A SQUAD of 150 young social workers has been unleashed in Kwazulu-Natal - mostly in rural areas - to help the aged, orphans, the disabled and people affected by TB and HIV-Aids.
Thembelihle Mbhele is one of the social welfare department's new intake of graduate social workers. Mbhele, who described her job as a calling, will help fight the ravages of poverty in the province. She'll be stationed at Maweleni in Umlazi.
"To us the old, educated, sick, illiterate or disabled are the same. We'll treat them equally," she said.
Khanyi Mthembu trained at Howard College, University of KwaZulu-Natal. She said the department's initiative to sponsor the training of social workers helped her obtain a degree and a job.
"I am an orphan from a poor background. So, going to university would have been difficult, but this initiative made it easy. Today I have a degree. On top of that I am employed," she said.
Mthembu is excited that she will be able to help South Africa's most marginalised citizens.
"Some graduates will be working in deep rural areas where social workers are greatly needed. People generally shy away from working in rural areas, but this is going to be a thing of the past.
"We might not be able to solve all their problems, but we will definitely make a difference," she said.
Social development MEC Meshack Hadebe said the new social workers would help to ensure that rural communities had access to the same services as urban dwellers.
"We have been experiencing an exodus of social workers ... mainly to the private sector because of low salaries," he said.
Hadebe said his department was countering the shortage of social workers by giving bursaries to young people to be trained at different universities in the province.
"Social work is a calling. You need to love working with people. People must have faith in you," he added.