Last week we had some eye opening experiences with visits to the township. First off was a community forum meeting for the OVC that the girls from the Business Place tagged along to. One of Ikamva’s greatest strengths is that they have built up a tremendous community presence over the last 40+ years. This community is often passionate and active and one of their voices is this OVC forum. I’ll see if I can set the scene for you.
Ikamva’s health center building in Kayletsha is one of the newest buildings with big spaces and clean tile floors. When we arrived there were probably 150 Mama’s and a few Tata’s (grandpas) seated and waiting. At the front of the room was a long table where several people that looked like dignitaries were sitting (they all seemed to be wearing some sort of robes). So far so good; like any other group meeting I’ve been to but that quickly changed. A group of older women dressed in white blouses, much like cafeteria workers, and 1 younger women, very tall and all in black, started streaming out of the kitchen area. These women are all singing and very quickly everyone in the place, including myself, is up and dancing. If you’re familiar with Bollywood style movies then you’ll be able to picture the rest of the meeting. In between speeches we can’t understand because they are in Xhosa, there are dance numbers where the majority of the people stand and dance. One of the women kept the beat with this padded thumper (it looks like a bible with a strap and I keep thinking “bible thumper”). Eventually we were introduced as visitors and were called up to dance while everyone sang hello to us. It was fantastic! I definitely want to try this meeting style when I get back to the states.
While the meeting was a lot of fun what Holly & I were really able to glean from it was just how strong that community really is, how aged it is, and how much more we need to think about ways to leverage the community as a multiplier effect for Ikamva’s efforts.
As another aside, we went to eat at Mzoli’s in Gugulethu after the meeting. This place has become quite famous and celebrities from the states often stop by when they are here. Basically the place is really just a butcher shop but instead of taking the meat home they have these huge bbq grills in the back (they call them braai here) where two guys were cooking up a ton of meat. It made me tear up a little to see so much glorious food on the bbq and reminded me of the “meat fests” my brothers and I have had in the past. Point here is it’s important to keep that work-life balance strong.
If our first experience was uplifting and enjoyable our second experience brought us right back down. On Thursday we scheduled to go out into the townships with some of the community based workers while they did home visits. The goal was to get a real sense of what was happening with these homes and what some of the impact measurements could be. I got to chauffeur Holly, Msuthuikazi, and a social work student from UCT as we went to visit the homes. At the first stop everything seemed in order from the outside. We’ve had a lot of rain so the front door was blocked by a board covered in a tarp, presumably to prevent water from getting in. As we went round to the back we were greeting by a friendly elderly man, presumable a Tata, and then entered the home. Right away you could sense that this was not somewhere you wanted to spend much time. Entering into the kitchen there were stacks of dirty dishes and huge piles of laundry to be done. The entire home was very dark and dimly lit with a heady aroma of urine and mildew hanging in the air. Holly, who has been a social worker in the states, told me later she almost vomited because this was the worst smell she’d ever experienced. Also, the caregiver was absent, having taken a child to Red Cross, and left a woman who seemed to be either drunk or stoned to care for the kids. We were led into the living room of this 2 bedroom house that has 7 children in it: 3 of them have disabilities,1 has aids, 1 was almost raped two weeks prior (possibly by the old man we’d seen when we entered), and 1 little boy was without pants. In the living room the small tv was on to some trashy show and there was a heater on the floor that could easily start a fire or burn a child. Obviously this home does not represent the kind of caring, nurturing, and supportive environment that Ikamva wants to empower and support. As we left the home, a healthy discussion began about what was happening in that household, what the disconnect was, and possible resolutions. Unfortunately concerned citizens can’t simply call social workers to report problems, another social worker must do it. This is part of a cycle of protectionism in South Africa where people can only do business if they belong to the same group. In order to resolve the issue we’d have to work through the 2 social workers Ikamva has on staff. Everyone was disappointed with the outcome but acknowledged that we had more work to do and had to get on with it.
