25 June 2012

I found this little 3 month old chap at Sinothando creche all warm and snuggly and quite happy in his improvised 'seat'! Who needs a Bumbo, heh, when  an old bottle crate from the shebeen next door will do?!!! This month the Love and Care orphanage in Masiphumelelele was officially opened. Planned to cater for twenty children the orphanage has been built by a couple in memory of their son who was killed in Afghanistan whilst serving in the British army three years ago.

Follow-up emails from Dr Sophie Billington revealed that there are fourteen children about to move into the orphanage, who will be sleeping on thin cot sized mattresses on the floor in entirely bare rooms with no heating. “Some of the children are HIV positive so really need good nutrition and more than normal care, says Sophie Billington. “It is  a fantastic building but needs:

10 bunk beds
10 chests of drawers/ other storage unit for clothes
20 duvets/ duvets covers/ sheets/ pillowcases/ pillows/ blankets
20 towels
20 flannels
20 chairs
Sinothando creche in Masiphumelele before renovationskitchen equipment including a fridge /freezer and stove
washing machine
dryer/ drying racks/ washing line
bathmats x 4
plates/ bowls/ cutlery
toys/ games/ puzzles/ books
clothes for boys and girls aged 1-6yrs

Other needs include:

the ongoing cost of feeding the children/ electricity/ soap/
washing up equipment/ washing powder etc….”

Asked about her involvement with the crèche, Sophie gave us the following insight into her work in Masiphumelele and the inspiring work being done by others to improve the lot of  “the children of this country who are its future”.

Dr Sophie Billington wrote:

I am a South African born, UK trained doctor who returned to live in SA 2.5years ago after 12 years away living in the UK. I volunteered to work for an NGO called MasiCorporation (www.masicorp.org) last Dec as they had set up a project called Seedlings to try and uplift all of the 18 unregistered creches in Masiphumele to a level where they are able to become registered with the Dept of Social Development and hopefully then become self sustaining.

Dr Sophie Billington doing a child assessment in Masihumelele

One of the first problems they identified was a need for the children to be fed as many were coming to school hungry with little more than two slices of white bread and a cool drink to last all day. Nine months ago they started providing a hot, nutritious meal for 700 children daily in the form of rice, soy mince, dehydrated veg and added vitamins and minerals. When I volunteered they asked me to set up an assessment programme to assess the growth of all of the children. The hope was that with one proper meal a day the children would be found to be growing well.

It took some time for me to get the equipment I needed and to collate data on all of the creches so initially I spent my time visiting all of the creches and getting to know them. I started emailing everyone I knew and collecting things for the creches as well as trying to raise funds from UK friends. I started assessing children at the beginning of June with the assistance of a local Masiphumelele resident translating for me. In the meantime, I decided that it would be valuable to assess the children developmentally as well so I contacted Dr Kirsty Donald at Red Cross who runs the developmental unit there, mainly for children who are HIV positive or disabled. One of her fellow medical colleagues has a child at the Hill school and they were looking for a creche/ educare centre to sister so she asked me if there was a creche principle in Masihumelele who stood out as being particDr Sophie Billington measuring a young child's development in Masiphumelele ularly good. I told them of Sinothando where the principle is called Tozama. I took them to meet her and they were so impressed that they have decided to partner Sinothando for the forseeable future. (The orphanage does not fall under the MasiCorp umbrella.)

Since then the Hill school has set up collections of old books and toys, fruit and dried fruit and porridge weekly for Sinothando. They have also raised enough money to upgrade the shack to make it weatherproof and larger. Last weekend they took a team of people to Sinothando and basically knocked down Tozama’s old creche and rebuilt it. They are going back this weekend to put on boarding on the walls, paint a blackboard using blackboard paint, make shelving and line the now insulated ceiling. MasiCorp have now agreed to lay a cement floor for Tozama after the Hill have finished their work.

Whilst this doSinothando interior for the over twos'es not mean that the creche can become registered as all creches have to be in a brick or pre-fab building, it has provided the 30 children over two years of age in that side of Tozama’s school with a warmer, larger and better creche. Tozama and her assistant Nonny are both incredible people who genuinely love the children and really do the best that they can to actually teach the children in their care. I am attaching some pictures of her creche before the upgrade so that you can see all of the home-made posters on the walls and the happy children with toys. She has only had two tables up to now but rotates her 30 children round them in order to let them take turns doing playdough, painting, writing their names etc. I hope that one day enough money will be raised to actually build her a proper brick creche with a playground.

Sinothando creche - Tozama and the children under her careIn the meantime, Masicorp is working to get three creches already in brick buildings registered this year and have plans to gradually do the same for the rest. It would be wonderful if one ‘wealthier’ school / creche/ organisation would be prepared to partner a creche each as the Hill has done. When I look at the facilities and teaching materials that our children have, not to mention the high level of qualified teachers (in most cases) I feel sad when I see children with just as much potential which will remain unfulfilled due to the circumstances of their parents. The children of this country are its future and I firmly believe that the entire population should be able to have access to low cost good quality education and free health care.

If there is any more that I can write/ do help then please do not hesitate to contact me. I am happy to show you round some of the creches. Also attached are two photos of me assessing the children at the Salvation Army Centre.

If anyone would like to get involved, help in any way or be shown round then please contact Dr Sophie Billington on billington.sophie@gmail.com.