Improving vulnerable children’s lives in South Africa

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According to UNICEF, there are roughly 3.7 million orphans in South Africa, a large number of them having lost one or both parents to AIDs. Many more are in child-headed households, or are left vulnerable to the dire conditions of living in one of the countless townships around South Africa’s cities. LIV, the organisation I volunteered with in the summer, seeks to find a solution to the orphan crisis through sustainable long-term foster care.

LIV Village is situated in Cottonlands, an informal settlement on the outskirts of Durban. It wasn’t hard to feel apprehensive before I arrived, South Africa is known for its high crime and murder rates. As you drive through Durban you go from luxury holiday resorts in Uhmlanga to townships in just minutes. The stark contrast in wealth can be seen physically in some areas, where mansions sit just above shacks on the side of the road, made with scrap materials and lacking in running water. It became increasingly apparent that although racial apartheid was now out of the political structure of South Africa, economic apartheid continues to be at the forefront of the country’s development issues.

As you approach the village many of its unique values can already be seen physically. LIV sits on the top of a hill, with a large cross in the centre, reflecting its Christian values as a basis for all of their work. The houses are arranged in clusters to model a traditional African village. Within each cluster there are 8-10 houses, and each house has one foster mother with up to 6 orphans and vulnerable children in her care. The children on the village have been placed there by the social welfare department. It was interesting to observe the dynamic between the children who still had supervised contact with parents verses the children who were orphans.

Being a theology student it was my hope that during my time at LIV I would be able to reflect on how faith organisations can have a unique role in development. The founder of LIV was inspired by the biblical concept of bringing the orphans and the widows together. These values extend to believing that providing holistic care within this model across many different villages within the country will play a part in solving the orphan crisis. LIV was not simply providing a home and family for the children, but a clinic, school, social work centre, church and psychiatrists so that everything they need can be given to them at LIV.

Living on the village was a unique experience I will never be able to forget. Getting to know both staff and some of the children well during my time there, I was able to hear of the heart-breaking stories of their lives before coming to the village. However, it was evident that despite this, the love shown to them and committed provision of everything they needed to develop has changed their lives around.

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Going to the village school after Monday morning devotions with all the staff, children and mothers on the village

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One of the clusters – each house in a cluster has a particular colour – the children will ask ‘ma’am, what colour is your house?’ instead of where you live!

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LIV factory: one of a number of LIV businesses which employs local people and ensures that LIV is sustainable and positive to the community which it is within.

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