by Carmel Lawry, Palms volunteer at Holy Family Care Centre, South Africa
Tsephiso came to Holy Family at 7 years of age as she and her siblings had been neglected and abandoned. Her older sister was caring for her and her siblings, and they all suffered from malnutrition. Tsephiso’s mother was impoverished and did not have a home in which to care for her children. In desperation she had left her children to try to find farm work, and could not be traced for several years. Tsephiso was finally reunited with her mother and other siblings years later as her family’s situation became sustainable.
Tsephiso now lives in a RDP house, which is housing provided to the poor by the South African Government. Many people living in poverty wait years under The Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) housing project that provides housing to vulnerable groups such as low-income and female-headed households. A large backlog of housing requests exists and many wait years to finally receive a RDP house. The free housing scheme is available to those who earn below R3500 a month (AUD 350). The Limpopo province is home to the poorest in South Africa.
As the outreach coordinator at Holy Family Care Centre I have maintained contact with Tsephiso since she left Holy Family. The one thing she really wanted was a bed. She has been sleeping on a concrete floor covered with a blanket and her back would hurt every day. I think the smile tells it all! I had been given money from a friend in Australia who trusted me to use the money appropriately. I arranged to pick Tsephiso up in our bakkie (an open ute) and I purchased a bed at a local shop. We set it up at home and she sat on her new bed and her smile was enormous.
Also as coordinator, I am in contact with children who have been reunited with relatives but who still need support through the provision of basic needs that we take for granted: food, clothing, blankets, mattresses and school supplies. There are no “opportunity” or secondhand shops, no “St Vinnies” or “Brotherhood of St Lawrence” to help people or buy cheaper goods; people are so poor and the poor are the best recyclers in the world.
Outreach work is playing a vital role as formerly children were often “off the radar” once they left Holy Family. We are now also happy to see our children return for visits during the holidays, and they are of course welcomed with open arms.
Carmel Lawry is a health professional from Melbourne. With senior qualifications in nursing and administration, she is a serial volunteer in Ofcolaco, South Africa, assisting to rebuild families in a region devastated by disease and unrest.
Some thoughts… Tsephiso is overjoyed with a roof over her head and a bed to sleep in. Meanwhile in Sydney our sleep is interrupted by fears of an overheated housing market. An ironic lack of social housing amid a glut of new apartments- Just when did we forget what houses are for?