Investing in our children is one of the most important things we can do to ensure a brighter future for our country, and it should be on every CSI strategy’s priority list. When we invest in our children, we invest in the human capital of our country – our future leaders, employees, teachers and parents.
The pandemic has certainly motivated many corporate companies to adjust and realign their CSI strategies to benefit vulnerable children, especially those who took the hardest knocks during the lockdowns, with no access to school or school meals.
Many organisations stepped in to help these children and some are still working tirelessly to look after the abandoned, forgotten, abused and the disabled. Below we have highlighted four such organisations.
Bana Ba Kgotso
Dennis Rasekgela started Bana Ba Kgotso (Children of Peace), a childcare centre in Thembisa, in 2003.
‘I was selling food next to the street when I noticed all the children on the street. I realised they were in harm’s way since unsavoury characters like drug dealers were often using them to do their dirty work. Most of these children were on the street because it was better than being at home where they were often abused. I wanted to help them. I was an orphan too, and I knew what it felt like to have no one to protect you.
‘At first, I started taking care of them in my own shack, but so many children were in need, that my shack soon became too small. I found an open piece of land, and with my own two hands, I built a three-bedroom house. Currently, twelve children are living permanently with me in this house because they have nowhere else to go. During the day, more children come to us. We use one bedroom as a classroom and I try to teach them as much as I can.’
During the day, 150 children come to Bana Ba Kgotso to get lunch. The Banking Association South Africa (BASA) provides funding for lunch every day. The funding also helps for travelling costs to the clinic, as many of these children are HIV positive.
‘My hope is that we will gain more support, so that we will be able to afford a bigger building with multiple classrooms and be able to appoint qualified teachers. I just want to create a safe space for children who need a place to stay.’
‘The AKHA Foundation for Nonspeaking Autistics is inspired by my nonspeaking autistic son, Akha Khumalo,’ says Jabulile Khumalo, his mother. ‘When he was diagnosed with nonspeaking autism, it broke my heart, and I tried my best to help him. I realised he would need quality education and therapy.
When Khumalo first took him for his first spelling session when he was six, she was amazed. ‘He poked on the letters to make real words on a spelling board. The first word he spelt was “environment”. My voiceless son suddenly had a voice.’
The AKHA Foundation was born to provide a channel to assist parents, like Jabulile, to cope and to help them access the best therapy. For example, Akha, who is 10, has access to a specialised speech therapist who helps him to spell out the words that he is unable to communicate verbally. He has gone from being a child who was unable to communicate with his family, to now being able to share his thoughts and feelings with those around him.
‘Thanks to the spelling programme, we can understand him through his written words,’ explains Khumalo.
The Akha Foundation helps the Irene Centre for Spellers access funds to pay for therapy and education when spellers cannot afford to do so. Not only does the Foundation support the centre with funds, but it is in the process of sourcing devices for beneficiaries to which would function as ‘type to speak’ devices. ‘Therapy and education are costly, and the Akha Foundation aims to help, especially disadvantaged children whose families can’t afford this costly package,’ says Khumalo.
Currently, the foundation has two teachers and two assistant teachers, but Khumalo’s dream is to extend the foundation’s reach, so that more voiceless children will be reached across the country.
The Key School
‘The Key School is the oldest school in Johannesburg to offer educational and therapeutic intervention to children between the ages of two and 12 with autism and special needs,’ says principal Dr Jenni Gous.
The school has been in existence since 1975 and is a non-profit organisation that provides the highest level of specialised education to their learners.
‘We don’t receive any subsidies from the government,’ explains Gous. ‘Most of our learners’ parents pay school fees, but this only covers our basic needs. We often can’t afford things like general maintenance, and we also need a new school bus.’
To pay for maintenance and equipment, the school makes use of the donations that they receive from the public or corporate companies, like BASA, but much is still needed to provide for more children with special needs, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
‘We would like to help children whose parents can’t afford school fees,’ explains Gous. ‘Early intervention in children with special needs can make a huge difference in their development and can give them a fighting chance at life. The more people who support our cause, the more children we will be able to accommodate.’
The Key School focuses on addressing the impairment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which includes cognitive development, communication, sensory and social development.
‘We also use computers and tablets as aids to learning,’ explains Gous. ‘We have an extensive library of educational games and apps which we use to teach numeracy and literacy. These devices can be costly, and they can be a challenge to replace.’
They currently have 27 children in the school. ‘With more support from the public and corporates, we would like to grow our school and help disadvantaged children to also gain access to quality education.
Action School for the Blind and Disabled Children
The Action School for Blind and Disabled Children was established in 2002 to teach blind and physically disabled students to use a personal computer. The school offers basic computer training, end-user contact centre training, and ceramics training.
Blind students use an “add on” package called JAWS (Job Access with Speech), which reads the screen and then synthesises to earphones or speakers, making it possible for blind people to use most software packages.
Currently, the school has 39 learners. They use donations to offer learnerships to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Sponsorships for learners cost about R8800 per year, and R6360 for accommodation.
Teaching the students these skills increases their chances at employment and helps them to navigate better in a world that is becoming more digitalised.
Support from the public and other entities can help this school to reach more blind and disabled learners.
Corporate companies or individuals who would like to get involved are welcome to contact these organisations and support them