Moving on from that home we visited 3 others which were in various states of success. The second home we visited was headed by an unmotivated 21 year old who was still in bed at 11 a.m. but didn’t have a job. Apparently she wouldn’t look for one because she hadn’t completed school making it very difficult to find work. Ikamva has been supporting this house for almost 2 years with food and school fees but nobody has ever really forced any accountability on this woman. Once again we saw that charity doesn’t work and that you have to get some buy-in from everyone if you want to make any changes. Everyone in our group was on the same page about how she was simply being lazy and needed to be told that if she expected to get aid she had to do her part, too. On the plus side, there were no signs of abuse and the house was clean if not warm.
House 3 was a model home of sorts. It’s run by an 65 year old Mama who places a strong emphasis on education which has trickled down to the 3 kids she looks after. I think the rubber switch(!) she showed us helps her instill a sense of discipline into the household. Right away you could tell a difference with this home. There was more space outside of the house for playing. As you entered the home the curtains were all open and the place was both warm and full of light. When we came in there was a social gathering of older women leaving and they all shook our hands warmly. One of the orphan girls, who just finished her grade 11 exams, was doing a little clean-up and then began cooking something while we talked to the Mama (actually she only spoke Xhosa so everything was translated). Everyone appeared to be genuinely happy and healthy. Clearly Ikamva was succeeding here with the support and assistance they were delivering this woman, enabling her to create a positive environment for the children she was fostering. Luckily the kids are all older (one girl is 11, 2 are 17) so this Mama is almost done. Holly & I thought that a woman like this could really be used as an evangelist of sorts to go out and share best practices with other Mama’s and should be held up as a model of success.
House 4 was eye opening in a few ways. First this lady has 13 (!) kids in her care (the legal limit is 6) in a 2 bedroom home she built on family land with her own money. After asking how she got involved in fostering children she told us she had a son but that she had worked while he was growing up, leaving him with his grandmother. Since he had grown and become successful she felt like she wanted a second chance to take care of children and provide them with a safe environment. Almost all of the kids are under 5 which makes it even more amazing that she’s able to care for them. Here we found an innovation that could be very valuable to others in the form of a live-in helper. Because the cost of labor is so low, this woman was able to hire a full-time helper for not much more than room and board. This situation enables her to nap when she’s tired, not have to worry about cooking AND watching the children, and provides her with a built-in sitter for times when she has to take other children to the clinic. Again, Holly & I felt that this was really something that Ikamva should encourage and potentially support through grants. However, we both felt that Ikamva should not be supporting law-breaking (with the number of kids) and might be able to use their community connections to find other well-run orphan/foster homes to place the excess children in. There’s another component here in liaising with the government about the social workers and police who drop children at homes that are already at the legal limit. Sadly, the government agency responsible for the orphans and vulnerable children has a 59% vacancy rate for positions because they aren’t enough qualified social workers nor is there sufficient budget to hire more. It’s truly a crisis but definitely a place for a collaboration between government and NGO’s to figure out creative ways to spread the burden. One thing that stood out to me was how out of place some of the appliances she had were in this small, spartan home. There was a large, LED display Samsung refrigerator, a Samsung microwave, and an LG digital clothes washer. I thought it was curious that this woman couldn’t afford to fix her leaking roof but had things that many people in the states would find it hard to afford. I asked later if Ikamva received donations that they later disbursed to homes. I was told they did but didn’t have a good record for this so the mystery will go unresolved.
Friday we really just took time to sit and digest what we’d seen and to work on some administrative tasks. Together we identified a framework for describing the current model and a newer, better model based on segmenting the households. We felt we’d lucked into seeing a broad array of homes that probably covered 90% of Ikamva’s world and that in each situation Ikamva should offer different services/support. In order to receive these services, Ikamva needs to enforce specific requirements of recipients as well as define their own success metrics to help determine if they are actually accomplishing anything.
Next week (now this week as my post is late) is a short one as we’re going on safari but after the whirlwind of work and meetings we had yesterday I have no doubt I will have some stories to tell.
5 weeks left!