We arrived through streets that once were the domain of the exclusively white, professional classes during the Apartheid days, and now teemed with school children, all black, in varying degrees of school dress.
At first glance they seemed just like any other carefree group of school children, but there was something mean about these streets, a place you would not wish to loiter or break down in your car.
Perhaps it was the sidewalks crammed with junk or the rusted down-pipes spilling green across the faded, peeling paint of the walls on the once gracious houses.
The old house that is now home to the Jabulani Khakibos Kids is behind locked gates and surrounded by walls topped with razor wire. It seems at first glance an inhospitable place for young people to live in. This was dispelled the moment we walked through the doors.
We were met by Stefanie Burnett, founder of Jabulani Khakibos Kids whose hard work has seen this home established for up to 35 boys, previously abused, abandoned or orphaned and living on the streets.
Unfortunately, our time was so limited in these last two days in Johannesburg we were unable to meet with Stefanie when the boys would also be back from school to hand out the blankets, go-over jumpers and hats made for them by the knit-a-square community.
Just these two new, very young residents who were yet to be placed in school, were in the yard enclosed by the razor wire walls.
Stefanie was ecstatic about the blankets. She held each one up with her eyes shining, looked at the initials and told us stories of the boys, who she obviously cared so much about.
” Ahh, Thabiso,” she said, holding up a beautiful hand stitched blanket, “he has passed his matric (school leaving exams) and has returned to the Orange Free State to find work”.
She explained that communications are impossible when you are dealing with very poor families and went on to tell us that their first port of call is always to reunite the children with their families if they can. Often though they return as once they are back home the abuse restarts.
She held up blanket after blanket and the stories rolled out. Jessy is doing so well, he has found free recreational ballroom dancing classes. Donald’s mother is very sick. He wanted to be with her even though he had been on the streets because she was too sick and poor to look after him. Tshepo M, he is our farmer. He tends the vegetable garden and is growing pumpkins and tomatoes.
Jabulani did the best matriculation and got a bursary to do a travel and tourism course, he now works with Kalulu.com (a South African airline). Ronnie who came to us when he was 11 is working now and getting married. He has the money to pay lobola (bride price).
Odirile, that’s a great story, his mother has found work and he has gone back to live with her. Buhle and Tshepo’s mother was terribly ill. They had different father’s and ended up living on the streets.
Buhle and Mahlatsi won an art award from Deutsche Bank and went to London. Mahlatsi is now studying art. This is his painting.
Bhule is doing extra maths so he can become a mechanic. Mahlatsi has stayed on as child care worker at JKK. A lot of the boys work with Little Artists – a non-profit – and sell their paintings to make additional money.
Shane, Mbulelo and Warren carried the flag for the World Cup 2010 at the major stadium in Johannesburg, organised by Coco-cola. Three of the JKK kids are at university and another two are with South African Airways.
We sat spell bound listening to her stories while we ate a delicious lunch of South African home cooking.
Then she took us on a tour of the home. It is simple and clean. The highlight was the newly appointed computer room.
Stefanie was so excited by what has been achieved through a very generous donation from Erica Smith, in response to our appeal for help. It had allowed her to purchase a server with up to 8 stations all with screens, keyboards and mice for the same price as three computers.
When you read how well the Jabulani Khakibos kids have done without the computers, they will surely fly now with this window into the world.
She added simply, ‘if you want to live here, no drugs, no sleeping around, no problems at all. They’re cold and hungry and scared and they use drugs as a hiding place. When they get here they don’t need to hide anymore.”
Stefanie and her dedicated staff demonstrate that with love and nurture there is hope. With that support, children can still find their true potential and lead fulfilling lives despite their suffering. It was a privilege to meet her and all that work at JKK.