A letter from the Eastern Cape
Over 1,800 children and counting among the Ilinge, Ezibeleni, and Alice communities! That's a lot of stories! Each one powerfully significant and poignant, and theirs.
I would like to share one of these with you. We will call her Vuyelwa, who was 11 years old when Isibindi Ezibeleni just started 2 years ago, and was one of our very first cases there. She was referred to Isibindi by a neighbor because she was an orphan and was not going to school. A child and youth care worker (CYCW), Lindiwe, was deployed, and discovered that the auntie she was staying with had Vuyelwa at home, minding the many other smaller children in the household, washing clothes and nappies, cooking, cleaning, and baby sitting while the aunties went to work. School was just not an option for her.
Vuyelwa was born and raised in Mthatha by her mother until she died, and was then shipped off to Ezibeleni to this relative who might have seen a foster grant income and free labor in her future, while Vuyelwa's future was quickly starting to slip away. Monica's keen social work radar kicked in when she spotted Vuyelwa in the safe park , honing in on her as she shuffled past in those big, worn shoes, literally and figuratively, and old clothes hung from her drooping shoulders, as she emitted a profound sadness, defeated already at age 11.
Lindiwe needed to have a family conference to address all of Vuyelwa's issues, and being new to the role of CYCW, had never done one before. So we called on our CYCW mentor from Mthatha, Seeng Mamabolo, who immediately responded and began guiding Lindiwe in her role and a plan to meet Vuyelwa's family, teachers, and social worker in Mthatha was set, with Seeng as role model for Lindiwe and the new team. After the first of many family conferences, it was agreed that another family member in Ezibeleni would take Vuyelwa in, assuring she would return to school immediately and this broken child could begin to mend. A school uniform and supplies were bought, some donated clothes and shoes given, a grant applied for, the family supported, and soon the healing process followed and Vuyelwa could slowly learn to be a child again. She began thriving in this new home, and you could clearly see the heavy weight lifting off of her shoulders as she began to smile, play and engage in activities at both school and safe park. One not uncommon story among so many. But this is not the end.
Two days ago we met Vuyelwa in Bloemfontein, as she was chosen by the CYCW team to attend the Youth Camp that was held alongside the biannual conference of CYCW's, where children's current issues are given a voice by the youth themselves and heard by the CYCW's. She was chosen as she was doing so well in school and was very active in the adolescent development program, and would be able to to express the youth's issues as a role model and representative from her site. There before us was Vuyelwa, nearly 14 now, with a brilliant, beaming smile, and a tangible self-confience exuding from her.
Monica and I were saying our farewells to Seeng at the end of the conference, when Vuyelwa approached us to say hello. Seeng greeted her and clearly had no idea who she was. When Vuyelwa finally revealed that she was originally from Mthatha, the lights went on in Seeng's eyes as she realized who was standing before her. No longer a sad child but a beautiful young woman, thriving and enjoying new experiences in her life. Seeng shrieked with joyful recognition and pulled Vuyelwa into her arms for a warm embrace with unbelief.
This is what Isibindi is all about. Courage. Courage of these CYCW's who meet these families' needs head on with determination and compassion, courage of Vuyelwa to trust again and allow love to trasnsform her.
And when I asked Vuyelwa what is her dream for her future, without blinking or hesitation, pointing her finger straight at Seeng, she said “I want to be like you.”
In the heart of God,
Heidi and Monica
Linah, CYCW, engaged in play with children from Isibindi Ilinge. (And I want to be like her!)