Thobile “Noguarda’ and Lukholo Marhenene are 2 brothers, aged 16 and 14, who are part of a child-run household, in Mawotsheni lalli (village), 8km north of Coffee Bay. Mawotsheni is one of the poorest lalli’s in the region, with an incredibly high unemployment rate. Thobile and Lukholo live with their 18 year-old brother, Ninti, and their 15 year old cousin, Mbulelo.
The brothers were 10 and 8 years old when they were orphaned in 2004, when their mother and father died. Their mother’s older sister was looking after the boys and being responsible for them, but her health was not the best and she already has a number of her own children to take care of. The boys were then looked over by their old grandfather, who was already 88 years old at the time. Their grandfather passed away in February 2009, and since the grandfather’s death, the children have had to fend for themselves……………..
In 2007, Coffee Shack Backpackers brought Thobile and Lukholo aboard, because Dave had seen the young boys hanging around outside the gate. He told the brothers that they could visit Coffee Shack on a Saturday and he would teach them maths and computer skills. Other than teaching them maths skills, Dave also taught the young brothers to surf and got each of them their own surfboard! Saturdays for the boys then consisted of breakfast at Coffee Shack, picking up litter, helping prepare the daytrip, going on the daytrip, making toasties for lunch and chatting to guests.
I met the boys in December 2008, when I returned to Coffee Bay and I did a few basic maths lessons with them, and realised how far behind these guys were. They were only working with basic 2 digit numbers. When I returned from Cape Town in July 2009, I had another maths session with the boys, and wow! what an incredible improvement! Dave had done very well with their maths and language development. I agreed to spend an hour with the brothers every Saturday morning, teaching them maths using the Montessori method.
Ncumisa and I got a parcel of food together for the boys and went to go and check out their home in August 2009. What met our eyes was shocking……………..there was nothing in the little square mudbrick ‘khaya’ – it did not look like anyone lived there! There was a bed with a plank as a mattress, 1 old, broken grass mat that all 3 younger boys shared and some rags, that the boys said were their blankets. There was 1 massive cooking pot, 4 plastic mushroom containers, 4 spoons and 1 mug. Behind a piece of old broken door, their precious quarter bag of mealie meal is stashed, and behind a piece of old rusted zinc, are their precious rag blankets and dark school shirts. The only clothes the boys have are the ones they are wearing, and no shoes. The school shoes are parked under the bed, as they are for school only! Lukholo is wearing a massive, tattered, broken jacket – he looks like a joker, in this sad scene. Ncumisa is as shocked as I am and goes into a shocked motormouth mode – I again, am stunned into silence! I have NEVER EVER in my life seen such poverty!!!!!!! And these are all children under 21 years of age………WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THEIR BASIC RIGHTS??? As I leave the dark mud hut, I pass the indoor fire place, where an emaciated dog lies. The tears flow uncontrollably ………this is so not right!!!! Where is their love and protection? Where is their healthy food? Where is their proper shelter?
When we leave them, they cannot stop saying “enkosi kakuhle for the food”, “siyabulela kakuhlu for the food” – tonight is one night that they will not go to bed hungry!
The following day I contacted Social Developtment in Mqanduli urgently requesting that the social worker for our area comes down for a meeting. She eventually returned my call (3 days later) and she is coming down to see me and do a home visit on Thursday AND she is putting together a food parcel for the boys. Her initial response to me was not very good, as she said the Department has transport problems. I told her how the taxi system from Mthatha to Coffee Bay works. I told her the boys’ WHOLE story and also about Nomsa (the brother’s mom’s) date of birth being wrong. Her death certificate says that she was born in 1982, which means that she had her first son at the age of 10! That is not really possible, even in the Transkei! There is another angle to this saga though, because the oldest brother, Ninty, does not have an ID book, or a birth certificate, as he was born at home in the village.
On Thursday, I eagerly await the visit from the social worker. At 2pm I give their office a call – I am told about the transport problem their department is suffering….I say to her, “you get on a taxi at Mqanduli and get off in Coffee Bay. Walk to Coffee Shack and we can go from here”. The social worker, Ms Luchiti, says I should rather speak to her supervisor, so I get transferred through to Beauty The supervisor speaks English well and explains to me that they only have 1 vehicle, and today they had a bit of an emergency at another place. She promises me that they will come on Friday. Ms Luchiti and 2 colleagues will come down. I put the phone down feeling good.
On Friday morning I call Beauty at 09h00 to find out what time they are coming down – I also give her Coffee Shack’s address. She tells me she will call me when they leave. At 12hoo sharp, I get a call to say they are now leaving. By 14h00 they had not arrived? I called their office and got the answering machine, with an option to leave a message. I do leave one. By 16h00 they are still not here and I am rather concerned. I call the office and again get the answering service. By 17h30 I am feeling down and out disappointed. Damn! Thobile pops by Coffee Shack as he is going to play a soccer match in Mthatha and needs some takeaway food, Bels kindly sorts him out.
When I see the boys for their Saturday school, I see that they are happier than usual. They tell me that people from the Department of Social Development had been at their khaya (house) yesterday and had dropped food, and eggs and butternuts and had taken photos and asked Ninty some questions. They had also taken the boys details for school uniforms. Ncumisa gave them toothbrushes, toothpaste, facecloths and food that the Coffee Shack Community Fund had bought for them. They left Coffee Shack really happy chappies!
