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The Family Africa organizes a Christmas party in the townships of Johannesburg

Rachel Aird

Imagine what the living conditions might be in a small dark shack. A paraffin stove on the floor, a dirty old mattress to sleep on, and there, a small child with a look of sadness and resignation. He does not know when or even if his next meal will arrive. There’s nowhere to play because the next shack is rammed right up to the corrugated iron wall of the small space he calls home. His mother dying from AIDS and is unable to properly care for the child. He struggles every day without hope, without knowing the joys of childhood. This is the reality of the children with whom we work in the squatter camp.

Just this week a nurse came to tell us of an HIV+ mother who had collapsed at the clinic and was now on oxygen. When asked where her 2 year old twins were, she had weakly handed the nurse a key. She had locked them into the shack 5 hours before. The staff from the clinic came to us for help as one of our community workers knew where they lived. We rushed there in our vehicle not knowing whether the twins would still be alive. We discovered that she had unknowingly locked one outside and one inside. We nervously opened the door of the shack and found in the dark almost smothered by the smell of paraffin and urine one twin with tearstained face and swollen eyes. The other was found wandering around outside, both were filthy, tired and hungry. We packed them into our vehicle and drove them back to our Free Day Care Centre where our cook, Gladys, quickly changed them into clean clothes and served them hot meal.

Children like this, left on their own, often set fire to their shacks by knocking over the stove or candle used to provide meager light in their homes. These children need to be in preschools while their mothers look for work or are at the clinic or hospital. This is the reason we started our Free Day Care Centre in a squatter camp to care for the children of HIV+ mothers and AIDS orphans and to support under resourced preschools in the township where we work. We have seen over the last 12 years the condition of the preschools which are generally a place to “keep” children rather than educate or stimulate them creatively. We have entered preschools which were more or less shacks with 100 children inside, with no toys or books and standing room only.

We organize a Christmas party for these children every year and decided seven years ago that it would not be just a wonderful “one day wonder” but that we would take the opportunity each year to provide equipment and resources so these children lives’ would be improved and uplifted throughout the year. The books, DVDs (for those blessed with electricity), reading programmes and character building curricula which Activated Ministries donated to the 46 creches and 1,500 children who attended this year’s Christmas Party will pay off with life changing dividends giving hope and opportunities for a good, well rounded education in an environment of tragedy and hopelessness.

Thank you for giving these children an opportunity to find the joy of a Christian education and the sheer pleasure of owning and reading their own books.