I want to help children, just like Thulane

Fortunate Kunene serves with Hands at Work in Africa as the Clau Clau Service Centre Coordinator, working to build capacity, provide support and encouragement to five Community Based Organisations in the area. Here she reflects on a boy she met in one of those communities and considers her own childhood.

Thulane is a nine year old boy. He lives with his mother and two young sisters: Thobile, who is seven and Nelsiwe who is five. He also has a baby brother, Sanele who is just nine months old.  The family originally came from Mozambique, fleeing to South Africa in the hope of a brighter future. Unfortunately, this has meant that they don’t have any birth certificates or identification documents that would enable them to receive assistance from the South African government.  They stay in a one-roomed shack made of corrugated metal. The children have only a cold floor to sleep on, and no blanket.

Thulane’s mother leaves for work at 5am each morning and doesn’t return until after dark each evening. Thulane, being the oldest, is therefore required to look after the home and to care for his siblings.  He has a long walk down a very steep hill to fetch water. He cleans the house and washes nappies for his baby brother. Thulane doesn’t have any time to play and do things most nine-year- old children do. It is nearly an hour for Thulane to walk to the Mandlesive Care Point, but he makes this journey every day because he has made friends there and has relationships with the Care Workers. Perhaps this Care Point is the only place in the world where this little boy feels able to be ‘just a child’. Thulane’s Care Worker, Nomsa, visits him regularly in his home to help him with the household chores. She helps him clean, do the washing and get water. Thulane says he wants to be a teacher when he grows up.

As a Service Centre Coordinator, Thulane touched me so much because his childhood reminds me of my own.  When I was seven years old I had to look after my little brother. My mother would leave us for work at 4am and not get back until late in the evening. We didn’t have food while my mum was away at work, so I think that if there was a Care Point offered to us, we would have attended there every day to get food.  It would have been good for me to have a Care Worker like Nomsa to support me since I was acting as a mother myself. At the Care Point, children get to forget their problems.  For a time, they can play with their friends and act like other children.

I want to help children just like Thulane as I understand what it is like to have so much responsibility at such a young age. It is these children that I believe I have been called to. In my work in the Service Centre, I believe that many children, just like Thulane can be given hope, even though they face  many challenges.