Thursday, May 23, 2024

A hug for every child

A deep concern for vulnerable and disadvantaged children has led Magogodi Dabutha to open not only heart, but her house as well. Over the years, she has taken in many children under her roof, and a lot of them have gone on to have successful careers. She quips that she is often called to speak at their weddings.

“I have worked with the disadvantaged since I was a child,” she responds when asked where the passion comes from.

This is in reference to her early involvement in charity work while still a student at Gaborone Secondary School (GSS), when she was part of an organisation that used to build houses for people with disabilities in Naledi. That was the Naledi of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the place was a real slum.

“I developed interest in working with people with disabilities because at the time they had nowhere to seek assistance,” she recalls. “For instance, the infrastructure didn’t make it possible for them to get access to education, or employment.”

For all the praises Dabutha is showered with as a modern-day guardian angel for forgotten children, there is one case that saddens her because she has not been able to solve it. It is the child who was born with moderate retardation. Orphaned very early, she was rejected by the rest of her family, and had to be raised a grandmother who tied her to a pole and kept her with goats. Since the child did not interact with other people, she never acquired speech.

“Even now the only thing that the child can do is to bleat like a goat,” Dabutha states.

She says the child is currently at what she calls “a place of desperation”, whose name we shall not reveal to protect the person in question.

“I couldn’t stay with her because she is restless and wanders about. She needs specialized care. Now she is very ill. The isolation she was subjected to early in life made her to age to a person around 80 or 90 years. We took her to many facilities, but she couldn’t be admitted. She was finally admitted to the current place, and since she has been there in the year 2000, none of her relatives has visited. The only people who visit her are from Masiela Trust Fund. I am pleading with the community for a facility where she can die a dignified death,” Dabutha states.

She stares into space, a warrior wrestling with deep thoughts, before sharing the burden with me.
“I often ask myself if I have failed her,” she says.

The information she has been able to piece together indicates that the young woman was born in 1983. When Dabutha first came into contact with her, she was approaching the age of 10.

There are other cases that Dabutha worries about in her job as Executive Director of Masiela Trust Fund, although perhaps not to the same degree as the one discussed above. She talks of the children who fall through the cracks due to lack of funds to assist them. Among these, she mentions the children who reside in a bush near Jwaneng. Some are orphans, while others were deserted by parents who disappeared into the nearby farms.

“Children on the streets of Gaborone and other places are of great concern as well because they don’t go to school, while others quit school to become beggars,” she says.

Dabutha’s involvement with Masiela Trust Fund began at inception in 2001, when it was established to respond to the plight of children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In 2009, she was granted sabbatical leave from her civil service job to join the Trust as a Child Welfare Specialist for was supposed to be a two-year period. Last year, she was made the organisation’s Executive Director, and had to retire from the public service.

Thanks to the initiatives that were put in place to reverse the tide, we are not losing as many lives to HIV/AIDS as, say, 10 years back. That means the number of orphans is also not increasing at the rate it previously did. In that light, Masiela Trust Fund decided to broaden its scope beyond orphaned children to include vulnerability.

“We now serve orphaned and vulnerable children,” Dabutha explains. “Vulnerability could be due to various factors such as disability, poverty and abuse. Children living in poverty or in child-headed households can be more vulnerable than orphans.”

The most common problem among child-headed families is that the child who is often called upon to shoulder the task of raising the younger siblings assumes enormous responsibility before enjoying their childhood and adolescence. They are inexperienced and not ready for parenting.

Then there are the grandparent-led families, where the huge generation gap sometimes leads to a discord. Often, the children in that setup would have lost one or both parents, and had not been properly prepared to grieve and heal. Dabutha explains that the bottled emotions are later taken out on the grandparents, leading to conflicts.

Of course, she states, there are some grandparents who do such a fine job raising their grandchildren.

She states that there are vulnerable children throughout the country, but the situation is more severe in remote areas due to lack of facilities and resources, which are concentrated around urban centres. Her experience is that even organisations that come forward to pledge assistance often prefer to direct their interventions to places mostly around Gaborone. This leaves Masiela Trust Fund, which currently cares for over 15 000 children, at wits’ end. Add to this that many companies are not as generous with donations due to the recent recession. Masiela Trust Fund has been so hard hit that it currently has no running programmes due to lack of funding.

The organisation is part of the Regional Advocacy Network for Children (RANCH), which was launched in Johannesburg, South Africa, in March to function as a collective advocacy movement, comprising national child rights organisations in 10 southern African countries. The network has its focus on a number of multi-sectoral issues that include child participation, child health, education and child labour.

Dabutha is convinced that Batswana have the capacity to rise to the challenge, when provided with information. For instance, she was on the Gabz FM morning show on July 27 for a telethon to get companies and different organisations to pledge towards Masiela Trust Fund’s “My Child Your Child 2012” campaign, which seeks to raise at least P5 million for the Trust. On the day, over P200, 000 was pledged, and she is happy with the response.

The next phase of the campaign will be a gospel concert that will be held at the Sir Seretse Khama Barracks Auditorium on August 31 featuring choirs from some local churches. All the choirs have agreed to perform for free, while the army donated the auditorium for the evening.

The culmination of the campaign will be the gala dinner on October 12 at the Boipuso Hall.
“We ask companies to come forward and pledge any form of assistance,” she states. “Already some Batswana have come forward with generous offers of assistance. Some have donated items to be auctioned, while others are offering to decorate the place for free.”

To draw strength to face the heart wrenching stories she comes across each day, Dabutha’s morning starts at her local Catholic cathedral, before she goes to work.

“God can’t give you a cross and fail to give you the strength to carry it and to endure,” she states. “Each morning, my prayer is, ‘Lord nothing should happen today which you and I cannot handle’.”

Then she tells me about a book that taught her to make time for herself.

“It basically said, ‘Don’t forget that you also have needs, and be kind to yourself’. Previously, I never wanted to fail anybody and I forgot about my own needs. I would be hospitalized for fatigue. I have since I realized that as a human being it is essential to be kind to myself and sometimes take a step back to recuperate, rather than become an emotional wreck,” she says.


Read this week's paper