I had gone through the community basket and had managed to set aside a few items of clothing for the boys. They each got a warm jumper and a few t-shirts. A Frisbee and a set of Draughts was also thrown in – BIG smiles all round!! We drove the boys home that day and a much happier sight greeted us at their home. There were soccer pictures stuck on the wall (Confederation Cup teams) and there was FOOD – quite a lot. The food hamper that the Department of Social Development had dropped off was good…12.5kg of sugar, mielie meal, 10kg rice, 48 eggs, 1 pocket butternut, 3kg carrots, 10 x 500ml Longlife milk, a pocket of potatoes and 3 boxes of Imana soup mix,. The shelves that Sam had made for them are nice, but are not being used correctly. All the food is on the floor? Ncumisa chats to them and explains that they must separate the food and the clothes and the food must go on the shelves. The jacket we gave Thobile last week is dug out from under the bed and the sleeves are so dirty. I recommend to him that he washes it and then puts it on a shelf when it’s dry, as he must look after his only jacket. I also say to the boys that they should clean outside their khaya, because although we are poor, we can be clean.
I had a meeting with Social Development at Coffee Shack on Thursday, 10 September 2009. The chief and the ward councillor were meant to be present, but were not. Social Development basically asked me to source caregivers in the area, and to find one to go and stay with the boys. I reminded Ms Luchiti about how SMALL the boys house was…….I said I would think about this and see what I could do.
I contacted Ms Luchiti at Social Development on 15 September, to ask her to please ensure that the boys’ names are on the food list, so that they get a drop off at the end of the month. She told me that it takes a long time to do this and I replied by saying that that is why I am phoning her today. I contacted her on 21 September again to remind her that the boys’ food supply was now really low. She said there is no food parcel for them, and then unfortunately I ‘lost it’ a bit, because she KNOWS that these children have NO income and NO-ONE feeding them……….I told her that I am barely able to meet my own personal needs, so I could not provide food for the boys…….it was not a positive ending conversation. Ms Luchiti called me on 29 September, to say that there was a food parcel for the boys, but no transport to bring it. I said I would make a plan to collect it.
I asked Zukie at Coffee Shack if she would PLEASE collect it the following day on her way back from Mthatha, which she kindly agreed to. When she collected the food parcel for the boys on 30 September, Ms Luchiti told Zukie to tell me that this food parcel was allocated to some other family and that I must be grateful for what they have done. ????? Thanks to my Sunday night quizzes at Coffee Shack, we kept the boys supplied with food while we waited for government to get their act together. We keep the food parcel at Coffee Shack and every weekend the boys fill up their buckets and bags with groceries.
I had various meetings with the principal of their school and because the boys’ school attendance was not great, I had to implement a system. I drew up an attendance chart for each boy and went and had meetings with their class teachers. I asked the teachers to please keep the boys’ attendance charts updated, so that we could monitor their attendance. For the last 2 weeks of school, before the September break, the boys attendance improved radically. The boys spent most of their September break at Coffee Shack and we had lots of chats about school attendance and the importance of education. I told the boys that they would receive a nice prize at the end of the year if they attended school everyday. We also had an in-depth talk about the boys going to board with a family from Sunday to Friday, so that there would be a ‘mama’ in their lives, but the boys are happy staying where they are, with Ninty.
The deal we made in early October before school opened was: If the boys could prove that they were responsible enough to go to school everyday, Coffee Shack and I would continue to help and support them and they could stay where they are. If they did not attend school, that boy/boys would have to go and board with a mama. I bought the boys a clock and we had a big session on ‘telling the time’ and ‘setting the alarm clock’. Lukholo, the younger brother who admitted that he is lazy to get up in the morning, was put in charge of the clock and ensuring that all 3 boys get up for school in the mornings.
Ninty, the 17-year old brother, also joined the Saturday school. He is busy learning the sounds and letters of the alphabet and how to write them, and is very motivated. Unfortunately Ninty’s whole school career lasted for less than 2 years.
I went and checked their school attendance charts in October and Thobile has a 100% attendance, while Lukholo has missed 2 days of school. This was a major improvement! The boys had been asking if there was any way they could get a radio, so on Wednesday, 21 October 2009, they got a brand new FM radio. On Sunday, 25 October 2009, I had another chat with the boys about school attendance and what education can bring you in life.
We are now in the process of gathering documents so that Ninty can apply for his Identity book, and we need to get the boys grants sorted.
During November 2009, things were moving along nicely. Lukholo has had a 100% attendance rate at school for the last 2 weeks, which is the first time in his school history! Thobile has attended school daily for the past 5 weeks and that too is a record! Thobile missed one day of school, but with a VERY valid reason. Our region had a very dry winter and we were in a near-drought situation, when the rains came. It rained for about 4 days continuously, stopped for a day, then rained some more. The rivers were all in full flow when Thobile and the other children were crossing the Mapuzi river, to go to school. Thobile had removed his school pants and was carrying them above his head, with his plastic bag which contained his school books. He said the river was chest high and it was flowing heavily. The next moment, Thobile slipped on a rock and went under the water – the river yanking his school pants and school books out of his hands. He was kept under by the current and swept along abit, when his cousin jumped in and dragged him to a rock. He came to Coffee Shack to let us know that he had missed school that day – progression indeed!
The boys grant applications were done in November 2009 and we are expecting their first payment in February 2010.
Thobile’s loves surfing and surfs as often as he can; Lukholo enjoys art and fishing and even does all-night sessions at Mthatha River Mouth; Mbulelo has shown a great interest in Kate’s camera and she has taught him how to use it and Ninty now has a part-time job at Coffee Shack and has also had a few surfing lessons. So through support, education and surfing, these boys lives have really been positively turned around!