I know its been a while since I have posted anything substantial but to be perfectly honest I have been having a really hard time of it this week and couldn't really put it into words until I had time to digest it.
Poverty is disgusting. We all know that, we've all seen the pictures in the newspapers and watched the items on the news. We've all shook our heads and thought 'There by the grace of God go I'. In another life, by other parents that could be us. I've been there, watched the news, read the newspapers and got angry and upset about it. But half an hour or an hour later something else has taken up my mind and its forgotten. It hasn't been until I've experienced it that I can truly say with full meaning that POVERTY IS DISGUSTING.
This week I have been battling with Social workers and social aid agencies, builders, schools and contractors just trying to get people the basics to live off and not to die. Now that sounds very melodramatic, and yes my mum will be the first to agree that I have a melodramatic streak, but consider this case which has been my priority along with 6 others.
One of the choir kids lives with his grandmother and 8 other children in a mud 'structure' it is not even a house. Now this is a common situation in Nkomazi, the mother is dying of an AIDS related disease so their grandmother is bringing them up. Now in SA there is no such thing as the dole or social welfare, if you don't have a job - tough. Nkomazi with a population of about 800,000 people has an unemployment rate of 82%. There is however, child welfare grants and whole families live off these. A child welfare grant for one child whose parents have no jobs is R250 (£20/$40) a month, so this family was receiving R2000 (£150/$300) a month, which is an ok amount to live off, you can do it. There is also another grant for orphaned children which is R800 (£50/$100), this family qualify for the orphan grant due to the fact that their mother cannot look after them and their grandmother is. This would bring their income up to something comfortable for the area. So the social worker came out last July, assessed the family and recommended that they receive the orphan grant, so the child welfare grant was stopped whilst the application for the other went through. As of last week it was still being processed - A WHOLE YEAR LATER!!!. Thats a whole year with ABSOLUTELY no money coming into that family what-so-ever.
So last Thursday me and Muzi went and camped out at the social workers office until she would see us (only took us a hour of shouting and arguing). When we saw her she was perfectly pleasant and apparently the problem wasn't with them, she had passed on all the relevant paper work to the courts, a court order was obtained last October for the orphan grant and passed on to SASSA (South African Social Services Agencies) for payment. It got lost at SASSA
SASSA was our next stop so we rang for an appointment for the following day and went in. The guy who had all the answers was not in and I wanted to smack the people in the office they were so rude. They talked over our head, ignored us and laughed in our faces when we said we were not budging until we got some answers or an appointment with someone who could give us answers. Anyway they called the boss who said he would be in on Monday morning so we made them ring him back for an appointment time as we were not going to turn up to be told he was 'out'.
When we went to see him on Monday he was great - I was so surprised. Apparently he took over SASSA last year and has been spending his time uncovering corruption and incompetance ever since. We put our case forward and basically told him that without our food aid parcels every month this whole family would have been dead long before today. He there and then went into the computer system, over rode everything that had been written to deny the money for this family and they will be getting their payment on the 1st September. Along with R74000 (£4500/$9000) back pay - enough to build them a house of a decent standard.
On Wednesday I went to visit a building project we have been funding. This is a house for another choir child and her family. They had been living in two single roomed mud huts that were infected with parasites and bugs.
We were building them a 5 roomed house, 3 bedrooms,a kitchen and a sitting room.
But we had to go with the news that they had to stop work after the kitchen as we didn't have any more money to finish off the sitting room and the exterior. How do you give that news to a grandfather who has been breaking his back trying to build a house for his grandkids to live safely in. For once I was thankful I didn't speak Siswati and therefore I wasn't the one to tell him. But I was standing right next to Johannes as he did and I saw the grandfathers face fall, and his shoulders sag. Then we got the biggest hug off him, with the widest smile. I was completely thrown by this and when I asked why apparently the man was just so thankful for all we had done, he never thought he would see his grandkids living in a brick house before he died and he feared one or more of them would die ahead of him through parasitic infection. We are now looking into the budget to try and find the extra R1000 (£100/$200) to finish the house for him.
