A happy 2008 to you all! Thanks for your patience in awaiting an update from me.
After Noah adopted Zamimpilo as an 'Ark' in 2006, the centre has required this period of time to make the transition (under Noah's guidance) from what was essentially a chaotic, ad-hoc emergency shelter for 86 kids into an organized and sustainable community-based facility which could serve many more kids with a greater range of services. It has required patience on all of our parts to wait and see how things would evolve.
I am very pleased to be able to report to you now on the extraordinary changes that have taken place at the centre.
Let's start with the new name...Siyawela. When Zamimpilo became a Noah Ark, it had to change its name because it turned out that another ark was already named Zamimpilo! The Zulu word Siyawela means "we are crossing over". This name was chosen because it was such a fitting metaphor for the transition that the center was entering into, and also for the centre's mission of bringing children from lives of difficulty and uncertainty into ones of safety, health and hope.
You may recall that before Noah came into the picture, the centre had 86 children sleeping on the floor and eating all meals there, and was receiving no regular funding at all. The unpaid staff was hugely stressed and exhausted, and as a result Faith Mthethwa, the volunteer director, suffered a serious stroke.
I am thrilled to tell you that Faith has made a significant recovery, and after a period of recuperation has returned to the center and resumed her role as Director. She and the volunteers receive regular training from Noah, and they are now supported by an active board of community members.
Once the centre was able to place the original 86 children with families, it was able, with Noah's assistance, to focus on identifying other AIDS-related orphans and vulnerable children (OVC's) in the Kwa Mashu community who were in need of services. This is where Noah's model of Ark-building has really made a difference, because so many of the estimated 1.7 million South African AIDS orphans have been 'invisible' to the system, many of them living on the streets or even acting as heads of household for their younger siblings. Once a child has been 'registered' to an Ark, they can become documented citizens and be placed in a home, where the Ark volunteers will make regular visits to check on the child's care and well-being, help the family secure social welfare funds, school uniforms, and other assistance which makes it possible for these poor families to care for these children. The kids are truly adopted by their community, and the Ark becomes a community-within-a-community where they can be encouraged, supported, counseled and validated by being surrounded by other children in the same situation as themselves.
There are now an astounding 726 children registered at Siyawela Noah!
Of these, 427 come to the centre daily. Those who do receive a nutritious meal. The 299 children who cannot reach the centre each day are given an immune-boosting porridge for a daily meal at home. Of the children who come to the centre daily, 90 are of preschool age and stay all day; the other 337 come every day after school. There are now organized activities that the children participate in such as art, dance and sports, along with homework supervision and counseling.
Siyawela is now the second largest of Noah's 112 arks! In addition to financial and organizational assistance and oversight, the affiliation with Noah is bringing numerous special programs to the children at the centre. Among them is the GoLD Peer Mentorship Program, which identifies teen leaders and trains them to mentor others (especially related to unsafe sex and HIV prevention) and special programs such as an HIV-orphaned childrens' photography project.
There is no question that NONE of this would have happened without the involvement of Grobanites for Charity and the Josh Groban Foundation. Your initial gifts to Zamimpilo were like a life preserver and a lone beacon of support for a small group of Africans who were struggling to save some of their orphaned children. Because we were able to keep them going and connect them with Noah, Siyawela is on its feet and able to serve so many more of Kwa Mashu's AIDS orphans and vulnerable children. There are no longer children residing at the centre, but many more lives are being saved now. Hundreds of formerly invisible children from this community are now being looked after. Some of these kids are HIV+; they will now receive regular health care and antiretroviral drugs. Counseling and peer mentorship that the teens receive will greatly improve the odds that they will refrain from unsafe sex and help to control the spread of the AIDS pandemic. You are doing heroic work here.
The news gets more exciting, because there is so much more to do. The Josh Groban Foundation is now an Official Sponsor of Siyawela Ark. The Foundation receives regular reports from Noah, which monitors the Ark's progress,oversees its budget, staffing, etc and makes recommendations for future growth. In addition to assisting with the centre's operating expenses, there are MANY more projects at the Ark that will not happen without us. For example, the humble building is bursting at the seams, and really needs to be improved in order to allow for greatly enlarged number of kids and all the different activities being offered now. A covered outdoor pavilion can be a place where children eat so that other activities can take place inside the building. More kitchen space! More playground equipment! The list goes on.
It has been the greatest privilege of my life to be involved with this project on your behalf. With the continued enthusiasm and support of the amazing Grobanite community, we can continue to make a real difference in these childrens' lives in this far corner of the world.