Our school environment is often described as a “Safe Space”.
To fully appreciate what this means, you need to understand that every single one of our children comes from an environment that makes them second class citizens from birth. Apartheid spacial planning meant that non-whites were consigned or forceably removed to the far-flung edges of our towns and cities, in areas that quickly became a mix of neglected slums and informal shack shanty towns. The incredibly tough set of social and economic circumstances that this created persists today – due to the severe scarcity of affordable formal housing. It remains tragically difficult to escape the hardship of the so-called “townships”. This makes a parent’s dream of a better life for their children a challenging one indeed!
Franschhoek’s “townships” – home of The Kusasa Project – are no exception, despite their scenic position. Our children come from a community of hardship and face a life of adversity. Let’s give you a glimpse of their reality:
A large proportion of our children don’t live in nuclear family units, but rather amidst very complex relationships. Families from rural areas in South Africa are often separated from one another by great distances as fathers and mothers desperately seek economic opportunities in towns and cities and are forced to leave children in the care of either a single parent or relative. Siblings often get spread out between different relatives. Teen pregnancies also often lead to many children living with aunts or grandparents. It’s not uncommon for difficult and bitter relationships to develop between biological and “adoptive” parents. One of our current students was found abandoned in a garbage bin when he was two days old! As a result, many children rarely get to nurture healthy relationships with both parents – even when they live down the same street (one of our children reports that they haven’t seen their mother in three years.) In other scenarios, biological parents still live with older relatives in crowded circumstances, leading to complex power struggles over the children. All-in-all, the stability of a nuclear family, the value of consistent parenting and the comradery of siblings is all too often missing from our children’s lives – and replaced by stressful alternatives.
Added to this complexity, is the small size of the tiny homes that they are forced to occupy together. There is often no private space for either adults or children – who have to share bedrooms.
DOMESTIC & SEXUAL VIOLENCE
Over one third of South African children have experienced some form of sexual abuse. Rape is a horribly frequent occurrence – something which many of our students’ mothers have had to suffer from an early age. In addition, the level of domestic violence (physical and emotional) in South Africa is often extreme – especially in the poorer “townships”. Many of the mothers of our students have experienced violence from their partner – especially whilst pregnant – including one school mother that was axed by her intoxicated father. In addition to physical injuries, our children and their families often live with shattering anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders as a result.
One third of South Africans are officially unemployed. Two thirds of youth aged 15-24 are unemployed. Unemployment disproportionately affects “township” residents. Many of our students come from homes that have no fixed income or have to rely on a small income from a single family member. You can imagine the real-life social impact of this situation: crushing poverty, malnutrition, crime, gangsterism and overall desperation. The despondency and mental health issues are tangible! Those that do have jobs often work bruisingly long hours – especially in the hospitality and agricultural industries, which are Franschhoek’s largest sectors.
ALCOHOLISM & DRUG ADDICTIONS
These circumstances all feed into alarming levels of substance abuse and addiction in our “townships”. Our children are regularly exposed to the negative effects of extreme binge drinking, crystal meth use and marijuana smoking. One of our students lives in a shack that doubles as a drinking tavern! There is a real problem of “foetal alcohol syndrome” in our community – brain damage caused to youngsters by their mother’s excessive drinking during pregnancy. Over weekends in particular, the “township” is incredibly noisy due to these rampant problems – which at the very least makes sleeping or studying very difficult for our students.
This toxic mix of socio-economic problems is simply not a safe environment for our children. Crime is often violent and murder all too commonplace. Our community police are under-resourced and overstretched. Social services are underfunded and often powerless in the face of so much crisis and need. The streets – many of them informal dirt tracks – are undermaintained, garbage-strewn and dangerous. Many families are forced to share dilapidated toilet facilities and communal water taps. Much of the sewerage in informal “townships” spills out onto the streets. Our students cannot enjoy carefree play and what many of us would regard as a “normal childhood”.
Enter The Kusasa Project. As a school in this community, our primary objective is the cognitive and academic development of the children entrusted to us, so that they graduate positioned to live up to their full potential. Through our unique teaching and developmental approaches during their formative years, we hope our students leave us literate, numerate, communicative, imaginative, compassionate and respectful – ready to make a positive impact on our country’s future.
But to do so, we cannot ignore the socio-economic circumstances that our students suffer through right now. And that is why we try our utmost to create a SAFE SPACE for them to thrive. The minute our students step through our gates each morning, they simply NEED to feel secure and protected and in an environment where they are given freedom to flourish: to express themselves without fear, to play unhindered, to be loved unconditionally, to be fed a warm meal, to be surrounded by a community of teachers and staff who have nothing but their best interests at heart.
Many of our supporters love our daily celebration at the start of each school day. On the surface it simply appears to be a joyful and fun activity. But it is so much more than that: it is deliberately designed with activities and messaging to help our children recalibrate from the craziness outside and feel the peace and calm of a space that contains no harm.
Without the basic dignity that The Kusasa Project provides, there is very little chance for the children to excel cognitively and academically. Take a look at this video through that lens …
Little impact on you but MASSIVE impact on them!
Want to help our children? Please go to thekusasaproject.org/donate-monthly
(A one-hour session with a qualified social worker costs ZAR350/US$22/€20/£18)