see also: ABOUT THE CHILDREN : COMMUNITY BACKGROUND

Ekukhanyeni Relief Project is a Section 21 registered charity (a non-governmental organization or NGO) in Gauteng Province, South Africa. Ekukhanyeni provides nutritional support to orphans and other vulnerable children through the development of permaculture gardens and the distribution of nutrient supplements. Ekukhanyeni also works to provide donated clothing to these children who previously wore little more than rags, and to give donated toys to these children who previously never had received a single toy or gift of any kind (www.ekukhanyeni.org)

The children supported by Ekukhanyeni live in "informal settlements," shanty towns where people exist in abject poverty, living in tin shacks, with no electricity or heat or running water or sewers.

The only toilets are holes in the ground behind the shacks. Water is obtained only when family members take the long, dusty walk to a community tank. Food is a scarce commodity, and many people subsist on a truly starvation diet.

In a country where it is estimated that one out of every five or six people is HIV-infected, a staggering number of orphans have been left behind when their parents died. Some of these children live alone in "child-headed households" where an older child of perhaps nine or ten may be taking care of several younger siblings, with no adult at all in the household-just children taking care of children.

Many children may be HIV-infected due to the mother-to-child transmission that occurs during pregnancy or at birth, or during breast feeding, but the lack of medical care means that children are seldom properly diagnosed, and almost never properly treated.

             

Even among the children who do have some version of adult support, the life expectancy for HIV-infected children is only five years. In the western world where children get good nutrition and drug treatment when appropriate, HIV disease is a manageable condition that most children will be able to live with long-term. Such is not the case in the informal townships.

Even HIV-negative children are at great risk for not surviving childhood, just due to malnutrition and lack of proper care. AIDS has also left many women widowed, leaving their children fatherless. Many others have been deserted when their husbands leave to seek work elsewhere and don't always return. In Lawley, there are a great many women taking care of multiple children with no help from anyone.

[For much more in-depth information on how such communities came to be, and why there has been so little hope for people to escape the dire conditions they live in, please Click Here to read the Background


In this community, most orphans and other impoverished children spend their days in crèches. In a typical crèche, two caregivers will care for 30-70 children in one small room. The caregivers are wonderful people doing the best they can, but toys, games, and educational resources are almost nonexistent. For the most part, the children just entertain themselves.

 

Considering the conditions they find themselves in, the children are remarkably good-natured. Even in these terribly crowded conditions, they find many ways to entertain themselves. They are always happy to jump up to greet visitors with big smiles.

Because the government does not provide actual orphanages with living quarters, some of the orphaned children go home alone to one of the shacks at night. Others are sent to stay with what the government defines as "extended family." Unfortunately, the "family" is often some distant relation that has taken them in, because of their family connection and cultural values, but may have no money to provide for them since they are themselves impoverished, with multiple children of their own who are already hungry.

As a result, the only food most of these children get each day is one small bowl of boiled cornmeal gruel called "pap". On good days, they get a few bits of potato mixed in. The children eat the gruel with their fingers. Knowing that on most days they will get no other food at all, those fingers will be licked clean.

The simple fact is that virtually every child living in these communities is hungry all the time. Many will ultimately be so malnourished that their small bodies will be unable to fight infections or recover from the diarrhea and respiratory infections that are all too common.

 

Under the guidance of Director Liza Rossi, Ekukhanyeni is providing  both direct nutritional support via food donations and donated nutrient supplements, and long-term sustainable support through its creation of permaculture food gardens. Ekukhanyeni provides training workshops for skills development, donates seeds and plants, works with the caregivers and other community members to create the gardens, and teaches the caregivers how to properly maintain the gardens long-term. Even small bits of available space can be enough for a permaculture food garden, and Ekukhanyeni already has gardens producing vegetables year-round for the children, something which provides a huge nutritional boost compared to what they had in the past.
   
 

Research has clearly shown the power of nutrition to boost and maintain health (for more information on this, please see Nutrients for the World at www.larklands.net). For these children, the improved nutrition has literally been lifesaving. With additional funds, Ekukhanyeni plans to add chicken coops in order to provide the eggs and chicken that could greatly boost the children's protein intake, a crucial need for growing children. For more about the children's response to improved nutrition, please go to About the Children.

Ekukhanyeni also has a program for children to improve their intellectual and physical development. The goal is to help children obtain an education both by boosting their abilities and by providing the school fees and uniforms that children must have to attend school in Africa. It is hoped that the ultimate outcome will be a generation of children with the education and financial support needed to have successful lives, as well as a brighter future for the entire community.

With over 12 million orphans in Africa and 1,200,000 in South Africa alone, there are always more children to help. Ekukhanyeni currently provides aid to almost 600 orphans and other vulnerable children. H.O.P.E is seeking to greatly expand its economic upliftment project in order to help Ekukhanyeni support many more children by finding organizations in the U.S. which will sell the handmade jewelry, either through direct retail sales or as a fundraising program.

"Ekukhanyeni" is a Zulu word that means the 'Home of Light and Hope'. It is Ekukhanyeni's goal to spread that light and hope to thousands more orphans and other impoverished children. We hope you will consider joining with H.O.P.E. to support that goal.


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