Thanks to the conversion of a former intake centre in Zonnebloem into a fully functioning life skills development facility, street children who have been rehabilitated under The Homestead street children project are now being equipped with the requisite knowledge to go out into the world to fend for themselves.
On Thursday September 29, the Launch Pad life skills centre was officially unveiled as part of the organisation’s annual general meeting.
Dignitaries including ward councillor Mzwakhe Nqavashe were on hand for the ribbon-cutting, aptly carried out by two of The Homestead’s shining lights, 18-year-old Obert Makaza, and 17-year-old Kevin Mutata.
The converted intake centre has already been operational for six months, and in that time, the older residents have been cooking and cleaning up after themselves, undergoing therapy sessions
and engaging in activities like outdoor hikes, horseback-riding and sailing.
The Launch Pad has been created to transition the youngsters from reliant, unsettled children into adolescents who will be prepared to meet the everyday challenges of the outside world.
The Homestead director Paul Hooper said it had been a long road to open the project.
“We had an intake centre that was 25 years old, which certainly wasn’t appropriate for modern child care. When we looked at a centre for transitioning the children, we also had to consider that those children at the intake centre would have to be housed elsewhere,” Mr Hooper said.
“It was a high risk decision, but we decided to move all the unsettled street children to our facility in Khayelitsha, but it worked.”
The primary reason for transforming Zonnebloem into a life skills centre, he said, was that Homestead management and staff had recognised that many of the boys were not prepared for living beyond the care provided by the organisation.
“They would leave us at the age of 18 and then would fall back into their old habits as soon as they were in the outside world.”
The Launch Pad manager, social worker Liezl Conradie, believed the skills the boys received would enable them to function as normal members of society.
“When we started six months ago, we had 13 boys with us. We now have 20. In fact, six of them got themselves off drugs just so they could join the Launch Pad,” she said.
“Getting 20 teenage boys to clean this place is not easy, but we are doing it. This is something they are going to have to do for themselves one day. Our stipulations are that the boys must be older than 15, are completely drug-free and will submit to drug tests.”
She said the fact the boys were in Grade 9 and 10 might not seem much to outsiders, but considering their backgrounds it was a remarkable achievement.
“I am always astonished to see how the boys can change. Some of our boys are even doing street outreach work themselves, helping others to get off the streets. Others are helping the local neighbourhood watch to keep the community safe.”
Obert, who is thriving at the Launch Pad, said it was “definitely having a positive effect on me”.
“It is helping us to find our own way,” he said.
At the AGM, the Homestead chairperson Stuart Hendry revealed the children coming off the street were settling down much quicker than they had in the past.
“The Khayelitsha centre has been wonderful in this respect. That facility has open spaces and also the street children are not exposed to the temptations you find in the CBD,” he said.
“We’ve gone from being a safe space that provides a meal to street children to a much more considered programme.”