Child and Youth centres in Khayelitsha starved of support amid pandemic

Children and young adults from the ages four to 35 years old gather every Wednesday at the soup kitchen in Ndlovini informal settlement, Khayelitsha, to receive a loaf of bread and juice. All photos by Lilita Gcwabe

Children’s homes and youth centres worried about not having the access to food during the pandemic.

Childrens’ homes in Khayelitsha fear that they will soon be unable to provide basic meals and shelter for the hundreds of children and young adults who have increasingly relied on them since the beginning of the lockdown.

According to research conducted by the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, adult and child hunger doubled in South African households since the start of the lockdown. 22% of households reported that at least one adult had gone hungry in the previous seven days and 15% of them reported that a child had gone hungry. 47% of the interviewed households reported that they had run out of money for food in the first month of the lockdown. The lack of access to food during the lockdown forced many households in working class communities to rely on charity donations and handouts.

Noxolo Mdewu (32), together with her husband, are the founders of the Children’s Home and Soup Kitchen located at a corner of the Ndlovini informal settlement in Khayelitsha. When land was being occupied around Khayelitsha during the earlier days of the hard lockdown in April this year, the Mdewu’s saw the opportunity to occupy a piece of land and use it to open a home for the children, young adults and elderly people they noticed were going hungrier and becoming poorer under the covid-19 lockdown.

“We saw that the lack of access to food was getting worse. When we first opened, there were more than one hundred people that would come to receive food and some of them were looking for a place to stay. We couldn’t help everyone because the place isn’t liveable and safe for small children,” Mdewu said.

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After Mdewu registered the home as a non-profit organisation (NPO), she hoped that she would get support from the government to help her help others. “The food, bread and juice that we buy is a donation from our own pockets. We rely on the community for help and on days that we can’t afford to donate, the children who come here don’t get any food.” Mdewu says there are infants who have no clothes from the time they are born because their parents are unemployed and living in poverty.

Children standing in line to receive food at the soup kitchen in Khayelitsha.

Save the Children SA (SCSA) programme manager, Duduzile Skhosana, said that the lockdown affected homeless and migrant children greatly because they were left with nothing to eat and nowhere to hide. “Because children depend on adults to take care of them, many had nothing and were left destitute. Parents losing their jobs and stress increased the children’s vulnerability to violence. Many were also exposed to abuse by family members because the lockdown disabled community protection systems,” she said.

SCSA was able to send out their teams of volunteers on a regular basis, to provide sanitation and food to some homeless children who were staying in shelters and camps. “In many ways the camps were a blessing because migrant children and those who beg on the streets had a place to go but many shelters they went to had trouble supporting them,” Skhosana said.

Rosalia Mashale is the founder of Baphumelele Children’s Home in Khayelitsha and says that the lockdown was the most difficult time for her and the children in the home. “It started becoming difficult to even afford to feed the children and to keep them here. It still is. We also have community people who come here and ask for food. Many children in our Child-Headed Households programme were suffering, some passed away not from the coronavirus but from hunger, as they could not fend for themselves,” Mashale told Elitsha.

One of the toddler rooms in the home. Mahalia says there is very little to no space for them to practise social distancing.

5,000 children have stayed at the home since Mashale opened her doors in 1989; currently, there are 106. She hoped the R500-billion in covid-19 relief funds from the government would include children’s homes like Baphumelele, which rely on donations, tourist visits and funding but she continues to be disappointed. Children’s homes and charities are not seen to be performing an essential service. 

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“Not even a cent was set aside from that money. The government only pays three of our social workers and operational costs. Not even assistance with personal protective equipment from the Western Cape. Why? When there are thousands of homeless children who have been depending on homes like this for food and clothes for years? If the lockdown continues and this pandemic worsens, how will we feed them?” Mashale declared.

Western Cape MEC of Social Development, Sharna Fernandez, maintained that the department “continued delivering its core services and funding to all registered centres in the province. “We provided guidance when it comes to PPE and assisted with the implementation of the relevant covid regulations,” she said, failing to respond to questions about the claims made by Mashale.

To volunteer or donate clothes, food or money at any of the above childcare and youth centres, please contact:
Ndlovini Charity and Children’s Home-  083 744 0711
Baphumelele Children’s Home – rosie@baphumelele.org.za

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