Last week I had the privilege of meeting Lindiwela, a foster mom and recent widow who has adopted nine South African children. She lives in a shack in a township where piles of trash lie on the sides of unpaved roads, electricity and running water are near non-existent, and unemployment is higher than 40%. Two of her nine children are HIV+, and one is blind and dumb and had been raped twice by the age of eight. As I listened to Lindiwela tell the story of how she came to be a foster mom, I saw a piece of paper with words of inspiration on her wall. The first line on that page read, “Oh how you are blessed.” When I read this I cried. In the midst of all that was around her, she still had so much joy...more joy, more strength, and more courage than I could fathom.
I felt blessed having been able to hear her story and shake her hand, thanks to Ikamva Labantu, the organization that brought me to Lindiwela. Ikamva Labantu believes in keeping children in their communities, rather than institutionalizing them and moving them into orphanages. They seek foster mothers like Lindewela and provide the financial support they need to care for, protect, and raise their children. In addition to funding foster moms directly, they also build community centers for children to use for educational and nutritional purposes. I visited a couple of the centers and was struck by how welcoming and expansive they are. Each center costs about 5 million Rand (approximately $750,000 US dollars) to build, so funding is critical.
One thing I observed while peering into the classrooms at one of the centers is that the children did not seem to be very engaged with the teachers. Children were mostly being watched rather than being taught. I learned that currently there is no formal training given to the teachers. While Ikamva Labantu was only providing space for the school to use, as opposed to running and directing the school’s classroom activities, it is developing a new training facility and curriculum that all school teachers at Ikamva Labantu facilities will go through. This training will be helpful to ensure children are really learning when they come to the centers and hopefully empower the teachers with tools to engage the kids more.
In addition to welcoming children, the community centers also serve the elderly in the community. Grandparents and other senior citizens join knitting and gardening clubs that meet at the centers every day.