Easing the burden for children on the move
Critical support for vulnerable children and youth made possible by the EU and UNICEF.
The smile on the face of eight-year-old Jacob* is infectious as he lifts himself up with one leg and joins in an animated conversation with other children housed at the Catholic Shelter for Women and Children in the town of Musina close to South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe.
Born in Zimbabwe and currently living at the shelter with his mother, Sarah, little Jacob is one of hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean children who have joined their parents and caregivers (or sometimes neither) while seeking opportunities and – in this case – medical treatment in South Africa. Jacob is afflicted with so-called ‘brittle bone disease’ which prevents his one leg from growing or functioning properly. With the support of Future Families, a partner of UNICEF, a wheelchair is being provided for Jacob which will considerably enhance his mobility.
This type of support is made possible through funding from the European Union (EU) for the ‘Children on the Move’ programme and Musina is where the impact of this assistance is directly seen. Children on the move include refugees, asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, smuggled migrations and unaccompanied and separated minors. This shelter is home to 74 women and 22 children and, according to Sister Frances who oversees this space, “the needs are critical.”
With support from UNICEF, vouchers were purchased for the mothers in the shelter and made a big difference as they helped restore the dignity of the mothers to make independent choices in addressing their needs. Among the children who have been helped with this is six-year-old Farai* whose mother has left and who is being looked after by the staff and other mothers in the shelter. With the necessary support, Farai will hopefully be able to attend a local school soon and get the opportunity to have a better life.
The efforts by the large Zimbabwean community in Musina to provide education for their children is evident at a school run by Pastor Emmanuel and his staff of teachers who teach the Zimbabwean curriculum. In a crowded hall, four classes continue simultaneously in the different corners of the room. It’s a challenging setup though Pastor Emmanuel remains committed to educating these children, including his seven-year-old son.
This dedication to education is evident at the Men’s Shelter, also supported by Future Families (with UNICEF assistance) where 19-year-old Talent is busy preparing for his exams. With its neat yard and well-maintained buildings, the shelter is a sanctuary for many Zimbabwe-born young men who have little other opportunities in South Africa.
At the nearby Girls Shelter, 14 young women are provided with a safe and nurturing home under the careful and loving supervision of ‘MaGogo’. The girls attend local schools and, with the support of Future Families and UNICEF, are now able to vision a better future for themselves.
19-year-old Sharon has been in the shelter since the age of 10. “I came here with no family and now I have a family” she says with a shy smile. A bright student, Sharon does not know where her parents are and has been at this shelter since the age of ten. Through her own persistence, she was able to return to Zimbabwe to get a Birth Certificate which enabled her to continue her education. “I begged the officials and I cried a lot in the hope that they would help me get my certificate” explains Sharon.
The needs at the shelter are considerable including transportation and blankets as well as psychosocial support. Acknowledging the critical support of Faith Ngari from Future Families, 77-year-old MaGogo loves her work and wistfully notes that “my heart feels better when I am here with my girls.”
Through no fault of their own, children are greatly affected by migration dynamics. With the correct and necessary interventions, as embodied by the Children on the Move programme, the difficult journeys of these young people can be eased and they can look towards a safer and brighter future.