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South Africa, March 2016: The best gift

© UNICEF South Africa/2016/Reddy
Sesona (left) has been visiting the Safe Parks in Alice since she was a teenager.

March 2016 – The road to the town of Alice in the Eastern Cape takes one through lush, rolling hills before plateauing as the iconic University of Fort Hare approaches, the alma mater of numerous African statesmen including Nelson Mandela. As one drives through Alice, attention is drawn to two brightly coloured former shipping containers that represent the Alice Safe Park. With its neatly-cut grass, freshly painted playground and welcoming atmosphere it is not hard to see why this is a

‘safe space.’

On this quiet Monday afternoon, the park coordinators are busy preparing food and keeping the space tidy and clean before the children arrive from school. Nomalungisa, the manager of the park speaks passionately about the need for such spaces to exist for communities that are afflicted by poverty and violence. Her colleagues, Fezeka and Thandi concur and speak about the children and youth whose lives have been changed by the Safe Park.

A good example of this is 22-year-old Sesona, who has been visiting the Safe Parks in Alice since she was a teenager. Coming from a troubled background and facing numerous difficulties herself, this softly-spoken, but confident, young woman found the atmosphere at the Safe Park to be welcoming and supportive. Today, Sesona is tasked with helping with the homework of the school-going children, and assists the staff in the day to day running of the Park on a regular basis. About to start university, which she attributes the Safe Park as they helped her with the application process and the funding to apply, Sesona maintains that she would like to continue support the work of the park even when she is in university and after she has completed her degree.

“I felt my stress go away” she says as she explains how the staff at the Safe Park gave her advice, comfort and guidance at a time in her life when she needed it the most. As a mother of a three-year-old, Sesona speaks of how the women who run the Park help her raise the child. The Safe Park is her “second home” she says and her happy, healthy little daughter seems to agree.

Sesona feels that even more can be done, especially to support teenagers in an area of substance abuse and violence, when safe parks are more needed than ever. She urges for more food donations to be made as well as more community support and awareness campaigns.

Her name means “the best gift” in her Xhosa, but for Sesona, the Isibindi Safe Park has been the best gift to her.

 

 
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