Sinethemba - Means 'we have hope'
Concerned about the future of children and, particularly, the street children in our town, Sinethemba is an organisation that has been set up to address this issue. The following is Sinethemba's Mission Statement:-
Sinethemba's mission is to help children at risk make good choices for their future. They are helped either to go back to school or they are taught skills development and then to go on to find jobs for the betterment of their own and their families' future. There is also a crèche for toddlers at risk, where under-school age children are prepared for school. Street children in Knysna are reluctant to leave the street when wealthy foreign tourists are known to give hand-outs of as much as a $100 note (R785), but our youth development centre with humble beginnings is slowly beginning to turn things around.
The number of street children roaming the lagoon town's thoroughfares and begging for hand-outs has grown alarmingly and is causing increasing concern.
While they benefit from the sympathy of tourists, the children are becoming embroiled in the drug world because of the ease with which all kinds of drugs can be obtained on the streets of Knysna.
The Sinethemba Youth Development Centre in Khayalethu, which relies solely on donations to operate, today caters for about 25 youngsters who were identified as "children at risk" - not only street children but any child from a troubled background.
"Children at risk are any children in the community - children of parents who have HIV, children who have no parents and are living with their grandparents, any child who has no home at all, as well as abused children," said Sinethemba board member Mary Young.
"We're just trying to give them some hope for the future and now that we're up and running, we're hoping more children will come in."
The project has actually been running for about five years, but the centre in Khayalethu - where facilities include classrooms, a pre-school, a kitchen, a meeting hall, ablutions and a playground - was established two years ago.
"Five years ago we started with just providing food from the boot of a car. After that we had a transport container with about 15 children in a very small space," Mary Young said.
Two years ago, Sinethemba was able to take over the Catholic church community hall in Khayalethu, which was not being used and was in a bad state of disrepair.
"It was really dilapidated - very bad indeed," Young said. "The church allowed us to use it on a long lease, and of course they're very happy with what is happening here now."
All the repair work to the hall was carried out by the Sinethemba board members themselves - just three of them: Young, David Crowe and Philip Schroder.
"We really do need more people on the board but it's difficult," Mary Young said.
Philip Schroder is from Youth for Christ, involved with the project from the outset.
"However, the centre is not run as an exclusively Christian school," Young said. "The children do have devotion times, but we wanted to bring children in from all faiths. Any child who's got a problem, is welcome.
"It's very, very easy for street children to get drugs - especially when people are giving them money. One person from overseas gave the one child a $100 note. What can I do to stop that? I can't take that money off the child."
What can people do when children beg? "Do not give them money. Rather tell them about Sinethemba. Money keeps them on the streets and we want them here to have a future."
The ages of those at Sinethemba range from pre-school to late teens. The older children are involved in skills development projects - like learning paving at the centre.
"They love it. They go home feeling good about themselves because they've learnt something," Young said.
The centre's project manager, Michael Smith, has an educational background and he is supported by five full-time staff and other volunteers.
The children also receive two meals a day. The entire project relies on donations which are sorely needed. "If the donations stop, we stop," Young said.
Sinethemba has already put 34 children back in school in the past two years. Sinethemba also runs a sewing project for adults and is hoping to soon start a cookery school - enabling community members to produce goods which they can sell.