Children have a right to be children – to play and to dream. They have the right to exist freely. So says Pat Maqina, a technical advisor and senior mentor at the Isibindi place of safety in Kimberley in the Northern Cape.
As a member of the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW), Maqina was at the forefront of the facilitation of the Isibindi place of safety in 2005 in Donkerhoek, a local township.
The childcare worker says the initiative fosters family bonding, teaches children and youth responsibility, encourages healthy eating habits, and teaches children patience through a series of skills development programs including food gardening.
Maqina explains that Isibindi creates circles of care for children in need of protection and support. At their core, Isibindi places of safety are community-based care and protection initiatives that have been providing lifelines to South Africa’s orphaned and vulnerable youth. The initiative provides child and youth care services to children and youth in their own homes.
“We take care of the children, but before we even do that, we would normally profile the areas that social development would say we would like to have an Isibindi in this area.”
Developed in 2001, the Isibindi project is the brainchild of the NACCW. Through the initiative, the NGO has helped to alleviate the plights of nearly 400 000 South African children. Maqina says food gardens are at the centre of the holistic care system.
The Isibindi facility in Kimberley houses a food garden of six vegetable beds growing spinach, onions, carrots, cabbage, peppers and eggplant that are used to feed children and youth in the Donkerhoek community.
“Our food garden is community-based. We plant vegetables and we have a few fruit trees as well. When our crops are ready, we give it to children in need who visit our safe park. We cook for them during the school holidays or they take it home with them.”
Maqina explains that the food garden is focused on changing food systems in downtrodden communities. The garden also supplies seedlings to struggling families to start growing their own food.
“In the households we have what we call the cottage gardens at the back of the yard. The child and youth care workers would then work with the families to help get their home gardens in order,” she further explains.
Drought in the Northern Cape has however had a negative impact on their gardening efforts. “The past year it was not good due to the restrictions, we suffered a lot. Normally the food garden looks beautiful, we even had watermelons and pumpkin over the past years,” Maqina adds.
Maqina says it was disheartening to watch the environmental challenges negatively affect their efforts. “Our food gardens are vital because they provide HIV/Aids patients under our care with healthy nutritious meals. These projects are important so that we know if families have spinach and other vegetables, they are getting nutritious meals. Even if you have your pap or your mqusho, you would have your cabbage and your leafy green vegetables along with it.”
Maqina and her team hope 2020 will be a fruitful year filled with rain. “We are hoping for more rain because we have a jojo tank where we collect water, we even have sprinklers and we are praying that this year will come with good things.”