After several project visits in Cape Town our flight lands in Johannesburg. No time for rest as a trip to Mount Olive has been scheduled. Mount Olive is located in the community of Lehae. This community has a high level of unemployment, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS infections and poverty. These social issues have resulted in early school leavers having to look after their sick parents or younger brother or sister. Mount Olive offers the Lehae community assistance and support to overcome these challenges via a pre-school for these children.
Friday the 3rd of February. At 14.00 we arrive at Mount Olive, I asked Valencia not to announce our visit. “Not necessary as we’d like to join the normal daily activities”. But when we were surrounded by 800 children at arrival, I knew the message hadn’t completely ‘clicked’…but what a pleasure, a feast! John went straight away to the youngest children (aged 3-5 year), the ‘real’ Orange Babies children from the Early Childhood Development programme (EDC). Here, 45 girls and 46 boys find support. Besides the supervisor and co-ordinator, 6 assistants look after the little ones. I join the teenagers ‘Young life’ programme (52 girls and 19 boys), HIV training outside on the grass. On the board, I see HIV ribbons, condoms, newspaper snippets about alcohol abuse and text highlighting dreams and the situation at home. The result: a patchwork of their feelings and sentiments, very touching.
With every emotional moment I knew how to hide my feelings by taking a photo on my phone. Chaos. I take photos and they all would like to see the result of it. I enjoy the beaming smiles and we move outside to find a hundred children singing and dancing. I recognize a small girl, who received support at Mount Olive when she was only a few months old. Her health was really deteriorating. Today I see her singing and dancing. I felt great appreciation.
After this I spoke to all staff, just a sweet little note or something useful or rewarding, which might support them in the days, weeks and months of work to come…
I was asked to join at the door to see all the children receiving a Tupperware with an evening dish to take home. At home they won’t enjoy the meal on their own; they will share with other kids, and even with their mothers. Today all children could collect an apple and banana, a gift from John and the House of Orange. What a day. Thousands emotions which we will digest for a long time.
Saturday the 4th of February. We are invited at the annual meeting of Mount Olive. Approximately 100 employees and volunteers are present. The board of Mount Olive is also invited. I was really looking forward to this meeting because I so enjoyed the activities and interaction with the 800 children the day before. But, at the same time, I have many queries in my mind. Orange Babies joined Mount Olive as of the beginning. Then they took care of 30 children, currently they take care of 700 to 800 kids on a daily base. How do they control that? So many activities, so many responsibilities, can they all be conducted? And is this project financially sustainable?
To all my questions I get a response. I am not always convinced the way they operate is always the best, but I also understand Mount Olive is based in an area lacking even the basic needs. There is no other organisation, like Orange Babies in the region and Mount Olive is almost pushed to progress and advance due to the extensive problems in the community.
Originally, the EDC program had been developed to care for the children aged 3-5 years. After that, there was a need for an after-care program for orphans and vulnerable children, but the programs have extended to victim empowerment, palliative care, youth skills development and economic strengthening. All this with the main goal “to teach the people to fish instead of giving them the fish”. For example, Mother Child & Pregnancy, Elderly Persons Activity, a program for the elderly to learn to look after their grandchildren.
Besides all these activities, Mount Olive also supports an outreach program in the Mokeng Community, 7 km down the road; an illegal settlement and one of the poorest communities I have ever seen in South Africa. 93 children are part of the program and 200 on the waiting list….Indeed the need is incredibly great in the communities around Mount Olive. I do understand you cannot ignore these children, but I also share my concerns with the founder/director, Valencia and I encourage her to stay focussed. Fortunately OBSA (Orange Babies South Africa) is aware of the issues. We can still rely on the guidance of Dominique Luyks, our very competent program manager. At 13.00h the meeting is finished and we all join for lunch. Many more informal discussions follow and all participants leave with a blessed feeling of a very successful day.