The Starfish Greathearts Foundation USA is holding its 7th annual NYC Gala. Enjoy South African cuisine, wines and entertainment as we raise funds to continue our life-changing work with orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa.
Maria Lenong sits on a chair inside her shack in Sebokeng, her ginger cat on her lap. The shack is constructed of corrugated iron and has three tiny rooms: a miniscule sitting room, a cluttered kitchen and a sleeping area. Her grandson, Thabo, is on his way home from school.
Thabo, currently in grade 10 at the local school, is one of the children being supported by Starfish and Matshidiso is his care-worker.
“He is an orphan and Maria cares for him,” explains Matshidiso. “But they need significant help. Like all 450 children who visit the centre, he is given a daily hot meal after school, but my job is to see to his real needs, which are his education outside school and issues related to being a teenage orphan in an environment where crime, drugs and negative peer pressure are rife. He is one of 32 kids currently under my care.”
That sounds like a lot for a young girl. “It’s OK. I manage. I have received training through Starfish which taught me to be a care-giver. Now I am able to help these children properly. It is very rewarding and I am able to earn a small stipend at the same time. I can really relate to these kids as I had similar problems growing up. Empathy is essential.”
How has Thabo progressed under her care? “It’s been great. Initially, as you would expect, he was very withdrawn, being an orphan. Stigma in these communities is still a big problem, but we have worked through all his issues over the years and now he is far better adjusted and confident. The important thing is that he is able to resist the temptations out there: peer pressure to engage in drugs and crime. Together we are getting there.”
A short while later, Thabo arrives. He is wearing a smart black T-shirt and black shorts. Soccer seems to be on the agenda for later today. That is normal for a township boy whose heroes are drawn from the ranks of Bafana Bafana and Kaiser Chiefs. But, for now, it’s homework time.
“We look after 450 Thabos,” says Thandi. “Each one of them has special needs. Thanks to Starfish, we are offering a real service, a place of hope where there was previously just desperation. Every day has its challenges, but we move forward. I just wish we had more money and more resources to look after more children.”
Matshidiso and Thabo go into a room to do some homework. Soccer in the street will come later. Another day is coming to an end.
“Starfish has helped me in more than one way, from food parcels to school, psychologically and emotionally. They’ve helped me understand who I am and what I want. They have instilled confidence and hope in my life. I have so much to offer the world. I believe that my greatest gift is being able to appeal to many hearts. I speak to people’s heart and I encourage them, I make sure that I leave them waiting to change the world. My experiences have allowed me to empathize with other people, to be able to speak without judgment and to be patient with myself and other people.(age 21)
“Thank you Starfish for making me who I am today.”
When he was just eight year old, both Leonard’s parents died and he moved in with his grandmother. His life changed, he had no parental love or any basic necessities. He didn’t even have a school uniform, so was unable to continue his education.
At the age of 15, he became one of the first beneficiaries at our Swa Vana centre and received the love, care and practical support he needed. Today is one of the volunteers at the project.
“Through the funding of Starfish I achieved my goal, today I’m one of the best care givers for the orphaned children programme and I always serve my purpose of providing excellent services to the children. After losing both my parents I was hopeless and I had no choice to make my life better but through people around me and the support from Starfish I managed to reach my goals.”
Since our partner Thandanani introduced self-help groups, participants have been reporting on just how they are helping to improve their lives. They also received basic financial training and have been pleased and surprised at the difference saving just R2 (10p) a week can make.
From providing small amounts of cash to cover urgently needed repairs to seed funding for new community micro-entreprises like food gardens and beaded jewellery, our finance groups are starting to benefit vulnerable families in the local area.
Mrs Mhlongo* shares her story “Before joining the group my house was falling apart but now I have been able to borrow money from the group and have repaired my home. My house is now safe and dry and my children are warm.” The loan was issued at an affordable interest rate and repayment terms and has now been paid off. The “group management” of the loan system helps ensure that the loans made by the group are not excessive, that the repayments are affordable and that they are repaid on time.
Educational resources not only enable children to return to school, but also provide hope and dignity in times of crisis.
Here is Tebello’s story from one of our partners in the Free State Province:
Tebello does not look people straight in the eyes, but has a broad welcoming smile, that seems to go on forever.
Sitting in her grandmother’s shack, she wears her uniform but one cannot identify the colour of the skirt anymore because it has lost its original colour. She had no other choice – the only thing she had to wear was that skirt which was donated by her neighbour so that she could go to school.
Tebello’s granny did not receive a pension grant and was unemployed. The only income they had was Tebello’s welfare grant which had to for everything. When her classmates looked at her, they would giggle and tease her.
When the caregivers told Tebello and the other children supported at the project that Starfish was going to provide them with new school uniforms and packs of stationery, you could not believe the expression on their faces. They were singing, dancing and ululating – the celebration took about an hour!
Thank you Starfish Greathearts Foundation for your support.
Keep on giving that extraordinary hand.
Without you, Tebello’s school days were unpleasant, but right now she is the happiest of them all.]]>
Throughout the year the Community Based Organisations (CBOs) plan the food supplies for the children with a particular emphasis on extra provisions for the chilly winter months.
In the winter time in particular, the importance of a good nutritous diet is highlighted. Whilst over the last five years the provision of food from the government has improved our partners still rely on Starfish for support:
Food Parcels – are provided to children and their families in times of crisis. Often careworkers come across households where there are no parents and the children have barely any food to eat. Until the children are given a long term resolution they receive life saving food parcels.
