REVIEW OF 15 YEARS WITH REACHOUT TO AFRICA
The HIV/AIDS pandemic has been raging in Africa for the past 20 plus years. The impact of that has left millions of orphans and vulnerable children in its wake. Fifteen years ago, South Africa was in crisis mode, with thousands of children being left alone without support, because the world was just waking up to the problems. Now we are living with another pandemic, Covid-19.
I am a Canadian teacher, who has lived and worked in a number of different countries in Africa since 1982. In 2012, I was living in South Africa, interviewing girls for an internship programme at a school where I was leading a school outreach programme. One of the girls, who was only 17 years old, told me that she had no parents and was caring for her 5 younger siblings. I was so shocked, and wondered if there were more children out there in the same boat. That led me into my life work, caring for orphans and vulnerable children in Africa and working on finding creative ways to give them a hope and a future.
My journey with Reachout to Africa began when Nick Short came to South Africa as the missions director of my home church in Canada, Hillside Baptist Church . As a result of that visit and a vision that God gave him, he began the charity “Reachout to Africa”.
We started a programme for orphans and vulnerable children, partially funded by the Canadian High Commission through an organization called C4L. The purpose was to provide support to the children, particularly psycho-social support. We designed whole school interventions, working with youth leaders, teachers and community volunteers. We not only trained them, but we began psycho-social support camps and Hope Clubs in schools. Reachout to Africa became involved by supporting the camps and clubs and sending hundreds of Canadian volunteers to assist us with the work. Eventually that programme closed, but God didn’t take away the vision or the work.
In 2010, a group of 9 women in South Africa, and 2 Canadians, started a charity in South Africa called Mamkhulu.org. Mamkhulu means “auntie” in the local language, SiSwati. The vision of the charity was to support orphans and vulnerable children through in-school clubs and camps. Our first camps were held in the schools, but we realized that children did not get the help they needed, as they returned home every day to their circumstances. Reachout to Africa supported these camps which were attended by over a thousand children daily.
The following year we decided to move the camps to a campsite and reduce the number of children, taking only the most vulnerable for intensive interventions, for a week. The impact was amazing. Lives transformed. After several years of having to rent the accommodation, we all realized that we needed a “home” of our own. Reachout walked with us through the whole process, assisting us until we found Ekukhanyeni, The Place of Light. The goal of this facility is to generate funds to run our programmes and to provide a permanent home for our camps and training. It really is “home” to thousands of youth and children, whose lives are impacted through the camps.
Through intensive fund raising efforts by Reachout, Mamkhulu.org purchased the land (with still a way to go to pay off the mortgage and generous lenders in Canada), and Reachout continued to sponsor our camps and Hope Club leaders. We have run 4 camps a year, and 11 Hope Clubs in schools in the townships around our community based centre,
The Litsemba Centre (Hope Centre). This is where children can come if they need emergency help. This centre is also sponsored by Reachout, and provides homework support, life skills development, training in gardening, sports, clothing, etc. on a daily basis. We have a full time social worker, and 4 other full time staff, as well as 9 Hope Club leaders. Due to the current pandemic lock down measures imposed by the South African government, as a result of Covid-19, we had to close Ekukhanyeni and the Litsemba Centre to visitors for 6 months. Reachout has continued to support not only the ministry and its staff of 5 local workers, but also Ekukhanyeni, since the lockdown began.
But the lock down didn’t stop the work. Together we began distributing food parcels to the families of our children using special government permission. We went to their individual homes, providing the food, seedlings so that they could grow their own food, and much needed psycho-social support. We found families of 21 people living in a small houses with no source of income. Children who normally received food at school, were left at home hungry. Our team arrived with food for the whole family for a month. It was so encouraging to see the smiles on their faces and many times families asked if they could pray for us. To date we have provided over 300 families (1000 people) with food.
Just before the current pandemic began, we started a programme called Schools for Schools, the vision of Reachout to Africa. This has now merged with our Hope Clubs, to continue to provide psychosocial support, but to also provide IT skills and links into Hope Clubs in Canada. Our goal is to have our children connected to learners in Canada and across the world, to give them vision and encouragement.
The journey has been one of connection, support, encouragement, a learning of cultures, a sharing of love and compassion, and of God’s love for everyone, regardless of race, age or social standing. It has been a wonderful journey, full of blessing and provision.
Thank you Reachout to Africa and your team, for all you have done for the children of Africa. May God bless each one of you.
Mamkhulu.org and Ekukhanyeni
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