see also: ABOUT THE CHILDREN : COMMUNITY BACKGROUND

The women and children whom H.O.P.E. is working to help live in a very isolated and impoverished area in South Africa, an area referred to as Lawley. It is situated within the municipal area called Region G, often referred to as the “Deep South” due to its location quite far south of the main part of Johannesburg. The population in Region G originally came as the result of the apartheid legislation that was designed to segregate the races. The number of people living in this area grew exponentially post-apartheid as the result of the huge rush of people looking for work. When apartheid ended, Johannesburg was thought by many to be the promised land. Countless people left their native villages seeking the gold at the end of the rainbow and instead ended up with no work and no place to live. The so-called "informal settlements" developed as a result of this.

In some cases, there is a formal township that may actually have paved streets and city services, but then a nearby area called an informal settlement that is fundamentally a shanty town. These shanty towns were created when people with no place to go simply moved onto the land (regardless of ownership) and created thrown-together housing, with small shacks made from a piece of rolled tin. Most have dirt floors, and little if any furniture. There is no running water or sewage, and no electricity, with no way to heat the shacks in winter other than with an open fire.

     

Two such settlements are Lawley (Extension 2) and Finetown where Ekukhanyeni works to help the orphans and other impoverished children. The influx of people seeking jobs continues today as there is still the apparent belief on the part of many people in outlying villages that Johannesburg will have the answers for their lives. Many people travel long distances hoping to find a better life, and instead find an entire population living in abject poverty. There is no economic base in these informal settlements and huge unemployment.

In a country in which it is estimated that at least one out of every five or six people is HIV-infected, there have been so many deaths from AIDS that 40 percent of the population in Region G is under the age of 18. There are a staggering number of orphans who have been left behind when their parents died of AIDS. The lucky ones may have a living relative, most commonly a grandmother, to take them in. But many others have no close relatives and are either homeless or may be taken in by a distant relative who is already impoverished and may have no food to offer them. Many of these children are sent to spend the day in what are called orphans crèches which for a small fee will care for the children during the day, and feed them what is usually the child’s only meal for that day, a bowl of cornmeal gruel.

For the children who can’t afford the crèches, there isn’t even that. Included in that population are “child-headed households” in which a child who may be no more than ten years old is taking care of several younger siblings with no adult in their lives at all. These children are the most abandoned of all. They simply live by themselves, starving to death day by day. A large percentage of these children will not survive childhood.

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 here. 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.

Half of the population in Region G has no income at all. Of the half who have some income, two-thirds earn less than what even the South African government agrees is poverty level (what they term as "below the breadline"). Unemployment for the whole Region G, including the formal townships, is estimated at 70 percent, and it's much worse in the informal settlements.

For the most part, the government has not yet provided the services and infrastructure that might at least give the people in this area a chance for jobs. And at this point, for many, this is the third generation of people living here. To them it's home and it's where their family and their friends are. Moving away to find a job is not a realistic option and commuting to work is virtually impossible since most people do not have vehicles of their own and cannot afford public transportation. Most of the residents don't see a way out since they have had little or no education---in South Africa, education is mostly only available to those who can afford the school fees and uniforms that are required for school attendance---and have no job skills.

The idea behind H.O.P.E.’s economic upliftment project is to give impoverished women a way to earn income to support themselves and their children. It is the beginning of a long-term solution for people now living in abject poverty. Women living in one of the shanty towns who have no current source of income and no skills are taught the ancient African skill of making beaded jewelry. The income they earn both directly supports the women and all the children in their care, and indirectly helps to lift the whole community out of poverty when that money is spent. The women making the jewelry can now buy bread and the baker profits. They can buy clothes, and the seamstress profits. They can buy meat and the grocer profits. And on and on, with the initial income helping to improve the future of the whole community and giving them hope for a brighter tomorrow.

In addition to providing income for the women beaders, H.O.P.E. supports Ekukhanyeni, the Home of Light and Hope, a registered non-governmental organization (NGO) or charity in Gauteng Province, South Africa. Ekukhanyeni provides nutritional support to orphans and other impoverished children through the development of permaculture gardens and the distribution of nutrient supplements to these children whose total intake of food each day is normally only one small bowl of cornmeal gruel, eaten with tiny fingers that are soon licked clean.

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 South 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 sub-Saharan Africa and over 1,200,000 in South Africa alone, there are always more children to help. Ekukhanyeni currently provides aid to almost 600 orphans and other impoverished children. H.O.P.E is seeking to greatly expand its economic upliftment project in order to 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.

The H.O.P.E. beaders are making simple African beaded bracelets, necklaces, and key chains, using wooden beads and other natural materials. Jewelry can be customized in many ways, using school colors, or adding a bead or charm with a logo or symbol or name or mascot. It is a simple way for sororities or fraternities or sports teams or bands or church groups or clubs or nonprofits or any other group in need of fundraising to help their organizations while greatly helping these precious children and impoverished women who cannot help themselves.

For more information on H.O.P.E., contact the US office of Ekukhanyeni at 1-303-569-0194 or by email at HOPEbeads@aol.com . The need is vast. Please consider offering a helping hand to these beautiful and very hungry children, and these brave women who might otherwise have no hope. With your hand holding theirs, countless lives can be saved and there can truly be a future filled with HOPE.


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