Creches – providing food ensures children are healthy and remain at school and succeed in their schooling.
Children are welcomed to after school groups, where they will pick up their siblings from the day or go to receive a hot meal or be given a hot meal to take with them.
“The feeding programme has reached 802 children. This has included 715 children who have received food through the school-based scheme at our 7 partner primary schools and 87 individuals who have received food through the provision of food parcels to homes.
Providing food to vulnerable children is a cornerstone of the holistic care that we provide to OVC, to assist them to be healthy and thus remain at school and succeed in their schooling.” Local Partner
12.5 Kg maize mealFood parcel rs
5 kg rice
5 kg Samp
2 litre Cooking oil
500 g Mayonnaise
500 g Tomato sauce
500 g Tinned fish
500 g Beans
2kg/1kg Washing powder
500 g Sunlight washing soap
A great need exists at community level to maintain the health and growth of children on a daily basis. Why not contribute to achieving this and set up a regular donation.
Through mentorship and home visits this young man has begun to take responsibility for his own learning and has started leading and encouraging others around him, becoming a role model for the younger boys at the programme. He and his family are very proud and excited that has passed Grade 7 and is now off to high school!
Starfish works with community partner Ethembeni to bring hope to vulnerable children in Mpophomeni through education. The Education Support Programme exists to support vulnerable and orphaned children who are passionate about learning in Grades R to 12 with their school learning; develop their thinking,learning, academic and interpersonal skills in fun, dynamic and novel ways; and to influence and equip them to make a positive contribution within their families, friends, school and local communities.]]>
That was in 2012. Today, the care centre is one of the many thriving projects supported by Starfish Greathearts Foundation. In those early days, funding was a real challenge. “We had no money,” recalls Thandi. “We received a few cash donations and food and clothing from churches in the area. We could pay no one, so we were all volunteers. Starfish has changed all that. Now we are able to offer a stipend to some of our care-workers and can give proper support to the children.”
Like many parts of South Africa, Sebokeng and Evaton, which lie close to the industrial heart of the Vaal Triangle, are wracked by poverty, unemployment and crime. “In these conditions, children are at risk from poor nutrition, sub-standard education, physical and sexual abuse, illness, teenage pregnancy and drugs. Many of them are orphaned victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and live in child-headed households or with ageing grandmothers. I could not sit by and watch this happen. I had to do something,” explains Thandi.
The former dump site, although still limited in size and sophistication of infrastructure, now has a small playground, a kitchen, a meeting room with a small library, boys and girls toilets and several other small teaching and recreational rooms. It is impeccably neat and ordered.
Thanks to the support from Starfish, the community centre is able to provide a range of benefits and services. “We cater for children right up to matric level. Given the pressures on teenagers today, they are just as much in need of care and guidance as the younger ones are. Their needs are just different,” explains Thandi.
The children live at home but receive a cooked meal each day after school and are assisted with school uniforms and educational equipment. But help goes far beyond their physical needs. “Feeding their bodies is one thing, but feeding their minds and souls is another, more important factor,” says Thandi. “Each child is offered daily assistance with homework and is also assigned a dedicated care-worker, who helps them with emotional issues, peer pressure, abuse situations and general life orientation. These mentors are available at any time to assist with any problem the child may have.”
The atmosphere at the centre is clearly one of positive hope and optimism. The dump site has gone; a place of hope, love and care has replaced it. Thandi, her team and Starfish are making a real difference.
With Starfish’s help, Thy Kingdom was able to provide Tandazile with a decent daily meal. Furthermore, the organisation managed to intervene and get her enrolled at a local school. She is currently doing Grade 1. She is pictured above writing her name.
*Vuyi Molete a 15-year-old lives in an area which has a high rate of substance abuse. As there was no one mentoring him, Vuyi too began smoking and consuming these substances.
Vuyi had not been attending school and his guardians approached Thy Kingdom for help. The Child and Youth Care Worker met with Vuyi to try and understand his situation. He shared the challenges he faces as a victim of peer pressure and said it was easy to do so as he was not being mentored by his guardians.
Thy Kingdom has since provided intensive mentorship for Vuyi and are happy to report that Vuyi has been attending school and has stopped smoking after taking part in the substance abuse workshop conducted at the organisation.
Thy Kingdom is also implementing the Family Matters Program which helps to bridge the communication gap between guardians and their children.
*Names have been changed
In rural areas with no early childhood development centres, there was clear need for an innovative response. Careworkers at Starfish partner Thandanani in KwaZulu Natal are running workshops for small groups of women in their own homes to create educational toys from recycling and teach them how to use the toys when playing with their children.
The careworkers who rolled out the scheme are proud of how engaged the young caregivers were in the process and the difference it had made to the relationship between the caregivers and their children as well the positive impact it has on their educational development.
Lerato took her daughter to a workshop at Thandanani, ‘it put me in a situation where I could just focus on Lindali and our interaction together. In the class they taught us to make toys from things we having lying around the house, even rubbish. In the beginning Lindali was just holding the toys but then we were shown how we can teach our children the colours and how to put the lids inside the old yoghurt container. I remember showing Lindali how to build and count at the same time. I was amazed how quickly she learnt.”