Children’s home not giving up on youth
Rosty Langa (21) had heard the tragic story of people leaving their rural homes in search of a better life in Johannesburg and ending up homeless and starving many times. Yet he joined the thousands flocking to the City of Gold believing his fate would be different.
After the deaths of his father in 2010 and his mother in 2013, Rosty left his home in a village in Limpopo in 2014, hoping for a better life in Johannesburg, but ended up stranded and hungry. “I was left with only my grandmother and my little sister and the situation at home became too much to bear because my granny could not afford to maintain both of us. I decided to come to Joburg,” he said.
He said his fortunes improved when someone he knew from back home told him about Twilight Children, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) aimed at alleviating poverty and drug addiction among Johannesburg’s homeless, where he felt at home from the first day he asked for help. But in 2015 the centre was forced to close its doors to the older children – an event which deeply affected Rosty.
Mismanagement and other irregularities caused the running of the NGO and its board to collapse in 2015. With resources dwindling, it had to let go of more than 30 boys above the age of 18. Most of them, including Khomo and Rosty, could not go back to their families.
“My life changed for the worse as I struggled for food, shelter and education. As soon as I heard that [one of the centre’s volunteers] Emily Langa was back visiting the centre every Tuesday, I went to see her and she took me back into the centre. Now I am back living here and I am currently doing my matric,” he said with a smile, adding that he was hoping to either join the military, the SA Police Service or be a firefighter. “I vow to give back to this centre once I eventually become independent.”
Rosty is lucky to have made it back into Twilight Children. Nkosikhona Khomo (22), who left the centre in 2015, is still living on the streets. He told City Press that being back on the streets left him so depressed that he found himself using drugs again. “I came here when I was 13 in 2008. In 2015 when I was in Grade 11, they told me I was too old to be kept here as I was over 18. I was told to go back home to Carletonville but I ended up on the streets because I could not go back to the same family that had ostracised me,” he said.
Khomo said after his parents died, he lived with relatives who were alcoholics and often violent. For his guardians, he said, alcohol was a bigger priority than food, and they left him to fend for himself. “In 2016, some of my classmates would ask why I was not at school when my name was in the class register for the year’s Grade 12,” Khomo recalled with sadness, adding that when he heard the centre was being revived, he went back and pleaded to be allowed back. However, his addiction to drugs meant this was not possible.
According to Langa (62), who is one of the centre’s oldest members, while the centre now accepts individuals over the age of 18, people who are addicted to drugs cannot live at the home but, like Khomo, can participate in an 18-month programme which includes rehabilitation.
“Once an individual shows determination and makes progress in the programme, they are eventually admitted to the centre on a permanent basis until they can fend for themselves,” she said.
Since 2015 the NGO has struggled to recover. Formed in 1983 as a response to child homelessness in the city, Twilight Children started as a soup kitchen serving one hot meal per day. As it grew, it started offering shelter to street children through the collaboration of volunteers, social workers and sponsors.
The centre’s fundraiser, Catherine MacDonald (82), said the pain of seeing most of the children back on the streets and even using drugs again has been unbearable.
“Unfortunately, most sleep on pavements not far from the centre that had been their home for many years. They have no one and most of them have gone back to drugs. It’s very painful to see them in this state,” she said.
Fortunately, several volunteers have started working tirelessly to bring the NGO back to life, including establishing a new interim board. Emily is once again ensuring that the children at Twilight attend school and says she hopes they get to further their studies at tertiary level with the help of kind South Africans.
“It fulfils me to see my children succeed, but my heart is with those who are back on the streets using drugs again but I will not give up on them because I believe they are not beyond repair,” Emily said.
The centre has started identifying and admitting children aged from eight to 18 years old, offering them up to 18 months of shelter, education, and basic skills and training. Emily said 80% of the children at the centre were vulnerable orphans, most of whom had been violated in various ways, some by close relatives.
She said the centre was accepting donations in kind, but not cash as it was still working on ensuring that there were checks and balances in place for proper management. As soon as its account details were in order, she explained, companies would be invited and approached to help.
MacDonald said she was confident that the centre would soon be back to its glory days.
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