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WHEN the Emma Brosius Crèche opens its gates every morning in Jabulani, Soweto, its brood of toddlers embrace life as they enter the premises under a spell of limitless energy.
Instant smiles that light up their faces give a disarming picture of innocence as their spontaneity and youthful exuberance suddenly injects life into the crèche.
As always, hugging adults is a perennial challenge for the little people. Wrestling the knees of parents and teachers in an impromptu show of affection is as routine as clasping the hands of adults to feel their reassuring warmth.
Inside the crèche principal Susan Lithuli and other teachers always warm to this daily regimen of knee-length hugging from their young brood with spontaneous ease.
Overlooking this seemingly innocuous ritual might otherwise mean a cold, impersonal start for the children, for nothing can substitute the warmth of human touch.
Not all the children arrive brimful of energy, though, something that is the mark of a happy home. Some come from poverty-stricken homes without as much as love or a speck of bread.
So, with every break of dawn invariably comes the prospect of a decent meal for these toddlers at the crèche.
Most of them come from Aids-ravaged, child-headed homes, where poverty has stared them in the face almost every moment of their infancy.
The deadpan expression on their faces tell a tale of violated innocence; young souls overwhelmed by the indignities of poverty and condemned to a life of hopelessness beyond their comprehension.
"I am shocked by the extent of poverty at some of their homes," Lithuli says.
"Since visiting their homes, I can't sleep properly and can't have a meal without thinking about the fact that some of them sleep with empty stomachs."
On a visit to one of the homes one Saturday, Lithuli battled tears as one hungry toddler's face lit up on seeing her and clung to her at the prospect of going to the crèche.
Most apparent is that the crèche is a sanctuary not only for children, but for famished adults who often drop in - unannounced - for the only decent meal of the day.
Contending with with scant resources as it does, the crèche can hardly fulfill its role of being an extension of a home under such desperate circumstances.
Recently the Food Gardens Foundation and Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, Jan Bergman Foundation and Captain Dorego created garden beds on grounds of the crèche and planted vegetables as part of Nelson Mandela's 91st birthday celebrations.
While the gardens will help feed the needy in the future, the initiative is only a drop in a sea of poverty and desperation.
l To help, the Emma Brosius Creche is at 527 Jabulani, Soweto and Susan Lithuli is at 083-624-8601.