The day the ‘Truck of Love’ came into the Place of Love

Early Xmas. Young-ones at the Othandweni Family Care Centre in Mofolo, Soweto receiving goods from 94.7 Breakfast Club presenter, Frankie du Toit – offloaded from the Truck of Love. All images Jacob MAWELA.

Loaded with goods ranging from a stove, washing machine, kettles, irons, schoolbags, stationery, disposable nappies and packets of washing powder – the excited residents, ranging in age from 4 to 18, assembled around the back of the vehicle branded in red and emblazoned with the likenesses of presenters such as Anele Mdoda [from 94.7, the radio station responsible for the visit bringing good tidings.]

Amidst a heatwave, Breakfast Club co-presenter, Frankie du Toit, clad in a red top and with a filming crew following his every move – assisted in opening the back of the truck and was the sooner caught in a hive of activity as he helped in the handing out of parcels to the anxious youngsters gathered around.

Looking on whilst the cargo of delight was being off-loaded, the centre’s friendly receptionist, Mathapelo Mopedi remarked that every item being moved before her very eyes to the home’s hall – was the wish-list they had requested!

Mopedi and Othandweni’s assistant manager, Thoko Mnguni, standing not far-off, must be the ideal thinking-man’s-thinkers, since the delivered items reflected pragmatism geared to meet challenges facing the place of refuge for abused, abandoned, neglected and orphaned children.

If anything, supermarket chain, Spar and 94.7’s initiative aimed at giving back to the community – served to mitigate the sanctuary’s course of action for the immediate future!  The two ladies’ evident relief gave the impression that the timeous gesture was a heaven-sent, especially when it came to the centre’s school-attending residents – for whom the schoolbags and stationery [which included exercise books, rulers, crayolas, pens and pencils, etc.] would verily come in handy.

Breaking away from posing for photographs inside the hall with some of the centre’s staff and amidst the goods which had just been donated, du Toit, whom the boy children took a natural liking to as they periodically exchanged spontaneous high-5s with, sincerely expressed his vision that gestures such as their visit would go some way in ensuring that future generations [as represented by the home’s residents] would grow up to be affluent – and not be struggling!

Offered a clearly grateful Mnguni, deputising in the absence of the centre’s manager, Phineas Phiti, “Thank you very much for everything, our nursery children won’t suffer for some time to come because of the disposable nappies”, continuing that, “the donation has put a smile on the children!”

And as du Toit and the Truck of Love entourage braced to depart, Mnguni thoughtfully ordered that her staff present a Thank You letter to the visitors of goodwill!

Othandweni [meaning place of love, in Nguni], addressed along Elias Motsoaledi main road, is a 34 year old off-shoot of Jo’burg Child Welfare – an independent NPO mandated to care for children.  Having opened its doors way back in 12 May 1984, the Mofolo South centre is presently home to 90 children from ages of birth to 18 years.

It is divided into a nursery which provides care to some 30 babies from 0-4 years of age, and cottages offering supervised care in a family setting for 60 school-going children ranging in age from 5-18 years.

According to a background profile of the centre issued by the administrative staff, babies who are found abandoned or neglected, are often suffering from a variety of ailments – and upon being accepted by the centre, are then nursed back to health while awaiting adoption foster care or re-unification with their families.

Whilst the cottages comprise of 5 houses, with 12 children the house is overseen by a qualified child care work.

The supplied profile went on to inform that the children have access to counseling with the centre’s own qualified social workers and attend educational and life skills programmes in the centre and outside of it.

Items of the Othandweni Family Care Centre’s wish-list donated by the Truck of Love, which ranged from a stove, washing machine, kettles, irons, school stationery, etc.

The centre, which has over the years been visited by luminaries such as Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Ian von Memerty and World Cup-winning former Springbok, Chester Williams [a picture of whose hangs on a wall in the centre’s reception area showing him carrying two babies and with an accompanying caption reading: rugby coaching can never start too early] also has a granny programme whose aim it is to ensure that children from the ages of birth to five years receive the appropriate bonding and stimulation that is very often missing in residential care, but is extremely important to the physical and emotional development of the children.

The programme involves 15 grannies drawn from the community spending quality time with specific young children aged between 0-7 years, and whence each granny is responsible for two children and with 2 hours spent with each child every day – whilst offering love, care, support, warmth and stimulation, in order to ensure that they develop well mentally, physical and socially.

Another initiative of the centre is the independent living skills programme offered to the older teenagers to receive training and guidance aimed at preparing them for the transition from institutionalized living to independence as a young adult.

It assists them to make the most of their abilities, increase their reliance and self-confidence and to ensure that when the right time comes, they are ready to live independently.  Preparing teenagers from 16 to 18 years – the centre claims that it has been a success ever since it was started.

In addition, a mentorship programme is also offered by the centre that teaches children from 13 years and older general life skills where topics such as career guidance, personal hygiene and financial literacy are covered.  It is shored by mentors recruited from the broader community who are willing to form a positive relationship with the teenage children in the centre.

Othandweni also makes do with the services of international volunteers from all over the world who spend quality time with the babies and older children.

Pending the Truck of Love visit, one, a lady from Italy, was spotted by the centre’s hall’s doorway in a state of rapport with one of the toddlers.

In the Jo’burg Child Welfare Annual Report for 2017/2018 book, inference is made that the centre provides the volunteers with a unique South African experience exposing them to the often harsh realities of the country – adding that their journey is not always an easy one and that a tear becomes invariably shed along the way!  The particular programme is made possible through the centre’s partnership with a duo of travel agencies which seek out the selfless souls.

On the sideline of the activities surrounding the Truck of Love’s visit this piece’s author got to engage with a resident of Othandweni of whom the Winston Churchill-esque exhortation to never, never, never give up – resonates.

24 year old Child Care Worker, Zamangwane Mazibuko, looking appealing in denim jeans, pencil-thin heels and an application of lipstick to complete her confident-looking self, first came to the centre at the formative pre-teens age of 11 after having been abandoned by her mother from one of Soweto’s neighbourhoods.

Eight years on residing at Othandweni, Mazibuko, through the sheer will she mustered of her own self in spite of her tender age then – lived through the years, along the way, completing Grade 12 at Senaoane Secondary School in 2014 and then proceeding on to garner a Social Auxiliary qualification through the Gauteng Provincial Department of Social Development.

A skill which currently stands her in advantageous stead, in her role as a child care worker – and giving her the rare distinction of being a child resident of the centre who persevered all the way to actually being employed by the shelter which had a role in her upbringing, and thereby giving her the opportunity of taking care of other children, in whose shoes she once were!

The Truck of Love made its way onto the premises of the Othandweni Family Care Centre, in Mofolo, Soweto, caring some festive season cheers for the residents.

Marvelously enough, Mazibuko let the cat out of the bag by pointing out that her actual destiny lay in teaching, and that to that end, she were about to embark on a distance learning journey with UNISA for a qualification in education from 2019 – incredulously mentioning that the tutorials will be paid for by herself!

Sincerely delving a bit on her pre-teens to the early 20’s young lady journey she had to navigate through sans kin to assist her through those crucial formative period of anyone’s Life – she painted a canvas riddled with having to overcome peer pressure; teaching herself to be independent and experiencing being exposed to foster parenting.  Over time, she intimated, she learned to forgive her biological mother for abandoning her.

In spite of the throes of the heatwave currently bearing down on the day, the young residents of the Othandweni Family Care Centre could take heart forging ahead with their lives – of the one memory nearer to Christmas featuring a storyboard where a Truck of Love, akin to Santa’s bobsleigh, came to visit their place of love!

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