Building Hope

ngos housing hiv/aids informal settlements
Wednesday, 3 November, 2010 - 11:44

Poverty and lack of housing are some of the realities faced by children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in South Africa’s informal settlements. Providing quality houses to those who require them should not be the sole responsibility of the Department of Human Settlements. Companies (through corporate social investment programmes), donors, NGOs and other stakeholders within the communities, should work together with government to provide houses to the poor. Living in shacks means that children, especially those orphaned by HIV/AIDS, continue to live under conditions that are not conducive to them

It's amazing what can happen when you decide to Make YOUR Move! It could even lead to the building of 73 houses - offering warmth, privacy, hope and dignity - for young people who once lived in shacks, as Thandiwe McCloy shares.

Anna Moswatsi (21) used to live in a tiny, rusted, one-roomed shack in Orange Farm, an impoverished area just south of Joburg, with her younger brother and sister. "Living in the shack was hectic," she says. "Rain came inside and would wet the bed and floor. We'd go to the neighbours when it rained. In windy weather, the shack shook and made a noise. I worried about tsotsis when I went out to use the toilet at night."

Millions of people across the country experience living conditions like this. According to the Department of Human Settlements, the demand for housing in South Africa stands at almost 2.1 million units.

Aside from living in poverty, Moswatsi and her siblings also had to deal with losing their dad in 2001 and their mom in 2006. In early 2008, they were finally able to lead much better lives when Habitat for Humanity South Africa (HFHSA), a non-governmental, Christian housing organisation, built them a house.

Their house was one of 11 houses built in Orange Farm that year with sponsorship from the Standard Bank Employee Community Involvement Fund and graduates of the Standard Bank Global Leadership Centre (GLC), which trains Standard Bank managers.

Habitat for Humanity has branches worldwide. Sponsorship for their houses comes from corporates, foundations and various other organisations. HFHSA is dedicated to building simple, decent, affordable houses in partnership with those who lack adequate shelter. Beneficiaries of HFHSA houses and other community members volunteer to build the houses along with staff from sponsor organisations and professional builders.

Anne Vitoli, who was the GLC Public Relations and Communications Manager when Moswatsi's house was built, volunteered to build Moswatsi's house along with various GLC graduates, who helped to carry bricks and mix cement. "It was really heartwarming to see the beneficiaries' appreciation and to change their lives forever," says Vitoli.

Offering plumbing and electricity, two bedrooms, a lounge, a bathroom and a kitchen, these houses make a huge difference to beneficiaries' lives. "Now I don't have to stress about the rain," says Moswatsi. "We have safety, space, warmth and privacy. As we have a bathroom, I no longer have to go outside when my brother washes and vice versa."

Her sister Matshidiso (12) is happy she no longer has to hear the rain as it hits the shack roof or use an outside tap and toilet.

What it takes to make a move

It was while writing an UNCUT article on children, living in Orange Farm, who've been orphaned by AIDS that I saw the poverty that Moswatsi, her siblings and so many others like them experienced in often tiny, dilapidated shacks.

Not long afterwards, I wrote an article on volunteering. While doing research for the story, I came across the Giving and Sharing Foundation, an organisation that promotes volunteerism and philanthropy. I asked their founder, Ann Bown, if she knew anyone who could donate corrugated iron to upgrade the shacks. She put me in contact with Trevor Molefe, the Gauteng regional manager for HFHSA, who informed me about the possibility of building houses for orphaned children in Orange Farm. After seeing the poor living conditions of many orphaned children in Orange Farm, Molefe said 12 houses would be built for them. In early 2008, HFHSA began building its first houses for orphans in Orange Farm – and in fact, Gauteng.

HFHSA states that beneficiaries of their houses need to provide food for the builders as they lay down the house's foundations. Organisations sponsoring the houses then pay for the builders' food as the brick work takes place.
The project started growing and it was soon decided that 40 houses would be built for orphans in Orange Farm. I approached companies such as Investec, Spar, Makro, Shoprite, Pick 'n Pay, rage.co.za and FeedSA to donate food for the builders. Plus Ten, Lasher Tools and Grinaker LTA donated wheelbarrows, spades, shovels and more - and dropped all 92 of them in Orange Farm too! Dulux also donated some paint. Curtains and rails for 40 homes were donated by Letsema Consulting, to add the finishing touches.

By the end of last year, 73 houses had been built for orphaned children in Orange Farm, with sponsorship from various corporate entities.

Old Mutual, for example, sponsored a house for Stanley Yekwa (20) and his two younger sisters. He lived in a shack his whole life before getting the house and volunteered to build it. "Helping to build the house was fun! I really enjoyed it," he says smiling.

"Living in a house has really changed my life. I no longer worry about safety so much. I also don't get flu as much because the house is warm and rain doesn't come inside. I now have my own bedroom, which really helped when I was studying in Matric because I could keep the light on until late at night. I wouldn't have been able to do his in the shack because the light would have disturbed the others when they were trying to sleep."

Valencia Molisa, who runs Sakhi-Sizwe AIDS Care Initiative, an organisation which supports some of the beneficiaries of these houses, says: "One beneficiary said when he lived in a shack he drank a lot and hang around a bad crowd. Since getting the house, he's changed his behaviour because he feels that if people care so much about him to build him a house, he should care about himself."

It's a wonderful feeling knowing I've helped change people's lives for the better and forever. I've realised the true power of personal initiative and collective action. I know the real value of Making your Move!

- Thandiwe McCloy is external media coordinator at loveLife. This article was originally published in loveLife’s UNCUT magazine (Issue 78, September/October 2010). It is republished here with her permission
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