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Girls and Boys Town South Africa | From heartbreak to hope

As society buckles under the effects of COVID-19, many more children need rescue from neglect to help create hope for a better future

The negative impact of COVID-19 on families is staggering. Worse so is the impact on children across South Africa — where child neglect has become a second pandemic.

Before joining Girls and Boys Town South Africa (GBTSA) last year September, 12 year-old Mike* had seen more than his fair share of suffering. As a boy, he’d watched helplessly as his home situation degenerated and his parents’ marriage fell apart — before his father was jailed for a period and his new family rejected him. Mom resorted to prostitution, and Mike faced abuse by his mother’s male partners. She became a substance-abuser who was often not home and, with no proper family environment around him, Mike was trying to fend for himself, and failing.

Knowing what ugly realities and disappointments he’d already suffered in his young life, the GBTSA team was determined to send him off feeling proud and confident on his first day back at school. Having missed almost a year of education, the night before was an evening of working with him to prepare his uniform and school shoes, and making sure his school bag was ready for the following morning. Everything was checked and re-checked to make Mike feel special.  

When the big day for school arrived, Mike was the first child aboard the school bus. He was eager, proud, handsome and neat in his new school uniform — his excitement at going back to school again there for all to see.  Since then, Mike hasn’t looked back and is doing well in class and can’t believe he got higher marks in maths than some of his peers. Every day he recounts new, happy stories about his school and how he is coping. And the team couldn’t be prouder — knowing that Mike is one of many cases where they’ve been able to help children deal with otherwise overwhelming hardship to find their purpose.

Protecting and helping vulnerable children is at the heart of what GBTSA does. It seeks to offer solutions to families and children in collaboration with other supporting agencies. These boys and girls are victims, let down and overwhelmed by the unbearable pain of neglect, abuse, or assault. Many make or endure life choices that no child should have to make — choices that often lead to the destruction of their lives and talents. With over 63 years of providing therapeutic care to vulnerable youth, GBTSA knows there are many other children whose stories remain unknown. And with support (especially in light of COVID-19), many more children like Mike will have stories of success and hope for better futures.

The organisation has continued to expand with inclusion of girls into its programme in 2004, which then evolved to Girls & Boys Town SA, offering service to between 20 000 to 50 000 beneficiaries a year.

*Real identity protected

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