Ons Plek 2011-2012 Report
Read the latest report from Ons Plek in South Africa.
Cape Town, South Africa
“A place for us!” was the delighted response of Cape Town’s invisible street children, the girls, when Ons Plek (Our Place) project opened for them in 1988. Ons Plek is the only intake shelter just for girls in Cape Town. The girls’ basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, education, and love are provided. Once the children have crossed the threshold into Ons Plek they are not here as street children, but as children who are looking for a new place in society. They are not looking for an identity as former street children either, but want to be seen as ordinary children. For them, Ons Plek is not a project for female street children, but a place, OUR PLACE, where ‘sifunda ukuphila’ – we learn for our future lives.
Each year around 150 girls between the ages of six and 18 leave home to fend for themselves on the streets ofCape Town. The girls usually have left their homes to escape physical abuse and neglect or they have been sent away when their families can no longer support them. The girls report that they eat better on the streets than they do at home. These female street children are the poorest of the poor. The girls are a minority group on the street–an average of 12 percent of street children are girls. They have the lowest status at home and on the street.
To these girls Ons Plek provides accessible early intervention and intake 24 hours a day. Girls are referred to Ons Plek shortly after arrival to the Cape Town Central Business District. Ons Plek provides the girls with a safe environment and shelter while providing appropriate programs for the girls based on an assessment of each girl’s circumstances.
Ons Plek and Sivie Shelters/Childrens Homes
For the period of June 2011 – May 2012 the goals of providing residential care to female street children were maintained. By providing 24 hour accommodation, counseling, and education the staff was worked successfully to understand the children and work towards family re-unification. Ons Plek continued to share their knowledge of child care with the broader community so that community members could take better care of neglected/AIDS-affected children in their own communities (81 children). This included parents of the children at Ons Plek to help them avoid a repetition of the same problems with their children (or siblings) when they return home.
During this period, much effort was put into helping referring social workers to investigate whether referrals to Ons Plek are appropriate, as this is often not properly done. This continues to be a huge need, and as Ons Plek works with social workers in improving their skills, other public and non-governmental programs are strengthened.
All girls participating in Ons Plek attend school and participate in the homework support program in the afternoon. During the homework sessions girls are helped by educators and volunteers. There are presently 17 volunteers and there have been several social work interns fromEurope.
Ukondla is a newly established community-based program in Philippi. Activities included regular home visits to families of the children at Ons Plek and Siviwe, as well as a homework and aftercare school project in Philippi to prevent at-risk children of becoming street children. This program was approved by the local community members. In April 2009 a second branch, Ukondla 2, opened and in December 2010 a third branch was opened due to the heavy demand for its services (for boys and girls). This year there were 96 children in the program and the major accomplishments were:
- All children attended school and passed grades while living in the home communities
- All children remained with their parents
Several had counseling for traumatic experiences. None ran away from home. The demand for another Ukondla center has resulted in a third one being built and lines (which increased this year as a result of school teachers referring more children) of children wanting to come, in a community where there is nothing and where parents are often uneducated themselves and so cannot help their children with schoolwork. These children also are given a meal which helps them concentrate on their schoolwork.
Ons Plek has noted increased acceptance by and cooperation from the teachers at the schools during this period. The teachers greatly appreciate the help that is given to the children with homework. To this end, fun educational activities have been included such as timetable competitions.
Raising funds to support these programs becomes more difficult, as is the case with other organizations such as Ons Plek due to the worldwide recession. As a result three staff persons had to be cut for the first time ever in Philippi and as of June 2012 no new children will be added as others leave unless the situation improves. It is hard to find qualified staff. Strangely enough in a country with a huge unemployment rate, it is harder to find unqualified staff who have the capacity to be trained and who then stay with the program for a reasonable period of time. Very few child-care staff have training before they come to the program.
The increasing use of drugs is causing an increase in uncontrollable behavior in the children, which presents many challenges for Ons Plek. This has been a concern for a few years and is getting better, but it remains a major problem as no affordable specialized treatment centers are available in this area in Cape Town. Moreover, there are problems with inexperienced social workers, who have authority over the program because of their state employment. These social workers are not being firm, which is essential with uncontrollable teenagers; and sadly in some cases, they have undermined the efforts of the program. Both compassion and firmness are needed.
The new Child Care Act 2005 also is causing some complications. This is because the Act does not take sufficient cognizance of the different lifestyles of street children and children living at home who are abused. As a result of this Act, Ons Plek can no longer take a street child in immediately, because many procedures have to be done first and Ons Plek is not authorized to carry them out. Nevertheless, Ons Plek still takes children in immediately in emergency situations and is lobbying to have the law changed in this regard.
Plans are being made to be registered as a school. For years Ons Plek has run its own informal school for children who are not yet ready to return to school but until now there has not been a way for them to become accredited.
Global Ministries welcomes special gifts for Ons Plek to assist in this important work.