Mthandazo sits at a fire he has built for cooking outside of his small stone, mud and stick house which resembles more of a play-fort. This is where he and his 15-year-old nephew, Sipho, live. The boys’ first home collapsed during the rainy season the year before. Their new home belongs to Sipho’s mother who abandoned her son when she moved to another village. Mthandazo says he is grateful for the company and security Sipho provides, especially at night.
At night Mthandazo worries about the rats that come and eat through their mattress and about the coming rains that will likely wash away their home. He also worries because there is no door on which to put a lock to keep their few belongings safe.
Mthandazo’s elder sister passed away last year, leaving him the head of the household. His father, who was never really around, passed away a few years ago and his mother moved to work on a rural farm in 2002. Since then Mthandazo has rarely seen her more than a day month when he makes a three-hour trek by minibus-taxi to visit her.
Through all these challenges, Mthandazo has remained a strong student at school and dreams of becoming a geography teacher. He is respected in his village both by adults and his peers. When asked if Mthandazo ever gets into trouble, his care worker replies: “The only trouble Mthandazo has is with food.” The money his mother has to spare each month varies and sometimes there isn’t enough even for the taxi fare to visit her.
Mthandazo lives in Siphamandla, a remote community in northeastern South Africa supported by Hands at Work. He receives one hot meal a day and is regularly checked up on by a local volunteer care worker. She testifies to his character: Mthandazo is a good role model to other children in his community.
The Siphamandla community-based organisation’s feeding programme is a great blessing to Mthandazo. Relying on a meal each day, his personal food supply is more likely to stretch until the end of each month. Good news for this remarkable young man.
Mthandazo and Sipho have have just finished their evening meal: pap with canned fish in tomato sauce. The sun has set and two, younger neighbours join them. This is a typical evening for Mthandazo. His neighbours often stop by and tonight, like every other, they listen closely to the stories he tells.
UPDATE: A new home is being built for Mthandazo and Sipho thanks to a generous donation from a Canadian high school. The new, concrete structure will securely protect the boys from the elements (and rats) as well as ill-intending intruders. The Canadian high school found out about the boys’ needs through, Chris Dittman, a former teacher at their high school and current volunteer with Hands at Work in South Africa.