Throughout rural South Africa, orphaned and vulnerable children face the same sorts of challenges: they are not fed well enough, many live with their grandparents, and they live in communities where crime, alcoholism and drug abuse is rife.
Yet there are people like Matjididi Mokono, who have devoted their lives to helping these children rise above their dire circumstances and leap above their expectations for themselves. Mokono, a former school principal, started Mponogele Le Iterele Orphan Centre in the village of GaMagoa, Limpopo, to feed and educate the local children.
Brand South Africa and Eskom were at Mponegele for Mandela Month to refurbish the centre. New troughs were built, the walls were repainted and new plumbing was installed.
Rodney Moloko, Brand South Africa’s stakeholder relations manager, said one did not need to have money or distribute it to make a difference. “It is the little that you do for others that can make this country a better place.”
Rhulani Matshidze, the general manager of Eskom Limpopo, said that selflessness was the key to building a stronger South Africa. “We are not born to think of ourselves only. We have to be selfless.”
IT STARTED UNDER A TREE
Mokono was motivated to help the children in her village after hearing about two brothers and a sister who were separated after their parents and grandparents died. “When I asked the sister, ‘My girl, where are your brothers?’ she said ‘Some people took them. I don’t even know.’ They were taken by relatives that the girl didn’t even know. It means they will grow up scattered.”
She started Mponegele to “help the children and support their family members who feel overloaded too”. The first thing she did was gather the children under a tree, and give bread to them.
Not long thereafter, she opened six orphanages, each of which was run by retired teachers. But since they did not put their hearts into it, Mokono did most of the work. In the end, she gave each retiree a centre. Three of the six centres are still running today.
The orphans stayed with close relatives, said Mokono. They go to the centre after school where they are fed and taught how to read, write, garden and sew. More importantly, the centre has a computer room where children are taught to use computers. The computers were donated by various companies in the past, including Eskom. “I told them computer [literacy] is compulsory so we hone their computer skills.”
FUNDS ARE TIGHT
There is just one benefactor in Polokwane who donates bread, chicken and maize meal once a month. “There is food to feed but there should be people to prepare. People who prepare must get a stipend. But there is no money,” said Mokono.
Though she said finding funds to keep the centre running was her biggest challenge, she did receive aid from Friends of Mponegele, a charity in the UK. Set up by Sylvia Weir, the organisation not only helps the orphan centre with financial donations, but it also provides funds for the children’s tertiary education.
Some of the young men and women who went to Mponegele for support have gone on to become professionals in various industries. Thabiso Mashatola has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Wits University and is currently completing his Masters. “Myself and others from Mponegele have proven that this facility has and continues to play a huge role in assisting and changing the lives of many deserving children in our communities,” he said.
Madjadji Mailula took a course in hospitality at Capricorn FET College and with the help of Mponegele, has completed her level four certificate. “Mponegele was like a biological parent to me. It ensured that I didn’t go to bed and to school with an empty stomach and it gave me a better education.”