Child abuse and the neglect of children is by far one of the most sensitive subjects in society that has the ability to provoke people to talk. But very often, too many people don’t let their emotions move them to action, mostly because of fear of what may follow if they let themselves get involved. The “it’s not really my life” mentality prevails, leaving many abused children right where they were before we had conversations about them that did nothing to change their circumstances.
In a world where social ills seem to be firmly in the proverbially saddle and riding mankind, there has never been a time where we so desperately needed the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” to be true. One woman from Atteridgeville, Gauteng, has made this her life’s work. Making a home for abused, abandoned and orphaned children is the stuff that courses through Sylvia Magoba’s blood, sweat and tears. Her safe haven, Kingdom Life Children’s Centre in Atteridgeville, has become the place that 62 children, aged between two and 18, now call home.
It all started in 1999 when Magoba, 72, was a member of the school governing body (SGB) at one of the local primary schools. Abused children were turning to adults they felt they could trust. “Children were opening up to teachers, telling their stories of abuse and neglect, which made it difficult for them to prosper in their education.
“The stories became too heavy for the teachers to handle and they related them to the school principal, who then called the SGB so that we could share ideas on how to assist the learners,” Magoba says.
When the children placed their trust in them, Magoba was inspired to act and reached out to social workers. Coincidentally, when Magoba heard about the children’s plight, she had just participated in a project called “Iso Labantwana” (Eye of the children).
“The social workers invited women in the community to take part in Iso Labantwana. The project opened my mind and ears to hear and listen to the children and become their rescuer without worrying about who says what.
“It built me up and gave me heart. I got so passionate that as soon as I hear about the plight of a child that is not acceptable, I alert the social workers,” says Magoba.
Even though the Kingdom Life Children’s Centre was just a dream back then, the mother of six daughters had started sharing her three-bedroomed house with abused and neglected children.
The first children she welcomed into her home were aged between four and six and came from one family.
“They were repeating the same grade for three years because they away from school for long periods and couldn’t write monthly tests and exams. Their mother was always away, and they were left alone without food in the house.
“The social workers and community police forum intervened and it became clear that the only solution was to remove the kids from their home. However, the big question was, where they would go? That’s when I volunteered to look after them.”
Many rooms in my mother’s house
Magoba now cares for 62 children, aged between two and 18, who each hold a very special place in her big heart.
When she initially took in the first six children, their friends would come to the house and play with them, and the next thing, they no longer want to go back home, a sign that they were also being neglected.
“I went to investigate and I discovered that indeed, they were not being cared for. Neighbours were looking after them. I took them in and I had eight, 10 and more.”
However, as the number of children coming to her house kept on growing, it became difficult for Magoba to take care of all of them and her three-bedroom house also became too small to accommodate the children.
The foster care grant only catered for six kids, which is the number of children she was allowed to care for with the money.
Magoba decided to approach a local ward councillor, who identified vacant land, where she was able to build a centre with a bigger space to house the children.
When the building was completed, Magoba left her own house and joined the kids at the centre. This was to ensure that they were under her 24-hour supervision and attend school daily.
The centre was also registered as a non-profit organisation (NPO) and qualified for a grant from the Department of Social Development.
Since the centre’s existence, Magoba has been sharing everything with the children in the centre, including the bathroom and toilet.
But relief came about when a local golf club provided sponsorship for Magoba to make improvements to the centre. She now has her own bedroom, a much needed and welcomed development for any parent of many children.
“Last year, I was called by Shongwe Charity and Golf Club, where they informed me that they’ve raised R2.5 million and they wanted to spend it on building of a resource centre for the children.”
Getting them ready for the future
The resource centre, which was officially opened by President Jacob Zuma during the International Children’s Day celebration on 1 June 2016, has 50 computers and a mini library.
The money from Shongwe Charity and Golf Club was also used to renovate the whole Kingdom Life Children’s Centre building.
Magoba says when she started helping the children, not everyone was happy in the community. People warned her that the children would give her problems.
However, Magoba says she has not experienced any bad behaviour from the children.
“I’ve never experienced a child running away from school. As soon as they dress up and eat their breakfast, everyone takes their bags and goes to school. They pass their exams. Sometimes the care and things they get here make them proud and that creates a sense of belonging.”
About seven children, who grew up at the centre, have since graduated and carried on with their own lives outside the centre after getting bursaries,
Magoba knows she could not raise the children on her own, and has a strong team behind her who always ensures that the children are in clean clothes, well-fed, attend school and have someone to talk to when they face challenges.
The staff of 13 includes a social worker and a bus driver, who transports the children to and from school.
Despite her age, Magoba feels that there’s still more she can do for the children, including those who stay outside the centre and over the age of 18.
“After completing matric, some children just stay at home and do nothing, and I want to help them to acquire skills so that they can start small businesses and generate income to support themselves and their families.
“My wish is to open a baking facility next year, where they can learn to bake. I also want to have a welding machine for those who want to do welding.”
For a woman who has shown such determination and depth of heart to love, care and nurture, there is no doubt that the dreams she has for these children will come true