Hope for Thembalethu
Thembalethu means “hope” and that is precisely what this inner-city centre, located in The Drill Hall in Joubert Park, provides to Jo’burg’s thousands of disadvantaged women and children. “People who enter Thembalethu see us as the mother of the area. This is how they describe us on the forms that are filled in,” states Aileen Langley, Assistant Director Jo’burg Child Welfare.
When Thembalethu opened in 1994, as a drop-in-centre for homeless girls living on the streets of the inner-city, little did the organisers know that this little hub would become so much more than that. The place received its initial funding from former South African President Nelson Mandela when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. However, it was when Jo’burg Child Welfare began to realise that the children entering the Child and Youth Care System were doing so because of circumstantial neglect – parents were jobless – that the organisation initiated the economic empowerment component at Thembalethu, enabling girls and young women to earn an income.
Over the last few years the centre has shifted its focus to accommodate its regular visitors who are most commonly unemployed women between the ages of 18 and 35. Currently, Thembalethu has become a place of support, guidance and training for these women and their children, providing a much more comprehensive service than when it originally started, including a sport programme and a sustainable economic empowerment programme, which all contain the HIV/Aids and counselling component.
Thembalethu is well known in the area for its skills training programmes which are offered to the city’s unemployed and include beauty, nail care and hairdressing and computer training.
Sadly though this place of hope subsists in an environment which is breaking down; a landscape of urban decay, crime, depravity and desperation, which not only threatens the people trying to eke out a living there but, even worse, has a very serious effect on the children who survive in the city streets. “Thembalethu faces many challenges on a daily basis. There’s a lack of involvement from residents. The commuters and taxi drivers using the area have no vested interest and so the environment gets littered and vandalised. Vandalism of our premises alone is a serious issue. There’s a lack of sanitation – we don’t think that Pickitup even operates in the area any more. Drugs and prostitution is rife. We need the manpower to service the precinct. It is very clear that there should be more corporate involvement,” comments Langley.
Today, Thembalethu’s biggest priority is not only to alleviate poverty through the sustainable economic empowerment programmes but to also regenerate the Johannesburg CBD so that the children of the unemployed women benefitting from these programmes can enjoy a safe environment. What it Looks Like When it’s Fixed: The Best Life for Every Child project, hosted by Jo’burg Child Welfare and the City of Johannesburg Region F, will realise this.
This new and inspired initiative to create a safe environment in and around Joubert Park for Thembalethu, its children and the community, as a whole, will essentially produce an action plan from a series of workshops facilitated by Dr Barbara Holtmann, founder of Transforming Fragile Social Systems and author of What it looks like when it’s fixed, which will see stakeholders with a vested interest in the city play a role on a collaborative level. “After facilitating some small sessions for Jo’burg Child Welfare, particularly relating to Thembalethu, it brought to the surface their vision for the site but also some very real issues that were making it hard to progress towards their ‘what it looks like when it’s fixed’, plus the need for substantive partnerships if they were to achieve it,” explains Dr Holtmann adding, “After some deep introspection, they came back to me asking me to help them make a reality of their dream for Thembalethu. They had made the brave and, I think, inspiring decision to try and fix the centre where it is currently situated rather than move to a new, less problematic site. There is a massive need for their services and even for their presence where they are and although it might have been an easy route to abandon the site and start again, they recognised the value of taking it on rather than escaping it.”
The collaborative workshops will involve people and organisations, in both the public and corporate sector, who have a vested interest in fixing up the city for the children of Jo’burg.
Along with the City of Johannesburg Region F, who is a lead partner on the project, other interested stakeholders, big and small, are either already on board or are invited to join, such as businesses, schools, hospitals, NGOs, government, community leaders and members, children from the area and junior city councils, to name some.
The workshops, which take place on 31st July 2012 and 28th / 29th August 2012 will culminate in a very special piece of software containing the vision of Joubert Park when it’s fixed and the practical steps that need to be taken for this to become a reality. The software will be handed over to the Mayor of Johannesburg on 21st September 2012 just before Heritage Day Heritage Day and will ultimately become an online portal that will be utilised with maximum effect to build a better inner-city, one that all of Jo’burg’s children can feel safe in.
[ back ]