New Mowbray home for Ons Plek

The Ons Plek shelter for girls is settling into their new home at 7 Malleson Road in Mowbray.

They had been situated in the city centre for the past 18 years but on Friday April 21 celebrated their house-warming and a new chapter in their history.

Ons Plek, which opened in 1988, is the only residential Child and Youth Care Centre in Cape Town that specialises in developmental and therapeutic services for girls who have lived, worked or begged on the streets of Cape Town.

Director for Ons Plek Projects, Pam Jackson, said they were the first shelter in the country to open for street girls and one of very few still in operation.

“Once the children have crossed the threshold into Ons Plek, they are not here as street children, but as children who are looking for a new place in society. They are not looking for an identity as former street children either, but want to be seen as ordinary children,” Ms Jackson said.

“We have had unexpected and enormous success over 30 years. Because of this success, we can begin more intensive work in the new Mowbray Treatment Centre – a residential treatment programme, but as you will see, we are also preventing the problem from growing through day programmes in Philippi,” Ms Jackson said.

Despite the new premises not being much bigger than the last, the new Mowbray premises has a bigger courtyard in the centre of the building and the shared offices, Ms Jackson said, at least has windows, very different to their old premises.

The old premises also introduced other anti-social challenges, when some boys were found to be hanging around the fences, handing in drugs, weapons and creating disputes.

Ms Jackson, who has worked in this field for the last 27 years, said the organisation has managed to reduce the number of street children from the 100 girls heading to the Cape Town streets every year to an average of four girls on the street at one time.

“Having watched what others are doing worldwide and having implemented social work principles, I firmly believe we have the ‘know-how’ to reduce this problem,” she said.

Ons Plek continues to intervene at an early stage to prevent the children from landing on the streets.

“This work is easier if one intervenes early rather than waiting for them to arrive on the streets. We have kept this figure constant for over 15 years now,” Ms Jackson added.

In Philippi, Ons Plek also has a project called Ukondla, which is a community-based programme that was established in 2006. The central activity is a homework and after-care school project, which supports children at risk of dropping out of school and leaving home, keeping them away from the possibilities of becoming street children, seeking identity in gangs or escaping into the world of drugs.

Before projects were introduced in this community, Ons Plek had an average intake of around 50 girls from Philippi a year.

“Once in our programme, we are able to offer counselling services to children and parents in a seemingly informal way through starting discussions in the form of a report back to parents about their child. Only one of the children has dropped out of school in the 12 years of operating,” Ms Jackson said, highlighting the efforts of everybody involved in the success of the Philippi project.

“Our system works miracles – a consistent total reduction and prevention of street children from this area is beyond our wildest dreams. It is not due to a change in the communities’ conditions as these continue to remain under resourced. Thanks be to God, because to achieve what we have achieved is a miracle.”

To assist or find out more about the Ons Plek projects, contact them at 021 685 4052/49 or onsplek@onsplek.org.za