Mary Njuguna, Programme co-ordinator, Pretoria, South Africa

South Africa is home to over a thousand informal settlements; communities with limited resources, sanitation and formalised welfare. Children often suffer within these communities and miss out on an education. VSO volunteer Mary Njuguna is working with local organisation Children on the Move to help get children back into school and enjoying life again. 

Growing up in South Africa

Children growing up in informal settlements face challenges everyday, often without parents, food on the table and surrounded by the encroaching threat of crime, drugs, drink and unsolicited sex. It takes a lot for children to make it to school everyday, let alone to enjoy the experience. 

One young girl growing up in this world is Nonhlanhla Motjebela, aged 13 and her two siblings, Comfort, 6 and Matema, 11. They live with their mother and aunt in a one-bedroom shack in the heart of Atteridgeville, Pretoria. Their mother is HIV positive and battling with the dire impact of untreated TB, she cannot work and the family are struggling to survive on the good will of neighbours. 

Children on the Move

Local organisation Children on the Move was founded in 2000 to help children like Nonhlanhla. They run a successful drop-in centre in Atteridgeville, where around 300 children can grow as young people, feel cared for and make the most of a wealth of opportunities such as; free meals, informal lessons, help with homework, social service visits and health advice.

The success of Children on the Move has been supported by VSO volunteer Mary Njuguna. Mary has helped to strengthen the flourishing organisation to ensure more children can attend. Children on the Move director, Dan Lephoko said, “The help of VSO and Mary has been tremendous. She has raised funds, trained staff and assists with small grants in the community.” Mary’s work led to the funding of the centre’s very first container. A humble looking corrugated container, normally associated with haulage, is now a popular community centre for early childhood development always in use by the community.

A home from home

Nonhlanhla and her siblings were referred to the centre last year, and now they are finally able to be children again. At home she still cleans, cooks and looks after her siblings, but thanks to Mary and Children on the Move, negotiations with her school means that she now goes to school for free, and at the centre she looks forward to a nutritious packed lunch and a hot dinner. What she likes best about the centre are the lessons and she now plays the guitar. She explained, “I have lots of friends at the centre, I come here everyday, to get lunch and to have fun. When I come here I am livelier, happier and my school work is better because I can eat and get support, with the centre there is always somewhere to go”.

A summer of football

With such progress, Children on the Move director, Dan Lephoko, says he is concerned by the uninvited challenges the World Cup may bring. However, he explained steps are being taken to ensure children and guardians know of the potential dangers which may become more pervasive across the townships.

For Nonhlanhla, she is looking forward to the summer of football, but more importantly cannot wait to see where her education can take her. She enthuses, “my favourite subject is English, but I want to be a scientist, but I not sure what kind yet!” She is sure of one thing - finding out what kind of career she could have is going to be an exciting journey.  

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