“We are wired to be caring for the other and generous to one another. We shrivel when we are not able to interact. I mean that is part of the reason why solitary confinement is such a horrendous punishment. We depend on the other in order for us to be fully who we are. (…) The concept of Ubuntu says: A person is a person through other persons.”
― Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
Mandela Day 2021 has passed and we missed you! Actually we missed everyone – the latest pandemic regulations prevented you from visiting us in our home for another year and another Mandela Day. We were looking forward to seeing visitors again – it has been far too long.
Mandela Day 2021 has passed and we missed you! Actually we missed everyone – the latest pandemic regulations prevented you from visiting us in our home for another year and another Mandela Day. We were looking forward to seeing visitors again – it has been far too long. I think that is why I chose this quote from Desmond Tutu. I like the idea that we are wired to be caring and generous to each other. We have been feeling your care – Kids Haven has been receiving wonderful donations throughout these COVID-19 restricted times. I think some of the most caring gifts are our beautiful birthday cakes and home-baked biscuits and muffins that we are enjoying. It feels like these are baked with love. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
One of the best parts of having visitors is getting to show them around our home. It seems that as we walk and talk, we get to share stories so naturally, with different people contributing different parts. So today, we thought that we would try it in a virtual way and see… here goes!
Welcome to our centre. This is our front entrance at 38 Cranbourne Avenue. A long time ago, in 1999, this was the whole of Kids Haven, but over the years we have been able to grow in size and now we rent or own a long line of properties from 26 Cranbourne Avenue, right up to 38 Cranbourne Avenue. There are also six houses called The Village nearby. All the girls and the small boys live there but I live here in the Centre in town along with about sixty other teenage boys.
These windows on the right hand side of the front door is the office for our community team. It’s a small office filled with people. You might think that child protection starts from the doorway to the centre, but it doesn’t. Kids Haven makes sure that child protection starts right out in the communities and families around Ekurhuleni. Most of the time the staff from this office are outside working in places like eMandleni and Daveyton. Last year it seemed they were always taking food parcels out. I have noticed that there are fewer parcels this year, but I see Uncle Leonard taking garden forks and seeds around so that families can grow some of their own food rather than getting food parcels. I still see Uncle Fani and Mum May running the soup kitchen further down the road too. Mostly, I am not sure exactly how they work but I know that they are forever answering the phone and then going out to visit people and check on children.
One of the girls I know came to Kids Haven because of the Precare team. She was living in a home but not going to school and having to do all the housework. Her parents live far away but she was sent here so that she could help to make money for the family. It was tough for her because she was treated so badly, always doing housework and never going to school. Never. Some of the neighbours noticed that she wasn’t going to school and they called Kids Haven. I think it was Mum Shiluva who visited the family. It didn’t take long after her visit and my friend was brought to Kids Haven. She’s in the Bridging School programme with Mum Priscilla. Sometimes she is frustrated by Kids Haven and even school. She still feels some responsibility to make money for her family in that other place.
This is mum Priscilla’s bright green classroom for the Bridging school kids. She chose this crazy colour because it is bright and lively. It can be very lively in there! Right now there are sixteen kids who are part of Prissy’s class. Some of the children are young, maybe around nine, but others, like my friend, are already teenagers but they need to be in the bridging school because they’ve never been to school or dropped out. Mum Prissy makes it work. She makes sure that the kids learn how to read and do maths, even science, in a way that makes them keen to try to learn. When they get frustrated by the school work, they get to do some games or knitting and even baking. Mum Adele next door has a stove in her room and teaches baking when she isn’t working with the youth or running care leavers sessions.
This is some of the bridging guys baking this week. Aunty Adele showed them that you can bake biscuits using the lid of a pot! It’s not because Kids Haven doesn’t have any baking trays. Someone even asked her that. She said she wants us to see that we can use what we have in our homes in different ways and still get the same results. We all come from different homes in different places so she’s right!
I came to Kids Haven because my mother was hurting me. It still upsets me to think about it and why she would do this. It might have been because she was drinking. She does that a lot. I don’t know my real father but I do have a step-dad only he doesn’t help me when my mom is hurting me. In the end, the police came and took me out of the house. When I first came to Kids Haven, my body was all swollen because I had just been beaten. It took me a while to settle in here. I feel safer, and the Uncles are kind and there are three mums here too. I especially enjoy helping Mum Esther who is in charge of the centre. I help her to make food. She knows that I need to feel a bit more kindness sometimes. I don’t have to say anything, she just knows. The strange thing is that although I know I am safer here and that people like Mum Esther care for me, I still miss being at home and being with my mom. Sometimes Kids Haven can feel like a prison!
