Marsh Memorial Homes at the Forefront of Childcare Revolution

Welcome to the first in our series of interviews with individuals making waves in the South African NGO sector, and transforming the lives of people across the country. Bay Moon (BM) Communications writer/editor, Simon Apfel, sat down with Steven Moolman (SM), Director of Marsh Memorial Homes, a residential care facility based in Rondebosch, Cape Town, which has been providing a safe haven for children at risk for more than 110 years.

BM: Firstly, Steven, tell us a bit about Marsh Memorial Homes – its rich history, how it serves the community, what makes it a true leader in the area of childcare.

SM: Well, Marsh Memorial Homes began life as an orphanage, as far back as 1901. In those early days, the Home’s main concerns were for the children’s spiritual and physical welfare, rather than their emotional needs – that really was the norm in childcare back then.

Over the years, though, we have evolved to become a true multicultural facility, catering not only for orphans, but for all children whose homes may be beset with financial difficulties, drug/alcohol problems or physical abuse, and who have suffered emotional trauma as a result.

Our overall objective is to provide a loving and caring home for these children – one in which they can be nurtured, counselled and guided towards being reunited with their families and their communities.

BM: Marsh introduced so many innovative programmes over the last few years – through which you have taken child care to the next level. Fill us in on some of these programmes and how they are benefitting the community.

SM: Well, firstly, we’re part of a new breed of childcare organisations which aim to provide children with holistic care, and our various youth development programmes cater for their emotional, physical, spiritual and educational well-being.

We have programmes that impart lifeskills training, therapeutic intervention, educational support, sporting and cultural activities, spiritual development and post-placement support. Basically, we aim to give them all the help they need to become fulfilled, valuable members of a flourishing society.

We are also extremely proud of having pioneered a Family Preservation model, whereby we assist families in addressing their problems at home.

We firmly believe children can – and should – return to their homes and be reunited with their biological parents. Our aim is to make this a reality by making sure the parents are provided with the services and support they need and are empowered to change their lives.

We are currently working with about 60 families, as well as continuing to work with many families of children who have already left the Home. The programme is always growing...

To date, we’ve enjoyed huge success in reuniting families with their children – I mean, we were commissioned by the government to “go and show the other children’s homes in the Wynberg district on how we do family preservation”. Now that’s a huge compliment!

BM: Having a secure source of funding is a crucial part of what makes an NGO tick; and today, more than ever, potential funders are looking for concrete evidence of a NGOs sustainability. With this in mind, tell us about some of your proudest achievements and notable success stories during your time here at Marsh.

SM: I’ve already mentioned the Family Preservation Programme and how proud we are at seeing that grow over the years.

I’m also incredibly proud of our post-placement support programme and the success we’ve enjoyed in this regard. Traditionally, it has never really been responsibility of a children’s home to support children after they have left their homes. Unfortunately, people were leaving Marsh at, say, 18 years old, but weren’t living up to their potential or finding a good job - mainly because they couldn’t afford university fees, textbooks, etc, and weren’t able to take their education further.

In my first year, we decided to do something about this. We received a R40 000 donation from a Swiss benefactor. After further developing our relationship with him, he ended up giving us R1.4 million. With this money, we have been able to sustain the tertiary studies of a number of former Marsh children. Today, one of them is actually a social worker, and another gentleman is in his third year at UCT (University of Cape Town) studying computer science. Without our post-placement fund, this would never have been possible. In the past, once their schooling was over, we would have just said goodbye.

Basically, we’ve given our children hope for a better future; where previously they would be insecure – uncertain – about what would happen after they left Marsh. They are now a lot more hopeful.

BM: What do you and your team have lined up for 2011?

SM: Well, we have this soccer league that’s been running amongst the various children’s homes. The programme is run by Amandla Ku Lutsha, a local NGO whose aim is to provide South African children in residential care with the opportunity to participate in organised sport. But it’s not just about soccer. As part of the programme, participants receive lifeskills and leadership training. So instead of having therapeutic sessions in a closed room, they’re playing soccer. And they’re being taught via the lifeskills programme how to behave; how to deal with stress. It’s hands-on, it’s healthy, it’s ideal...

In addition, our staff have the chance to become accredited soccer coaches/referees and life skills trainers, which saves us having to seek outside support in the future.

Besides this, we’re also hoping to take our post-placement support programme to a whole new level, where we will be following up with beneficiaries and making sure they are making the most of their opportunities. You see, even with the support we’ve given these people, there’s no guarantee they will rise to success in a competitive job market. For example, there’s one young gentleman who did a chef course, but is still unemployed. It’s important that we continue hanging in there with him, encouraging him and helping him to get his CV out there and to keep applying for jobs.

BM: You’ve enjoyed a lot of support from partners and ‘outside people’ over the years. How important has this been?

SM: Look, number one – I came into this role with a sincere belief that you’re as smart as your network, and these things that Marsh Memorial is doing – certainly, we’re not doing it on our own. There is so much support out there: families who give us R500 every month; companies like Woolworths who donate their products and services; Sam Hendrikse, producer of the Nando’s Comedy Festival, who gives us a portion of the proceeds; a milk supplier to retailers like Pick n Pay and Checkers who gives milk to us at a reduced rate...the list goes on. We want to justify this by making sure our programmes are worth the money and support these guys are giving us.

We’re also working with some fantastic partners, like Bay Moon Communications, who are as excited as we are at getting things done and making a difference. I mean, without you guys, we would not have been able to produce the pamphlets and the website within the space of a few months and now we have it. So yes, we’re actually very lucky to work with people who do want to make a difference in society by helping us make a difference. There are so many people who are part of the Marsh success story, and that’s part of our work, you know. It’s not for us to do it on our own...we need people.

BM: What are some of your biggest needs at Marsh Memorial at the moment?

SM: Well, of course, we would like to have more funding.

Our family preservation model is very expensive to run, and we receive virtually no funding from government in this regard. They help subsidise our residential care programme, but not our Family Preservation Programme.

Our comprehensive lifeskills and educational support programmes are also very costly. Ideally, I’d like to set up a computer laboratory (we have a couple of computers, but they’re extremely old). This would cost in the region of R380 000, but can you imagine what difference that would make to the development of our children, their education, their sense of well being?

In terms of our sporting programmes, I would love our kids to be able to run out onto the field in proper sports clothing, shoes, etc. And I would love to be able to have staff who are dedicated to specific programmes. Typically, NGOs are stretched in terms of workload – and it’s no different at Marsh.

In the meantime, though, we will strive to get it right with the little that we have.

- Steven Moolman is a director at Marsh Memorial Homes and Simon Aptel is a writer/editor at Bay Moon Communications.

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