The desperation of children…
It is a very frustrating thing to help an entire community living in the most unimaginable conditions…
With a lack of foster care placement options my family grew very quickly from my daughter and I to include first my four year old son followed by my eleven year old foster son and then his nine year old brother. The things these kids have seen and experienced is more than most of us could survive in an entire lifetime! From witnessing rape, being physically abused in the most violent way to being forced to participate in an alleged murder. The stories I could tell… Or should I say: the stories these little humans could tell!
They are safe now! But my home is full. I have to say. My 3 bedroom house is bursting at the seams with 3 adults and four children all sharing the safety and comfort of its roof. Caring for this many growing bodies on a single income is no easy task. But how could I possibly complain? When there are still so many of these little ones out there who are still experiencing a daily reality of violence, abuse, neglect, hunger and who knows what else?
I was approached by a thirteen year old girl today. Just 13, innocent and still floating in that phase between childhood and teenage years. She came over shyly and quietly with the words: “Nikki, my Mom wants to speak to you”.
“Ok” I said. “Where is she?”
“She’s working”, the young lady replied. After a brief hesitation: “She wants me to come and live with you”.
Now may I mention that besides for the cramped conditions and minimal spending money in my household, I have much more than any of these families and it is not the first time one of the children asked to live with me. I’m fairly used to it. They see it as a magical holiday destination on par with how normal kids would see a beach vacation or maybe even Disneyland! I mean I have a tv and even a big bathtub with hot water! They are only used to washing in a small plastic basin with cold water from the tap. A bathtub with hot water is the ultimate in luxury as far as they are concerned! My kids also get to eat three times a day consistently and without fail! Another new concept! There is ALWAYS food, even if it is just a peanut butter sandwich.
I probed her further about her Mom’s availability for this little chat she wishes to have with me and finally after proposing several different days and options for a meeting she told me that her Mom was living at work in Namibia indefinitely (a neighboring country just above South Africa).
I was a little shocked and asked her why her Mom would want her to come and stay with me, surely she is staying with an aunt, grandmother or relative of sorts – it is not uncommon.
What she told me next absolutely broke my heart.
You see, she has been living completely by herself since her Mom’s departure in June. At 13 this young teen is her own sole caregiver. Her Mom tries to send money when she can but with no ATM within a 10 km radius of the settlement and no shops for food – this young lady often doesn’t even have food to eat. She has to collect her own firewood, do her own washing by hand, beg for food from those around her, attend school and then come home to an empty house without her Mother’s love and with no-one to even ask her how her day was. Her mom cannot afford the transport to get her to Namibia and even if she could, she may not have her child living with her where she works.
It doesn’t often happen anymore but today I was reduced to tears. I know that I literally don’t have another bed for this girl to sleep on. My food budget is stretched to the limit. It is not easy feeding so many mouths and I cannot possibly afford to feed one more. Not permanently. Not even for a weekend.
Her Mom is obviously working so far away from home because she wants to put food on the table, perhaps improve their lives a bit down the road. I couldn’t accept her money. I also doubt that what she sends her daughter would make a dent in what I have to spend in my middle class environment. My family doesn’t live on maize meal and rice dinners. We eat vegetables, a varied diet, fresh fruit – all the essentials to develop growing minds and bodies. All the essentials that add up to quite a spectacular amount.
I am at an incredible crossroad. I cannot possibly take in another child! I can literally hardly afford the ones I have. I also cannot possibly turn my back on this young lady in the prime of her development where a Mom is needed more than ever to shape her young life into something positive and to help her through the difficult teens filled with questions, self-doubt and insecurities.
As it stands, the average age for a first pregnancy is between 12 and 16 years of age. Last year, two of my 14 year old girls gave birth to boys on the 14th of December. Both fathers are in their mid twenties. It was only after I threatened statutory rape charges that their families agreed to some form of financial support.
How will this girl survive this? With no love and affection at home and in such a vulnerable living arrangement, she is very likely to fall prey to the possibility of love so well disguised in an older boy’s promises.
This is the down side of what I do… These are the moments where being strong, independent and compassionate just are not enough.
It has been a dream for the longest time to establish a “Foster Home” within the settlement for the abused, neglected and vulnerable children. Ironically, on my birthday (3 October) I was approached by a lady new to our community. She is originally from Dunoon. She shares a tiny dwelling of 24 sq meters with her adult daughter, her two grandsons and her two foster children aged 6 weeks and 2 years.
She has her own registered non-profit organisation. It has been a dream of hers to start a Children’s home. She came to me asking (hat in hand) whether I would consider allowing her to establish it on my grounds. She had such a fright, I think I almost jumped on her with joy! Not only does she have her own NPO, she is also trained and qualified to work with 10 foster children.
Of course I agreed wholeheartedly – she could have as much land as she needed. I already have a few things that could be of great use including the generous donations of used children’s clothing I receive from the amazing people I know on a regular basis. The concern – as usual – is that I have to have time and money to establish such a center. I wouldn’t have to run it (which is amazing as I kind of have my hands full already) but it means my dream of a safe place for the severely neglected children would be realised much sooner than what I would be ready to start it. Naturally I would be involved as much as possible, how could I not?
The other matter is that I already have around 8 children on the critical list for whom we simply cannot find space in care facilities. There is a massive shortage of such facilities which is why I wanted to start one! That would mean that without the 13 year old girl – the facility would be full immediately upon opening! There wouldn’t be room for more until we could locate more qualified foster parents and afford the care of the children living at that facility.
If I opened a facility for 30 children it would fill up in a matter of days! The need is simply far greater than the availability.
Why do children have to be cursed with a life filled with such horrific conditions? How do they always seem so happy when you see them? Is it because they are finally treated with dignity, respect and a little bit of love? Just the generosity of a kind word?
I truly get MAD when I hear comments such as “well, why do their parents keep having children when they cannot feed them?”. As if children are only born into perfect families everywhere else! What does it freaking have to do with the innocent child that has already been born? How should that child answer such a question? Is it right to make them feel like they are nothing but a burden to society when they didn’t choose to be born in the first place?
Days like this hurt…
Why can I not just win the lottery? I promise I will put every tiny cent to great use!
I promised I would think about what I could do for her and we would talk this Friday. I have NO idea what to say to her…