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Expanding the circle of protection

UNICEF South Africa/2011/Marinovich
© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Marinovich
After school many children come to the Isibindi-run Safe Park in the community, where they can play and receive help with their homework from the Isibindi child care workers.

8 August 2011 - Perhaps you’ve heard of the ‘model’ of community-based childcare, known as Isibindi? It was developed by the National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers in response to the impact of AIDS and poverty on South Africa’s children. Isibindi has proved to be a successful method of ensuring community-led support for orphaned and vulnerable children – and one of the reasons for this is its consideration of all a child needs. How? Through Isibindi, community members are screened, trained and deployed as child and youth care workers to support families in their own environments under the mentorship of experienced social service professionals.

The Isibindi-linked community workers provide diverse, much needed help in the children’s life space. This includes accompanying them to school, clinic or hospital; helping them obtain important official documents and services – birth certificates and government grants – and washing and cooking with them so that they learn how to manage their lives. They’re also a source of psychological support through their story counselling and positive relationship activities aimed at healing.

No ordinary past …an extraordinary triumph

Nufulo* has woken up early, as he does every school day, to press his uniform and prepare his lunch. His brow creases in concern. If his skaftin (lunchbox) contains only maize meal and wild spinach, the children at school could find out he’s an orphan. “I am afraid they will laugh at me or treat me badly. I see it happen to others,” he explains. Even those who have parents, but are too poor to have meat with their pap, are ostracised.

Nufulo’s best friend helps to keep his orphan status a secret. They share lunch and pocket money to buy ikota, the township favourite: a quarter loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with chips, polony and spicy mango atchar. It seems odd that in Limpopo, a province where 83% of children live in poverty, being poor or orphaned could cause ridicule. Unkind? Unfair? Yes – but compared to this 16-year old’s past, the prospect of teasing seems mild.

Nufulo’s father died when the boy was just 10. His mother struggled to make ends meet, working as a hawker and selling tomatoes in a nearby town. She would leave home early and return many hours later. Despite grinding hardship, she managed to save a little money and also applied for – and received – a State-subsidised house.

But a short time later, Nufulo and his half-sister, Priscilla* suffered further loss. Their mother, just 42, died from an AIDS-related illness after a long spell in hospital. The children were alone. Customarily, in such circumstances, the maternal grandmother would take charge… but not this time. What happened next remains a painful memory for Priscilla, who avoids the subject. Ramboni Mudau, a social worker with Isibindi, recalls the story …“The relatives wanted the late mother’s savings to pay for a big funeral, to raise their social status, but Priscilla refused. They also wanted to sell the mother’s house and keep the money.”

UNICEF South Africa/2011/Marinovich
© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Marinovich
Each morning Nufulo wakes up early to get his uniform ready for school.

Again, Priscilla baulked. The family tried to force her to accede – and although she stood firm, the 18-year-old was in no position to care for her younger brother. Then, as if in answer to Priscilla’s prayers, an aunt stepped in and took him into her care. But instead of entering the loving environment he craved – with three cousins as playmates – Nufulo was treated like a slave.

“They beat him and made him ensure there was always water – which was a heavy responsibility, as the (communal) tap was far from the house,” continues Ramboni. The aunt was made beneficiary of Nufulo’s monthly childcare grant, but this money was not used properly to feed or clothe the boy. His poor health made him struggle to perform his tasks and the beatings increased.

At school, he was always tired and sometimes couldn’t help falling asleep in class. “I failed grade four because my writing was not good. I failed grade 6 because of eye problems – I could not see what was on the board – and then I also failed grade 7,” adds Nufulo. The principal was incensed, accused the boy of being lazy and wanted to expel him. His elder sister became increasingly concerned, and turned to the only people she thought could help: the child and youth care workers from Isibindi.

Rambani recalls the first time he went to see Nufulo* at the aunt’s house. “The boy was malnourished and sickly. We told the aunt we were taking him away because she was misusing his grant.”

And so a very neglected Nufulo returned to his mother’s house and Priscilla. For his sister, it was a daunting prospect: she had no idea how to care for him. More difficulties followed: the aunt refused to relinquish the child care grant, adding to the young family’s hardships. As a result Isibindi applied for a foster care grant and Priscilla was appointed as foster parent. It has been his saving grace and will help him cope until he turns 18.

Today, his difficult past behind him, Nufulo is optimistic about the future. Though small compared to his peers – a result of stunted growth caused by malnutrition – he has big dreams. “I want to be a pilot, or a doctor, so that I can help people who are sick and give them medicine,” he smiles shyly.

*Names changed to protect privacy.





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