forgotten kids

SUNDAY is a special day of the week for the children of the Pontsho Disability Care Centre at Khureng village, about an hour's drive west of Polokwane in Limpopo.

SUNDAY is a special day of the week for the children of the Pontsho Disability Care Centre at Khureng village, about an hour's drive west of Polokwane in Limpopo.

The reason why Sunday is different is not that the children are transported to a nearby church for morning service, or because they gather with family and watch a DVD in the afternoon.

No . the reason why Sunday is different is that it is the only day of the week when meat is on the menu after a staple diet of soft porridge, brown bread, pap and gravy.

The village itself is like so many in the area. With roads more suited to a 4x4 vehicle, it is hot, dusty anddesperately poor.

Unemployed youths while away their days sitting under a tree dreaming of better times. Old women do washing by hand. Goats, donkeys and chickens wander around the streets.

"We were given this land by the local tribal chief so we have a place we can call home," says volunteer worker Mamsie Bosoga at the four-hectare plot.

Pontsho itself is a place of contrasts and mixed emotions.

Established in 2001 as a home for those with severe mental and physical disabilities, it is desperately sad to witness the circumstances these children are forced to live in. It is also incredibly humbling to witness what good people do for no reward and little thanks.

Mamsie is one such person. A mother of four children herself, she now finds herself as a volunteer cook, teacher and social worker to the 35 children who attend the school. With the children's wellbeing paramount, Mamsie and the other nine volunteers selflessly work for no remuneration so the children get access to the most basic of facilities.

"Sometimes I feel these are the children that God has forgotten," she says in a soft voice.

With a hat pulled down to just above her eyes - to protect her flawless skin from the blistering sun and also because she appears to be incredibly shy - she tells of life at the school.

When she speaks it's barely above a whisper, but the measured words she uses are as soft and sweet as the water that comes from the one tap linked to a borehole that must serve more than 200 people.

"At first I was scared of the children because of their disabilities and was worried that I would not cope.

"With time I have grown to love them as my own," she says.

Mamsie teaches beadwork to some of the students. The small pieces that are made are given to visitors as gifts and others are sold in an attempt to raise desperately needed funds.

"We often get promises of assistance from local government but nothing ever materialises," she says.

"The only things we have ever received from them are bags of maize meal."

As if the school doesn't have enough problems, con artists have also targeted them.

"People have come and taken photos of the children, promising that they would use the pictures in attempting to raise money in Polokwane. They are never seen again and pocket the money for themselves."

For Glory Hlongwane the school plays an important role in her daughter Precious' life. Now a teenager, Precious has been to a number of schools in the province for children with disabilities but her mother is happy with Pontsho.

"My daughter got sick when she was six months old and ended up paralysed down the one side of her body. She cannot do anything for herself and has to wear disposable nappies," Glory says of the 13-year-old.

Whereas some parents have dropped their children at the school and disappeared, Glory and Precious at least have the support and love of Glory's partner David.

"Though he is not Precious' father he treats her as his own. He would rather do something for my daughter than for me," she says.

Hours after the visit to Pontsho, Mamsie's words echo in my mind: "The children that God has forgotten." Tragically, in many instances, she is so right.

l Mama Angel would like to thank Tata South Africa for providing the new Xenon bakkie for this project.