Rebuilding lives, one precious child at a time
“The most challenging experience in my life is the year when I lost both my parents and I thought I would be alone, no future and no life.”
Nonceba Patience Tenza is 18 years old, and lives with her grandmother, older brother and younger sister in Mpharane Village near Matatiele, in the Eastern Cape. Like tens of thousands of other children and teenagers, her life has been ripped apart by South Africa’s AIDS pandemic, which has claimed the lives of millions of people, leaving behind a land of orphans and child-headed households.
“But ASAP, Itekeng, my grandmother and my brother assisted me on how to deal with that,” she says.
Tenza was one of the first orphans to arrive at the Itekeng Batswadi Drop-in Centre. “ASAP has played an important role in my life, and they helped me since 2010 with the school uniform and school transport,” she explains.
African Solutions to African Problems (ASAP) identifies groups of women trying to take care of the orphaned children in their villages. Over six years they guided, supported and built their capacity to help them develop into mature fully functional community-based organisations (CBOs) with the tools they need to acquire and manage large-scale funding and establish sustainable organisations.
These CBO women create a network connecting local schools, clinics, community leaders, and HIV/AIDS affected households. They are dedicated to taking care of the vulnerable children from drop-in centres within their villages, creating a network connecting local schools, clinics, community leaders, and HIV/AIDS affected households. In doing so, they provide nutrition from organic vegetable gardens, access health care, education and social welfare grants and psychosocial support for the children, all within a safe, nurturing, clearly defined space.
“I am so inspired by the concept of a listening organisation, an organisation that goes in and asks more questions than it answers,” says Noah Fischel, ASAP’s director of US operations, the man who wrote the organisation’s unique six-year model of quality care, accountability and sustainability. “I am very humbled by the work that is being done on the ground by these women who are working with the model that ASAP has developed, using the insight and experience of course, of women who have come before them. But, you know, it’s one thing to take theory and put pen to paper and develop a model, that’s all well and good. It’s an entirely other thing to actually be doing the work that it takes to help these children. And so I would say that I take no credit for the success of this model. I am extremely in awe of the work that these women do.”
For the past four years, ASAP has partnered with Imithayalanga Youth Development, running programmes for personal development, tracing a young person’s journey to the present, building their self-esteem, and asking where they want to see themselves in the future. They also focus on the challenges faced by young people from negative peer pressure, teenage pregnancy, sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, and promote education and career guidance to overcome them.
“Our mission is to work with rural youth to break the cycle of poverty through enabling them to make informed decisions about their lives and future,” maintains Xola Yoyo, director of Imithayalanga, and ASAP’s Youth Development Programme.
“They always keep me safe during my school holidays by doing youth workshops,” states Tenza. “It has taught me how to deal and respect other people. And also it always keeps me happier, motivated, encourage me and that makes me forget that I am an orphan,” she adds.
Recently, she and nine other young people have been trained-up as Peer Educators, empowering them with the skills and confidence to run their own youth workshops for their peers at weekends.
Linet Dube, ASAP’s programme manager, who has worked closely with Yoyo on the Youth Programme says: “We have seen children who were withdrawn and shy come out of their shell. They have gained confidence and some are showing leadership skills that we never knew they possessed. The youth programme has positively turned around the lives and behaviours of young people who had lost hope”.
After four years of intervention, Mamohau and Itekeng Drop-in Centres last year presented their books to an accountant and were audited. ASAP’s Facebook page recently posted a photo showing one of the women from Mamohau, proudly showing off ‘The Books’. “Before, I didn’t know what a treasurer is and I didn’t know what an accountant is,” admitted Mrs Penn, as the photo was taken. “Now I know. I can save money. I can keep the balances.”
For Noah Fischel, one of the highlights of ASAP’s 10-year journey has been when some of the CBOs show signs of independence. “Whenever I see a group reaching for independence from ASAP it gives me hope that what we’re doing is helping create groups that are going to be able to continue to do this work in the future without us.”
Every year, the youth from Mamohua, Itekeng and Sakhikamva have a competition in poetry, drama, singing and dancing, organised by Imithayalanga. Tenza recently won the Poetry Award for her powerful poem ‘Death be not Proud’, where she addresses directly and powerfully the AIDS Pandemic that has ravaged her family, community and country.
Another large part in ASAP’s work is access to education and literacy. Tenza attended Maria Linden Junior Secondary School, where ASAP and the Bradley Family Foundation recently donated a library with more than 3 000 books.
She graduated to the High School which caters for six villages, where pupils have few text books and the teacher absenteeism is high. Despite these difficult conditions, Tenza managed to pass her matric. Her dream is to go to university and with a bursary from Imithayalanga, she applied to Fort Hare University, the Eastern Cape’s main seat of learning, to study social work.
As Tenza points out, “My community is important to me and it has played an important role in my life. I can assist the new generation on how to deal with problems and challenges.”
“There’s never going to be one answer to solving the problem of these orphaned children,” says ASAP’s founder and programme director, Priscilla Higham. “But the African Solutions holistic model we are developing to scale, is one way to help these children live a happier, healthier life. The Drop-in centres create a safe harbour, where their village women can care for them in the spirit of Ubuntu. Our hope is that they will grow up to make a positive contribution to South African society.”
To view the African Solutions to African Problems in the Prodder NGO Directory, click here.