It’s once or twice a year that you decide to look through your cupboard to take out those clothes you do not wear anymore. You give them to whoever is collecting them, and you are done – that’s your deed for charity. Do we even know whom they are for? What’s their story? Doesn’t donating money and sometimes just giving away clothes for “charity” to a nameless person; not take away our duty to humanity? If there was a better way known to me to phrase this sentence; I would have done so. Let me tell you about this family I visited today…
Here’s this grandmother; let’s call her Nkgono. She was born and bred in South Africa and then later married a man from Lesotho. She then moved there, but when he passed away, she moved back home in 2009. However, she could not move back to SA alone as she had grandchildren. Problem is, due to her poverty-stricken life; it proved difficult to bring her grandchildren to SA. One speaks of the grandchildren, you are probably wondering where their parents are; sadly they have all passed on leaving her with 11 grandchildren. She calls a 7-year-old boy and tells us that his mother passed away when he was only six months old. Because she is the only one with a South African ID, she cannot get the children registered for grants. When asked about passports, she mentioned how expensive they are; besides, not all the children have birth certificates. Without birth certificates, this means the children aren’t in school.
This brings me to the 18 years old girl who kept to herself the entire time we were there. Asked her if she finished school, she says shyly “No, I was last in Form C”. She doesn’t even look me in the eye. In my broken Sesotho I utter “In SA Form C is probably grade 10”. She is standing by the bed (the only one in the house), with her pregnant friend lying on it, answering all the questions like a family spokesperson. The bed, although with this heavily pregnant lady lying on it, is neatly made. Clothes are nicely packed in the wardrobe. The washing basin (Waskom) is put against the wall, everything seems in place in their two-roomed shack. Your eye quickly jumps back to the kitchen/sitting room with a very old sofa. When we entered, Nkgono pointed us to the sofa as she set on the floor. You notice a vegetable rack with dishes in it; a two plate stove on top of what seems like crates covered in a very clean cloth. Close to the door are 25 litre bottles that they use for water whenever the municipality decides to bring them water. There are no traces of food; the two small pots on the stove seem empty. I wonder whether they’ve had anything to eat today.
With tears welling up in her eyes, she keeps saying “ke a sokola. I’m all these children have and still need to fetch the five that are left in Lesotho. My health is also not good because I’m diabetic. Yesterday the 14-year-old who recently had a child called me crying because she couldn’t put the baby to sleep. She needs me to help her; but the children here also need me”. She says she would have left at the beginning of the week but because she heard that we were coming, she had to wait for us. I shamefully look away. She says in the end, she wants all her family here; they will have to live in this small shack but at least they will all be under her care and she wouldn’t have to frequent Lesotho like this. Such proves strenuous to her already small pocket. She also needs to always travel with the three-year old because she is the youngest and most vulnerable. Recently, two young twins have been raped in the area, she is very scared that while she is away, something terrible might happen to her grandchildren. She is in constant worry because she doesn’t know what will happen next.
The ladies I’m with keep assuring her that they will assist her. Thank God for them because with my broken Sesotho and what I witnessed, my tongue-tied. The ladies take her details, ID number, address, and contact details because one of their church would like to open a funeral policy for the family. However, this might prove difficult because of the lack of documentation on the part of the children; she promises to work around it.
Before we leave, I ask that we pray. We hold hands, the pregnant lady decides to remain on the bed; the 18-year-old comes closer and she holds my hand. I hold her trembling hand; we start praying. I notice that she wants to let go; this is probably becoming too emotional for her; I hold her tightly so that her hand doesn’t slip away – sort of assuring her that it will all be alright. I wanted to hug her when we were done but she quickly walked off to that spot next to the bed. I keep looking at the pictures we took, at least she’s smiling in one of them. We need to get this girl some help.
You do not know how much poverty people live in until you really go and see for yourself. I could swear that photographs we see in newspapers somehow tell a lie. I think even this post does not give enough justice to what I saw today. I know for certain that there are families like Nkgono’s out there, probably with even far worse circumstances and there is no way that a group of five women could make it all go away. But then we start somewhere.
As we drove off, there was a sombre mood in the car; everyone quiet, lost in their thoughts. I guess we were all just trying to process what we had just witnessed. I believe if you cannot express it with your mouth, put pen to paper. Drove off in our comfortable car; we will be going back to our comfortable homes to sleep in cosy beds; however, at least I know that today unlike yesterday, they will sleep with their stomachs full and with electricity to prepare that food.
If you are reading this and can assist us or know of anyone who can; with anything; please let us know. These people need a home, the children need to go to school and Nkgono needs medical attention. Please help us help them.