Thursday was probably my toughest day so far. We had been asked to go into a school where two of our choir kids go to try and help them with a problem. It is a combined school, primary and high school in one, and approx 60% of their children were orphans or looked after children and about 80% of these were not getting the grants they were entitled to. Now this is due to a number of reasons. Nkomazi is right by the Mozambique and Swaziland boarder so there are lots of immigrants from there and under the old apartheid system if they applied for job or ID or benefit then they were sent back - that fear is still there so they will not apply. Despite the governments best efforts they still will not get ID's. Without ID's they cannot apply for benefits. Also without death cert they cannot claim Orphan benefits for any children living with them. The children also need birth cert which usually they do not have. All this conspires against them in getting the financial help and assistance they need. As an NGO we can help with this situation and we have access in getting them to home affairs to get the necessary docs but we need their co-operation. The school had tried many times and failed so they asked us to try.
We called a guardian meeting for Thursday of 40 families on the high at risk register, expecting about 10 to turn up, in the end there was 26 which was better than the school had ever managed. We had to take a history of who the kids lived with, what their relationship was, where the parents were, death certs, ID's, birth certs of kids etc. Basically a complete history of the child's life so that we can build up cases. It was ok, I had the principal translating for me so in a way it was if I was one step removed. But I was hearing the same story over and over again. I am the grandmother/aunt/sister, the mother is dead of AIDS related disease, she has no death cert as was buried quick due to heat/body back in Moz/Sawzi anyway. Father abandoned children. No birth certs, I don't have ID. This same story was repeated with some variation over and over again. Until I got to my last guardian.
This man had been sitting there for 3 hours waiting to speak to us, the only man in a room of women guardians. He had with him his ID, the birth cert's of the children and the death cert of the mother. And he proudly gave these over to me to document. It was all in order, he has been so meticulous in keeping them. Before I documented it all I needed the history. He was the step grandfather of 3 children, the mother had died of an AIDS related illness and the children came to live with them. He worked 2 jobs in order to feed and support the children and he stressed he always made sure the children were clean and had food in their bellies at night. The principal actually said to me they were one of the best looked after children they have at the school.
I opened the documents to check them and when I got to the mothers birth cert it was as if time stopped, I sat there staring at it - she was younger than me, born in 1980 and died in 2006 at age 26. The three children sat in front of me just looking at me, these could be my children, this could have been my life in another world and in another life.
You know we take so much for granted in our lives. When I was out three years ago teaching at the school in Cape Town the kids were asking me about my life in the UK (it was before they went on tour) and I told them about my house I had just bought and the new job I was starting and they kept asking me all these questions about it all. One of the kids piped up 'Auntie, are you as rich as the Queen then?' And I just laughed, with my student debts and a mortgage and bills etc I felt no where near as rich as the Queen. And when i told them this their answer was another question - do you have cupboards to put food in? I thought this a really odd question to ask and when I inquired why his reply was astounding. 'If you have cupboards to put food in then that means you have food to put into them'.
This isn't meant to be a preachy we have it good and there are people far worse off than us - but I have found that out to be a reality and one that I'm finding really hard to come to terms with.
There is also so much joy out here and despite of the poverty I am having a great time. We went up against the social system and won for 6 families. We are in the process of trying to get 26 families access to the benefits they deserve. The choir kids are continuing to flourish and the school programme is going well. The training of the team is really starting to pay off and they are now beginning to think and act like teachers instead of people who go in and do a bit of music and dance for 90 mins.
This week has been hard mentally, and if you have got this far in the post CONGRATULATIONS. I know its a long one, its one I have been turning over for the past few days trying to make sense of it all and I have come to the conclusion that I doubt I ever will.
So I'm just going to get on with it, do my best, help what little I can in the areas that I can.
ERIN - I am so, so sorry hon. Yahoo not working so I cant chat. *big huggs*