Soweto school children this week delivered food and clothes to AIDS orphans in rural Ingwavuma in a remarkable act of solidarity from one poor community to another.
Moved by a story about the orphans’ extreme poverty carried in the Sunday Times (written by Health-e) in March, teacher Ms Bathabile Serei encouraged her 56 Grade Seven pupils at Inkonjane Senior Phase School to collect money, food, clothes and pots.
“Some of the children at my school are very poor,” said Serei. “I knew some would be going without bread that day if they gave money, but I still encouraged them. I wanted to show them that you don’t have to be rich to give.”
The donations were built up bit by bit – via 50 cent pieces, little tins of pilchards, handfuls of tea bags. A committee of six children noted down all the donations, and each week the money collected was used to buy food, toiletries and candles.
By November, the class had collected 20 boxes of goods and decided it was time to travel to Ingwavuma in northern KwaZulu-Natal to deliver their gifts personally.
Serei then asked the Sunday Times for help with transport, and McCarthy Motors agreed to provide a bakkie and driver to transport Serei and two pupil representatives, Samantha Kamsemza (13) and Nonhlanhla Makhubu (12).
Bongani (18), Gaga (16) and Sizakhele (11) Gumede lost their father in 1998 and their mother a year later. When the delegation arrived at their home, the only food they had left was a small bowl of uncrushed mielie kernels.
“I have never seen anything like this,” said Serei, tears streaming from her eyes.
Then she and the children brought in food, such as has never been seen in the Gumede home for years. Bongani and Gaga chose clothes for themselves, while Samantha and Nonhlanhla chose clothes for the shy and bewildered Sizakhele.
Finally, after being given a doll, the first tiny smile appeared on Sizakhele’s face – only to be bitten off quickly. But her smile reappeared as she and the schoolgirls packed the food away.
“I feel very happy. It shows that even though we have lost our parents, there are people outside who care for us,” said Bongani, who has dropped out of school to try to earn some money.
When asked what his family’s main need was, Bongani answered without hesitation: “Food. It is a real struggle to find food.”
Travelling on extremely poor roads, Ingwavuma Orphan Care co-ordinator Johnson Gwala took the delegation from family to family. The project has 1200 orphans on its books – and at each of the homes visited, the lack of food was shocking.
Nine-year-old Makhosi Ndlovu is her family’s only breadwinner. She earns R50 a month for looking after a neighbours’ children. Her mother, Busisiwe, is in the terminal phase of AIDS while her father went to Durban two years ago for medical treatment and has never returned.
The four Mbambo children have been parentless since 1999. Their tiny house is behind a collection of shops, a tavern and a taxi rank in an area called Bhambanana. It is not the place for three young girls and their young brother to be living alone – and tragically 17-year-old Hlengiwe is already pregnant.
The three Ndlazi kids’ “home” is a two-roomed shack with branches for walls. There is no floor and the nearby bushes serve as their toilet.
“We moved after our parents died because there was a problem with that place. The problem was witches. They bewitched our parents so they died,” said 18-year-old Dumisane, who is struggling to complete grade seven. “You children are so beautiful,” Serei told the three. “Don’t give up with your studies. I also used to go to school without shoes. I always lived with my granny and look at me now. It is possible. Just don’t give up, and you girls stay away from the boys. If you fall pregnant, it will destroy your future.”
Starved for attention and compliments, the Ndlazi’s eat up her words hungrily and, for the first time, all three smile as Serei again compliments them on their looks and how they have coped since their parents’ death.
“I will be back,” Serei promises. “What we have seen convinces me that we need to collect more and more.”
Samantha and Nonhlanhla agree. “We are glad that we came and met the children. So now we can tell the class exactly how it is here and that we need to collect more for them,” says Samatha.
– Health-e News Service.
Readers who want to assist can make donations to Ingwavuma Orphan Care, Standard Bank, Empangeni Branch, Cheque Account 062013408, branch code 057530.