It is a typically warm Thursday morning as I pull up to the front of Faith Gospel Church, a modest cathedral built on the outskirts of Old Naledi.
As the dust slowly settles around the car, I can’t help but think how the area seems safe enough during the day though I’d hate to find myself walking alone here at night.
For suburban dwellers like myself ÔÇô it’s easy to forget that, like many cities, two worlds exist in Gaborone.
One is characterised by expensive restaurants and luxury cars parked outside lavish residences. The other is characterised by dirt roads, dilapidated houses and people for whom a life of luxury seems alien. Of course, most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. These two worlds exist side by side and Old Naledi belongs to the latter yet thousands of people call this place home and a certain Mrs. Leabaneng Masedi insists that it is here where her heart lies.
Her eyes seem to light up whenever she talks about the children of this neighbourhood but her eyes also tell a story of gloom as she is well aware of the challenges laid in front of her. She’s concerned but, oddly enough, she isn’t worried because Masedi has overcome great hardship before.
In 1992, Masedi was working as a driver for the Lobatse Town Council when she received the news that would change the course of her life ÔÇô she was HIV positive. At first, she couldn’t believe it and she went through a personal battle to come to terms with her status but eventually she emerged from despair as a stronger person than she was before the diagnosis.
In 2002, Masedi brought together ten of her friends and they established a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS. They based the organisation in Old Naledi and named it Matlo go sha mabapi ÔÇô loosely translated as people helping each other.
The membership grew to fifty people and Masedi was happy with it’s progress until 2005 when she realised that they had neglected an important factor in the problem of HIV/AIDS ÔÇô The children. Mrs. Masedi had seen the awful effects that this virus could have on the children of those infected and, along with her partners, decided that they should make it their mission to help those children.
They expanded the centre’s mandate to being a day-care centre for Old Naledi residents who had no one to take care of their children when they went to look for work, especially those people affected by HIV/AIDS.
The organisation steadily grew to a point where they were taking care of 65 pre-school children and teaching them so that they knew how to read and write by the time they entered standard one. They were also tending to 165 primary and secondary school students whom they engaged with activities like traditional dance after school. The children were mostly being taught by older youngsters who had failed their BGCSE and so could not find work anywhere else.
The organisation struggled to pay for teaching materials and the teachers incentives but things ran smoothly until the building they were using was deemed unsuitable for child-care by the Gaborone City Council.
That happened in the latter half of last year and it was only recently that the Full Gospel Church agreed to let Matlo go sha mabapi use the building in Old Naledi that they themselves had since abandoned. They are collaborating with another local charity called “The Brotherhood” to acquire the lease for the property and begin paying the Church a monthly rental fee. Unfortunately, the building is in an even worse state than their last location as it needs windowpanes, painting and a fence to be erected around the property.
Masedi and her cohorts have relied on the kindness of many different people over the years, even managing to build houses for three people living with HIV by collaborating with a Gaborone West based charity named Kgothatso centre. “Our hope is that when schools open for the coming term, we can enrol the children because right now, they are just idling in Old Naledi.
There is nothing that they are doing and their parents cannot send them to a formal pre-school because they do not have money,” said this markedly kind woman during our interview.
Leabaneng Masedi has overcome struggles before, emerging from her diagnosis to marry in 2005 ÔÇô though her husband is HIV negative, the two are happily married to this day. Masedi and her aid society are going to need more assistance if they are to continue their mission to help the disadvantaged youth of Old Naledi.
They can be reached by email on [email protected].