My other friend said that to me once because he used to have so much freedom and hardly ever slept at home. He says his mom never knew where he was or what he was doing. He would go to school sometimes, but mostly he ran around, hanging out with different groups of people. Now that he is at Kids Haven, he can’t just leave whenever he wants to or do anything he likes. But he is also realising that it’s not that bad to have someone who actually does care about you and is interested in you. That’s the thing with this place – everywhere you turn, there is someone who is kind. It feels unreal sometimes that someone would be kind to me, but I like it. It makes me want to be kind to other people too, especially when someone like Mum Esther is around. Her kindness rubs off on me. I need to practise being kind because it still feels strange. I am much more likely to get cross quickly or even want to fight with someone because that is what happened to me whenever anyone was cross at home. I guess that I didn’t have a good example in my mom or any good role models. Kids Haven is full of them but it is up to me to follow their example and not keep slipping into my old habits.
Mum Prissy helps us to try to keep being kind. She also has the nice job of running our tuckshop. We get to take her small letters from childcare workers and our social workers if we have done something well. We swop the letters for sweets or we can save up a few of the letters to swop for something else. I like it. It makes me think about trying harder or ways that I can help someone because I know I will get a reward. Maybe being kind will become more normal for me and I will be that sort of person without even needing something sweet from Mum Prissy!
If I was taking you on a real tour of Kids Haven, I would take you to our hall. It is down the same passage as the classrooms and where we get to play games and run around. During the hard lockdown, our childcare workers would arrange games and activities for us. We enjoyed that, because not going to school, and just being inside was really hard for us. I know of guys with families who were really anxious about their families at home. We were safe from Covid, but what about them? Our social workers do let us make phone calls home, and some family can visit but they have to sit far away so it isn’t like it used to be.
Like when the aunt of some sisters came to visit. The girls live at Kids Haven because their mum has something wrong inside her head and used to wander around and leave them alone for days and days. They wouldn’t even have food for the time she was away. I think the aunt that visits them is really just their old neighbour who used to help them whenever she realised their mum had disappeared again. They can’t live with her because she has her own family and life is already quite tough for them. But she does keep contact with them and visits them here at Kids Haven. In December, they went to stay at her house for a bit too. For the kids with family or someone to visit, Covid has been difficult. You worry about them at home.
It was better when schools started again in August last year. We really missed our friends at school. We are glad that schools have opened again properly, every day now. Well not that glad! We like seeing our friends but I hear from some of the kids that they wish they could drop out of school now. It all seems so pointless. Most of us passed the school year anyway in 2020, even though our schools were closed most of the time and some of us didn’t get any school work from our teachers. Kids Haven made us all do school work, sharing other kids lessons that they received, but I am still not sure how we managed to do ok at the end of the year. School is one of the hardest things for most of us.
I think school is hard because lots of us have moved house many times when we were younger, changing schools and even missing some school. Like, if your mom dies, then you move to live with your aunty so then you have to move schools too. Then you might not even stay very long with your aunty and have to move again. And move schools again. Then if you are not happy at home and staying out or not really caring about what the adults say, you stop going to school and rather just play soccer or mess about in the streets. Then going back into school is really hard. Especially subjects like maths – there are too many gaps. Since Covid messed up going to school, Kids Haven has made two computer classrooms, one here at the centre and one at the Village. We love going to use the computers. The bridging class guys use them in the morning when the rest of us are at school and then we get to use them.
The guys in Matric and Grade 11 are part of an I-Pad school learning programme so they have Saturday school on i-Pads. They use the big board room for that. It’s a good session and it seems that their marks are ok. I know one of the guys in Grade 11 also had online tutoring from a student. He had help with maths and physics. It takes a bit of organising to get to be in front of the computer at precisely the tutoring time but Kids Haven, especially Aunty Terri, does everything to make it happen. During Covid, some of the very little children listened to stories shared on Zoom. It didn’t work so well because the kids were more interested in seeing themselves on the screen than listening to the story! They also couldn’t all understand the language or the accent of the person reading. I guess we are all learning what works for us and what doesn’t, and it is still nice to know that people are trying to connect with us and be kind. I like that.
