The poorest children in one South African township have found someone to champion them – one of their own

KGOMOTSO Senauwa’s story was like a great many children in her township.
Her parents were out of work and sometimes there was not enough food to put on the table let alone the funds to go to university or further her dreams of education.
All around her the situation was the same – families out of work, children learning more about drugs and alcohol than school work and at risk of HIV Aids and teenage pregnancy.
So in 2008, with no job and little future Kgomotso, then only 17, decided to do something about it. She didn’t want to end up a statistic of a black South African township like so many around her.
She could see that too many of the children in the poorest areas of the township of Soshanguve North, 25 km north of South Africa’s capital Pretoria, were on a rocky road to nowhere. Many didn’t want to go home after school because there was frequently little food on the table, there was violence and one or both parents lived with HIV Aids.

Their learning was disjointed, they didn’t do their homework and hung out on the streets where the lure of drugs, alcohol and teenage pregnancy were everywhere.
So, armed with a passion for helping others and a dream to further her own ambitions, Kgomotos decided to turn her parents’ home into a kind of children’s drop-in centre.

It became ever more popular and after meeting Agnes Mzima at her church, they managed to get a small amount of donor money to get a plot to start the Kgomotso Children Centre.
It’s a simple affair in an area of Soshanguve where there are no sealed roads. Many of the houses are corrugated iron shacks and while there are yards there is no sign of grass, just dust.

So far there is an enclosed office area, a room for Kgomotso to sleep and an enclosed kitchen. A separate area, which they want to turn into a dining room, consists of only four walls, with no windows and no roof. There is no money yet to finish it.

But despite its simplicity the Kgomotso Children Centre, dubbed the Home of Comfort, now looks after about 100 children, aged four to 18 years, from the neighbourhood who come to the centre for free meals, to study and do homework, learn dance and drama and for ad-hoc counseling.
They have nowhere else to go and whilst Kgomotso and her colleagues, who now help run it, have no salary, it’s better to help others forge a future for themselves than sit around with little to do.

Nthabiseng Francinah is 17 and wants to be in the air force.
“There are so many bad things out in the streets so we come to learn, to dance, to do drama or to talk about how our day was,” she tells me. “We are taught about teenage pregnancy, dugs, alcohol and things like that, to get ourselves busy so we can’t be influenced by things out there in the street.” Nthabiseng’s mother is unemployed, her father is very sick and doesn’t work, one brother has finished school and doesn’t work and the family also has three other siblings to support – all with no income.
She is excited about the prospect of a possible trip to Germany this year on an exchange program with the Don Bosco Club in Cologne.

On my visit this week the children perform dance routines they are practising for an upcoming concert which they hope will raise a little bit of money for the centre.
As the older ones dance the little ones, aged four and upwards, laugh and sing and mimic the older children.
They may be poor but their smiles and joy are still there.
One of the routines consists of fighting. It is about the Apartheid era struggle, when a white Minority Government ruled South Africa and when the black majority rose against it. Another celebrates the country’s anti- Apartheid hero, former President Nelson Mandela.
Kgomotso says the area is particularly disadvantaged and even if many of the children finish high school their grades are so low they would never gain university entry, even if they had the money, which they don’t.
“I could see my peers going astray, getting pregnant and doing drugs. The Government isn’t starting something (for them) so why can’t I start something,” Kgomotso says. She and the others don’t get paid.
“At the moment we are just doing it out of passion.”
She says that one of their problems is that whilst some companies will donate bread and food to feed the children the centre often doesn’t have the money to transport it. They would love to find some more donors to help them out.
They have a dream – that the town and its children are not forgotten – and they deserve a chance to fulfil it.

Published in: The Courier Mail – The poorest children in one South African township (July 5 2013)