services for child headed households and vulnerable families. UNICEF supported the National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers to develop the Isibindi model, ensuring community-led support for orphaned and vulnerable children.
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