Protecting the vulnerable

SIBONGILE Mkhwanazi sees herself as a catalyst who facilitates things that need to be done.

SIBONGILE Mkhwanazi sees herself as a catalyst who facilitates things that need to be done.

She is the a co-founder of NGO Community Action, an organisation that provides home-based care and looks after vulnerable children and orphans in Alexandra.

She decided to start her own project after coming across many vulnerable and orphaned children during her work. Her new project is Nanga Vhutshilo, which means Choose Life.

Another deciding factor was that her son, HIV-Aids activist Lucky Mazibuko, was diagnosed with HIV.

"We usually come across children who have been abandoned by their mothers. Seeing a child going through the phases of infection is painful. I sometimes wish I could take the pain away from them," Mkhwanazi says.

"Another challenge is making sure that people are not stigmatised. Organisations dealing with HIV-Aids don't speak in one language. One organisation says this and the next one says something different and that is very confusing to people," she says.

Mkhwanazi says that her nonprofit organisation brings together communities through various programmes, to alleviate poverty and illness.

"I have one person to thank, the late Aggrey Klaaste. He taught me how to empower young people and communities. He taught me not to give people fish, but to teach them how to fish," she says.

"Most women have to manage their houses, feed and educate their children, to instil values and aspirations and to knit a community structure strong enough to survive the harshest of times and strong enough to support each other in times of need," she says.

Mkhwanazi is a extraordinary woman who has made great strides in community upliftment. She has placed more than 20 young people in employment and there are plans to develop this project into an agency.

"If you decide to get involved in community work, you should always have a way of overcoming any challenge you might come across," she says.

Fundraising has always been a problem for Mkhwanazi. She says it is difficult to get businesses to fund their projects.

"They have their own different focus areas. You always have to change your proposal to suit them.

"What I love most about my job is seeing a smile on a child's face after a meal. Some call me gogo, some call me sisi.

"It makes me feel good because the children know there is a place to come to for help," she says.

Mkhwanazi distributes food parcels every month. There is a vegetable garden where project members have plots and can plant anything.

"We also provide a drop-in centre, library, homework help, school uniforms, netball and soccer. We refer people to other interventionist groups if we cannot help them.

"The community comes to the centre to use the Internet café, library and for spiritual upliftment. People come in for a session of prayer. People also come to our garden for a quiet time.

"For motivation and team building, we arrange outings for our members to the theatre and we recently took some of the members to Magaliesburg, thanks to a sponsor.

"Every morning we have sessions where we talk about employment issues," she says.

Mkhwanazi is very sure that the project will survive without her. She has plans in place and young people have been trained in all the aspects of the project. Community members are also involved.

"My future plans are to buy a plot on which to build a multipurpose centre."