The children learn art, dance, drama, song. They learn to play musical instruments, to be comedians and to express themselves in all aspects of their lives. Once a child can create a picture from a blank sheet of paper, that child realises that the power to create can filter through to life itself. (Image: Rena Le Lona)
Melissa Jane Cook
Tucked away in Diepkloof, Soweto is an inspiring heart of hope. It is a place where neglected and scared young children can find nurturing and safety. It is a place where the arts are used to help children release their grief and access their potential, where each child is given the chance to live a meaningful and fulfilled life.
Rena Le Lona, meaning “we are with you”, is an emotional healing centre for orphans and vulnerable children with a big vision – to replicate its success until it has 1.5 million children, joyful, healing, hopeful, in Rena Le Lona Creative Centres across South Africa.
A small complement of full time staff is helped by freelancers in meeting the personal, intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the children, who come from the schools in the area. The medium of emotional healing is through all forms of the arts.
According to house mother Pamela Moagi, the aim of the centre is to meet the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical and financial needs of each child. “To this end the children learn art, dance, drama, song. They learn to play musical instruments, to be comedians and to express themselves in all aspects of their lives. Once a child can create a picture from a blank sheet of paper, that child realises that the power to create can filter through to life itself.”
The children are referred to the centre by teachers at the 16 schools the centre’s children attend. “Perhaps a child is looking unkempt, has not eaten for days or is depressed. These signals alert the teacher to a problem at home, and, once investigated, the teacher sends the child to us. Our maximum intake is 100, but sometimes it is impossible to refuse a small child whose eyes implore us,” says Moagi.
Most of the children live with a guardian, an aunt or a grandmother. A few have one parent alive but in most cases, that parent is either ill or unemployed. Most of the children’s caregivers receive a government grant but that grant does not always reach the child. “This is why we have introduced the Ingelosi (angel) network whereby an adult can adopt a child. $400 a year or R3 600 is distributed to each child over a 12-month period and that money goes directly towards meeting a child’s need, be it a pair of shoes, toothbrush, food, a jersey, a visit to an optician or whatever else.”
Rena Le Lona offers 120 children a safe place to spend their afternoons with skilled art coaches. “All our coaches are male. This is unusual but welcome as almost all of our children have never known a father. A carefully planned programme is put in place and each child chooses their particular timetable.”
Watch creative classes at Rena Le Lona
Rena Le Lona HIV/Aids Syllabus
Rena Le Lona has drawn up an HIV/ Aids Syllabus, which redefines the virus and the disease so that the children can learn about the disease, and come to terms with it. The syllabus is integrated into the centre’s art activities on a holistic level. The crux of the outlook is: “HIV and Aids is an opportunity for us to become beautiful human beings.” The first section of the syllabus focuses on the emotional aspect and runs for one year.
It works on several levels: reach out to others with your heart; find out about your and other’s identity; speak out by using your voice and listening to the voice of others. Children are also encouraged to help out, by thinking of others.
Each child receives individual attention. Their homes are visited twice a year at least, to check their conditions. Detailed notes are recorded and action is taken where necessary to facilitate the best possible environment for the child.
Rena Le Lona liaises with school teachers and helps each child by tutoring them in particular subjects. “We encourage the child to grow in every way – to face the past, feel it, process what needs to be processed, move on and chose a future. They develop a sense of belonging, of being an individual within a nation with a language they can be proud of and a religion/philosophy they choose. They learn values, ethics and morality.”
Emotional growth is facilitated through drama, art, music, song, dance and writing. Personal counselling is available from a full-time auxiliary social worker and/or from a part-time social worker.
Intellectual growth is also promoted. Rena Le Lona’s aim is that each child understands what they are doing and why. Reading is encouraged, and there is a library for their use. The intellectual aspect of the syllabus builds up into a two-year service project in a community where the children, in groups, can apply all they have integrated and report back on their findings and experience.
Learning to dance
Moagi says: “Each child will be introduced to dance. Currently this takes the form of ballet lessons and modern jazz dancing. Rena Le Lona has its own soccer team. Yoga teaches the children respect for their bodies, flexibility and breathing techniques for stress management. The art of fencing teaches self-control, speed of movement, accuracy, mental strength and self-knowledge. Tae-chi is used to attain balance of mind, body and spirit. It gives one an appreciation of the natural world and one learns to focus and be disciplined.”
Spiritual growth is not ignored, and the children are exposed to various religions and spiritual practices. There is also an African prayer basket into which all the names of people the children and staff value are placed. “We honour the deceased parents of the children by laminating the drawings of them by their children and placing them on the memory wall.”