Insights and Stories

  • Small Andile (we have three Andiles’ small, medium and large) comes into the office to report that Xolile is smoking in the toilets. Julie and Annie look at him, there is smoke billowing from his person, and investigation reveals a cigarette burning in his pocket. Julie and Annie have a lot to say.
  • They’ve never really tumbled it but the sound of them crying really hooks me. They have so much cause to cry yet they cry so little. But this one was wailing, sobbing and crying in a heartbroken way at my door. “What’s the matter? What’s wrong?” we ask, alarmed. “I miss my mother!” he sobs. “Tesswell come sit on my lap.” His little body is taut, wracked with grief. Annie rushes for his file while we try sweets and cool drinks – he turns his head away. The other two children in the office are aghast. “Has he got a toothache?” asks Elias. “No he has a heartache” I say. “He wants his mother”. “His mother!” says Alfred amazed. We find a phone number in the file, put Tesswell on the line to Worcester. “I want to come home, I long for you, I miss you.” he wails. Now nobody is dry-eyed. I take the phone and tell the mother “Come to Cape Town, come and see him. We’ll pay, we’ll take care of everything.” She agrees. Tesswell calms down, talks to the Social Worker, and accepts cuddles and sweets from us. Mother came the following week. Tesswell pops into the office, a smile like the sun! “I’m going to meet my mother at the station.” he says. “She must love you so much to come all this way on a taxi!.” He beams! R60 – a small price to pay for that smile. But the sadness, the desperation of his loss haunts me. Nine years old! Most of the time he is so valiant, enthusiastic about colouring-in, Learn To Live, soccer and life!
  • Lukas left school last year with a Matric exemption, and before the ink had dried on his last exam paper, Andrew was in the office “Can I have his pants, and his school bag, also his blazer?” Ja well, no fine!
  • Roger stands watching Zaitoon doing bookkeeping on the computer. “Do you also get a pocket money fine for mistakes?” he asks her. She takes the opportunity of explaining to him that it is not “mistakes” they get fined for. “Smoking dope is not just a mistake!”
  • This is, objectively, a very unremarkable success story but a huge step for Rooikappie. Rooikappie went regularly to the Drop-In centre, ragged, dirty and abusing solvents. He was never willing to admit himself to a more formal programme. He disappeared from the street, seemed lost to us. The one day he pitched up in my office. Clean, neat and tall.
  • No no he isn’t back at school; no, he doesn’t have a job, but he is back home and happy there. He helps his uncle sometimes in his motor repair business. Well done Rooikappie we are proud of you!
  • Anthony was a very clever, small, fat boy who ran away from the Children’s Home. I met him at the traffic lights selling flowers. “oh.” I said. “I see you have a job now, but it’s a great waste because you were so clever at school.” “This is only one of my jobs.” he tells me indignantly. “In the early morning I work for a taxi, then I have a job at the square cleaning up, then I work for a vegetable seller in Church Square, then I sell these flowers, and after this I unpack bottles and wash glasses at a shebeen…” I feel exhausted at the thought! He’s about 16 now, still fat and obviously still clever. As I drive off I want to tell him he’s wasting his talents. But suddenly I’m not so sure.
  • The children got hold of some obsolete bank notes which had been shredded by the Reserve bank into minute pieces. Excitedly they brought a box full into the office. “Only good for confetti.” I pronounced. “No Pali we’re going to stick them together.” “Go for it” we said, dreaming of the peaceful hours this fruitless task would bring us.
  • A child brings me a present. It’s a ring, thin but silver. Four little hearts on a band. I hesitate. “It’s lovely, Lazuko, but where did you get it?” “Don’t worry Pali, I didn’t steal it. I wouldn’t steal a present!” Having heard what I didn’t want to hear, I decide not to pursue the matter. “Thank you very much, Lazuko.” I wear it still.
  • Brendan comes into the office looking very serious. “I want to know who are the parents of this white mouse.” “Brendan, I don’t know. I have no idea who they are.” “Does the mouse know its mother?” he asks. I feel very vague about kinship patterns among white mice, but I sense where we are going, so when he asks “Does his mother like him?” “Of course”, I say firmly. “All mothers love their children.” Brendan’s mother has been in jail for most of his life.
  • Alfred has always been a great hit with the staff. When he came to us he was so tiny, and quite indomitable, but for some time he was extremely unsettled, sniffing thinners and sleeping out often. One day he was brought back from the street by a puzzled but sympathetic police officer. “Man!” said the officer. “I’ve never seen anyone so small and so stoned.” Alfred, uncharacteristically, burst into floods of tears. Dronk en verdriet (alcoholic remorse) we decided. He then did two jigsaw puzzles in rapid succession and fell asleep. A year later he is affectionate and responsive, never sleeps out, attends Learn To Live regularly and very seldom resorts to thinners.
  • When I got to work one morning there were a whole lot of children peering into a cardboard box in my office. In it? A fledgling Cape Canary they had found in the street. “Look,” I said, knowing how difficult it is to rear nestlings, “I think they must take it back.” “To the street?” shrieked Alfred, as if he hadn’t spent months there himself. “Never!” I gave up, and began to work at my desk to the accompaniment of incessant chirping from the baby bird in the box. Dan, from Learn To Live, popped in, took stock of the situation. “Well,” he said “I have a neighbour who rears canaries, perhaps I could take it….” Later that day the box went to the kitchen. Dan came back to fetch the bird. “Where is it?” I asked the children. “No Pali, there are four now.” “Four? Four?” Dan left in a hurry. Small boys and box appeared in my office. “Take them back” I said with deadly calm, “At once, to where you found them, or else no pocket money for any of you!” They scuttled off. Leaving work I saw the children playing in the yard. “So where are the birds?” “They are very happy now.” Alfred tells me with an enigmatic look. I decide to drop the subject