Support to a vulnerable child yearning for a mother’s love
A seven-year-old girl carries her little brother on her back, pretending to be just like Mommy; a young boy flies his home-made kite and a few elders sit on the sidewalk enjoying the breezy, hot open space near the Middelpos informal settlement in Saldanah Bay, on the Atlantic coast of the Western Cape province.
Across the street, workmen are putting the finishing touches on a blue canopy, offering welcome shade to children playing in the small sparse sanctuary or ‘safe park’, operated by the National Association of Childcare Workers (NACCW). It is one of only two such sites in the Western Cape province and is part of the Isibindi programme, a child protection project supported by UNICEF.
The Isibindi model of care is a community-based programme that trains unemployed community members in accredited, integrated child and youth care services for childheaded households and vulnerable families. The Saldanah Bay project is part of a larger initiative aiming to replicate itself nationally in partnership with the Department of Social Development, and through support from organisations like UNICEF.
The safe park project helps meet the basic needs of some 387 vulnerable children from two small settlements in the area, occupied mostly by migrant workers from the Eastern Cape who have come to find work in the fishing town. About 130 children come to the park from 11 am each day, mostly after school. Trained home-based carers, teachers and others provide information on the children’s primary needs to the team of Isibindi childcare workers in the park, who watch after the children, offering them a morning or afternoon meal, social and physical experiences and cognitive learning.
“We teach children basic hygiene skills, how to wash their hands, how to start a food garden and how to prepare food, as some children who have lost their parents have to do this by themselves, and we help them with their homework. Some children come here after walking 2–3km to and from school and just need to rest and play a bit. We also observe them as they play, looking for signs of distress or alcohol abuse, which is common in this area, and other problems. We then follow up on those issues that may need referral,” says Lobabalo Macongoto, Project Manager at the site.
Helping a grieving child
Other children need parental love, a sense of security and help to handle grief. Mr. Macongoto tells the heart-warming story of Andile, an 11-year-old boy who came to the safe park every day, but whose mood seemed sad and morose. “Childcare workers noticed that he always sat by himself, did not eat and did not engage or play at all with other children. We knew something was very wrong,” he said.
When team members began to talk with the child and to look deeper into the situation, they discovered that Andile was missing and grieving for his mother who had died. Andile had come to the Midelpos area from the Eastern Cape Province where he lived with his extended family in a traditional homestead, to visit his mother, because the family had not heard from her for some time. Family members had only learned of her death after she had been gone for several weeks. The child was devastated that he would never again see his beloved mother and became withdrawn.
Once the Isibindi childcare team realised that Andile was grieving for his deceased mother, they immediately provided a counsellor and arranged for him to say goodbye to his Mum. They shared treasured photographs with the young boy and along with other child relatives, accompanied him to her gravesite, where he placed his own goodbye note and a wooden cross that he had made and inscribed with her name.
“I feel very happy now,” Andile told UNICEF. “I got interested in my school work again and I would like to go back to visit my mother’s grave,” he said. The Isibindi childcare workers agree he has changed. “He has gradually come to terms with his grief, has opened up once again and is playing happily with other children,” they said.
Protecting vulnerable children through psychosocial support
“One of the key components our partnership with the Isibindi programme has, is their ability to offer early interventions and psychosocial protection to vulnerable children and their families. Child and youth caregivers are trained in Life Space work and developmental programmes and they learn how to provide counsel in times of grief and loss. They also help children to deal with bereavement through succession planning, memory box-making and grief-work,” says Heidi Loeining-Voysey, OVC Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF South Africa.
UNICEF has assisted NACCW in developing its training programme for child and youth care workers and in costing the Isibindi model for scaling up nationwide. There are currently 50 Isibindi sites reaching 33,000 orphans and vulnerable children, and 575 child and youth care workers have been trained. NACCW has also partnered with UNICEF to improve the care and protection of the growing numbers of unaccompanied migrant children in Central Johannesburg.