‘Launch Pad’ brings hope to street kids

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SHEN WU TAN

A LO­CAL or­gan­i­sa­tion aimed at reducing the num­ber of chil­dren on the streets of Cape Town has for­mally opened its Launch Pad res­i­den­tial fa­cil­ity and pro­gramme for street boys in Wood­stock.

The Homestead Projects, which has been serv­ing street chil­dren since 1982, ren­o­vated the old fa­cil­ity and will of­fer ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes aimed at build­ing in­de­pen­dence and suc­cess­ful com­mu­nity in­te­gra­tion.

The Launch Pad cur­rently houses about 20 boys aged between 15 and 18 (some­times up to 21), help­ing them tran­si­tion to adult­hood.

“At the age of 15, they need to start mak­ing plans for the fu­ture, and legally we can only look after chil­dren up to the age of 18,” said Paul Hooper, di­rec­tor of the Homestead Projects.

“From 15 up, it’s a dif­fer­ent pro­gramme that we need. So that’s why we started the Launch Pad.”

Cape Town city coun­cil­lor Mzwakhe Nqavashe said these were chil­dren, and chil­dren “are most fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant to any life, es­pe­cially life of hu­mankind”.

“There are skills that are in­volved that are trans­ferred to these chil­dren up un­til they are 18 years old.”

To be part of the Launch Pad, the boys are re­quired to be sub­stance-free and en­rolled in school or a train­ing pro­gramme.

In ad­di­tion to teach­ing the boys es­sen­tial life skills such as cook­ing and laun­dry, the pro­gramme re­quires the boys to par­tic­i­pate in a credit sys­tem.

“They ac­tu­ally have to pay to stay there (at the Launch Pad),” said Hooper.

“The credit sys­tem also al­lows them to earn pocket money or things like sec­ond-hand lap­tops or cell phones they’ll use for their stud­ies.”

Ac­cord­ing to a 2000 study, there were 782 street chil­dren in Cape Town, the ma­jor­ity of them boys. Since 2000, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has claimed to help re­duce this num­ber by 90 per­cent.

Jan­ice Sparge, co-or­di­na­tor of the Western Cape Street Chil­dren’s Fo­rum, says there are cur­rently about 12 street chil­dren in cen­tral Cape Town, 20 in the north­ern suburbs, 20 in Muizen­berg, and five in Ke­nil­worth.

Many of the chil­dren at Homestead Projects come from chron­i­cally ne­glected and abu­sive back­grounds.

“They’ve all have been psy­cho­log­i­cally, emo­tion­ally hurt,” said Hooper. “Some of them have been sex­u­ally abused. Some of them have been beaten. We’ve had kids who have been locked up in sheds for two years.”

Obert Makaza, an 18-year-old res­i­dent, has been with Homestead Projects since 2010.

Beaten by his fa­ther at a young age and un­able to stand his mother dat­ing another man after his fa­ther’s death, Makaza hopped on the back of a car eight years ago to es­cape fam­ily life.

For two years, he lived in the streets.

Since join­ing the Homestead, he has been en­rolled at mul­ti­ple schools, taken sail­ing lessons and at­tended two pro­grammes in photography and a drama course.

“We’ve got lots of dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties,” said Liezl Con­radie, Launch Pad man­ager. “We try to as­sess the child and see what he is good at. Then we try to find that.”

Them­bela Thera, another res­i­dent, has lived at the Homestead since 2013. Be­fore that, Thera roamed the streets between De Noon and Cape Town. Now he is en­rolled in school and no longer uses drugs de­spite peer pres­sure from friends.

With the Launch Pad pro­gramme, Con­radie said she hoped to not have the chil­dren re­turn to a street life of drugs and crime, “but to ac­tu­ally have work, a fam­ily and peo­ple who care for them.”

shen.wu­tan@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: MICHAEL WALKER

Res­i­dent Obert Makaza in the court­yard at the open­ing of Launch Pad, a shel­ter for boys in Chapel Street, Wood­stock.

So­cial worker Liezl Con­radie.

Launch Pad di­rec­tor Paul Hooper.

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