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Isibindi: Making a real difference

UNICEF South Africa/2016/Reddy
© UNICEF South Africa/2016/Reddy
Sonele (3rd from the left), with a group of Isibindi child care workers.

24 February 2016 - The lush greenery in the Eastern Cape of South Africa is a welcome sign that the long-delayed rains have finally arrived. Recent downpours minimise the dusty roads of Tyutyu village on the outskirts of King Williams town where Sonele Yibe welcomes us into her small, neat home.

Since the passing away of her mother in 2010 and the migration of her older siblings, Sonele has effectively been running the house on her own, with support from relatives and, more importantly, Thandiswa, the local child and youth care worker. This 19-year old speaks confidently and eloquently as describes her life path since she first attended a Safe Park when she was twelve years old.

Noticing the poor living conditions of Sonele and her siblings, as well as their regular absences from school, Thandiswa, with the support of the Isibindi programme, stepped into the support the family. She introduced the children to the Adolescent Development Programme and assisted them to apply for a Foster Care Grant while also arranging food and clothing donations. At a day-to-day level, Thandiswa and other community child and youth care workers would help Sonele and her siblings with household chores, prepare breakfast before they left to school and taught them budgeting skills. In this regard, Sonele proudly displays her ‘budget book’ which she says helped the family save money to buy bricks so that they can build their own home in the near future. “I used to waste money before I learnt about budgeting” she says candidly.

To provide a sense of family and peer support, Thandiswa would take Sonele to the local Safe Park a few times a week. Here, Sonele was assisted with homework and was also able to share her problems in a supportive and caring space. The child and youth care workers also assisted Sonele with accessing financial aid, thus preventing her from dropping out of school. At an emotional level, Sonele was able to talk through her feelings of anger that she had felt towards her late mother, among others, and to make peace with her feelings. 

UNICEF South Africa/2016/Reddy
© UNICEF South Africa/2016/Reddy
Sonele (right) talking with one of the Isibindi child and youth care workers.

What helped her greatly in this process was the encouragement she received from the child and youth care workers to make a ‘memory box’ of things that are special to her – old photographs, small gifts, letters, cards and similar items of meaning. She eagerly opens her memory box to proudly show faded photographs of her parents and people that she cares about. “When I feel sad, such as when I think of my mum, I open the box, I look at these special memories, and then I feel happy” she says, with a wistful smile. “The park and the child and youth care workers really helped me so much” she adds with a grateful nod to Thandiswa.

Seeing the difference it made to her life, Sonele spread the word among her friends and among other troubled young people and continues to encourage them to come to the safe parks as well. A talented dancer, Sonele still visits the Safe Park and these days she teaches the children at the park how to dance and organises musical concerts which are very popular in the community

Thandiswa listens to Sonele with motherly pride, having watched this confident young woman take a positive path in her life. A child care worker since 2007, Thandiswa regards her work as being ultimately rewarding when she sees Sonele. Despite having 4 daughters of her own, Thandiswa, like hundreds of her fellow child and youth care workers devote themselves tirelessly to make a difference in their communities, one child at a time.

She speaks passionately about the “triple scourge” of substance abuse, violence and crime which is tearing communities, like this one in Tyutyu Village apart. She also speaks about the hostility that she and other child and youth care workers sometimes face from parents themselves who see people like Thandiswa as “interfering” in their families when they raise issues around neglectful or bad parenting.

Witnessing the meaningful difference that Thandiswa has made to the life of Sonele, it is clear that it such “interference” that can make a positive and meaningful difference to a child’s future – and Sonele is testament to that when she declares that “I like the Safe Park because it is there that I receive a lot of love.”





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