A new chance: Masakhe gets children off the street

Love your neighbour as yourself! Gladly. But how do you do that in a place that is ruled by drugs and violence? A project in our Leiden Central church in South Africa shows how. It not only offers children a safe haven but also helps them with their education.

Nearly 300 children are sitting in study circles, notepads on their laps, and pens poised. They put their heads together and whisper, and then a hand shoots up here, and another one there, and they speak to an adult, a facilitator, who goes around. It is homework time in the New Apostolic church in Leiden Central in Delft, a suburb of Cape Town.

A daily dose: drugs and violence

It is one of the most unusual church buildings that the New Apostolic Church has. During the week it is a multi-purpose hall, and on Sundays it turns into a church—the purpose it was built for. The idea of the church is to be a safe haven in an area notorious for high crime. Some 150,000 people populate the township of Delft that is known for its substandard schools, high unemployment, drug abuse, and gang crime.

The children are affected the most, says Ursula Poggenpoel-Smith, the programme manager at Masakhe NPC, a New Apostolic initiative. Children are left to fend for themselves in a society where one parent is all they have, where drugs and violence are the norm—something that is much more likely than getting a warm meal. Their only role models are gangsters, drug dealers, and people with flashy cars. It would be a positive outcome if these children did not turn into gangsters or drug addicts.

Between dreams and daydreams

Getting these children off the street and keeping them off is the objective of the New Apostolic Church, something they have been involved in since September 2016. Since then, Masakhe, the charitable branch of the New Apostolic Church Southern Africa, has been running a programme that aims to offer children a safe place.

“A place where they can receive a meal, develop their life skills, receive homework assistance, and where they are safe after school,” Ursula Poggenpoel-Smith says in her quarterly report. “A place where children can be shown a better way, and be given the tools to deal with all of the traumas they experience daily; a place where they can play, daydream, and just be children.”

Help for children and helpers

About 260 to 300 children come to the multi-purpose hall every day. Religious affiliation does not matter. The programme is open to anyone. In addition to receiving help with their homework, the children are taught very practical things such as hygiene, manners, and self-discipline, and are instructed in safety issues. The New Apostolic Church collaborates with professional partners: the fire department, social workers and psychologists, and the Education and Health Departments.

Without a team of volunteers none of this would be possible, Ursula Poggenpoel-Smith says. Seniors volunteer and share their life experience. Young mothers, unemployed youth, and others also help and encourage the children to follow their dreams. The volunteers all receive training in First Aid. There is a close co-operation with two colleges to have those volunteers trained who are interested in becoming Early Childhood Development Facilitators (ECD), so that the programme can offer them the prospect of employment on a short-term contract.

The gospel live

But for this to happen, MASAKHE Welfare NPC has to become self-sustainable. The search for funders and sponsors is underway. The first supporters have responded. A hotel chain donated book shelves for a small library. The idea for the library is based on South African Toy Libraries, where children who have no books or toys of their own can borrow some.

Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider was very impressed by the concept of Leiden Central. He recently explored the safe haven when he was in South Africa at the end of 2016, and spoke with rectors there who have to do pastoral care under extreme conditions. His conclusion: “Fantastic,” he says, when asked by nac.today: “That’s it, the gospel.”

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