I forgot that I was telling you about the hall and games. After Easter and before this latest lockdown, Kids Haven organized some extra sports coaches to come to Kids Haven. Before Covid, my soccer team, the girls’ netball and the guys who play cricket used to go by bus to play games against other teams around the place but all that stopped. I know that it takes quite a lot of organising to get the buses and the drivers to get us where we need to be for these sports. So now we get to do sport here but with the outside coaches. Dineo is teaching netball. She is amazing and the girls enjoy her sessions. It is real coaching and she makes the girls run around before practicing skills and then playing a game. We have a tarred piece of road in the Village which is where the girls play.
Ferguson teaches all kinds of ball skills and Simangele teaches chess. They are great guys. We know that our childcare workers care about us and they are forever telling us about how we can work hard and what we can do to make our lives better. But somehow we tune out their voices sometimes. But if Ferguson says the same thing, then we hear it. I don’t know why us kids are like that – we want to hear the message from an outsider. I think Kids Haven is quite clever bringing in outside people!
But it was only one month and then we went into lockdown again. One of the boys even got sick with Covid this time, but no one else did. Not even the staff looking after everyone. It gave us a bit of a fright and we are all much better about wearing masks again. The staff always wear masks but us kids had been a bit slack. This is home for us.
I hope you have enjoyed my quick tour around our place. I didn’t really speak about our dormitories – they are big rooms with lots of bunk beds where we sleep. The younger guys sleep in two of the dorms and us older ones sleep in the other two. We have to share the space which can be frustrating sometimes. There are also some naughty guys who get up at night to try and throw shoes on you when you sleep. It mainly happens with the younger guys and the childcare workers always stop it from happening. They really want us to be safe and get a good night’s sleep but different guys have different problems and so there can be bullying and even fights. Childcare workers are always around plus Mum Annie talks to us, and Paul, the Therapist runs groups for the boys so that we have a chance to talk about stuff rather than fighting.
I think I want to end my ‘tour’ on a high note and show you the most amazing place ever at Kids Haven. Us kids get to walk around the back of the buildings, but we can walk along the street.
That means walking all the way down Cranbourne Avenue in front of the big white building which is where the social workers are, and Uncle Sam, and the kitchen and the hall. Then past Aunty Terri’s crèche for little kids until you get to the PLAYGROUND!
It is so amazing. Behind this huge new wall, Kids Haven has taken over a car park and now this is our playground. We have the whole space to chill in the sun, play soccer, and the best thing, ride bikes. People have been donating bikes to Kids Haven and now we have about twenty bikes so we take turns to ride around and around for ages. It feels good to move and be in the sunshine. I think the place is not quite finished although the wall is completely finished and we are safe when we play.
Between the playground and the crèche, Kids Haven has built a kind of classroom block. It looks amazing. We aren’t using it yet because there’s no water or electricity yet, but it looks like four classrooms upstairs and one huge room downstairs, with the toilets. One of the upstairs rooms has a strong gate on it and we think that they are putting computers in there. Aunty Terri also told us at our last Book club that she is making a library that side with comfy chairs and stuff for us to read and relax. I think everyone is impatient for this building to be properly finished, but for now we are happy to play next door. I guess that next time you come for a real visit of Kids Haven, then you will see this building and I can tell you some more about it.
For now, thank you for coming on a tour of MY home here at Kids Haven. I wish we could have done this on Mandela Day, but I have enjoyed trying to do it here. If you want to visit, please send us an email email@example.com and I think Uncle Sam or someone will show you around. We always need help, maybe donations but also people coming to help with tutoring and stuff like that.
Kids Haven does have a Facebook page with news on it. You can find us at https://www.facebook.com/kidshavenhome
We hope you have enjoyed this slightly different newsletter this month. It has been a long time since we could see our valuable friends and donors face to face. This has been a glimpse into our new normal.
Please be encouraged to share your comments and contact us about anything. We are always grateful to receive your help, your donation of money or second hand goods or home baked biscuits and cakes. We are all waiting for this third wave to be over. Our staff are all vaccinated under the Department of Social Development’s initiative to get social workers and care workers protected. Thank you for always caring about the children at Kids Haven and in the communities around us.