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THE squeak of a swing, an outburst of joy from a child across the playground and then “gogo!”. The little boy is swiftly scooped up by his granny, who like many grandparents in South Africa takes care of him along with all his brothers and sisters.
But Rosina Manyokole (57) is not this little boy’s biological grandmother. Even though she tucks him in at night, feeds him three times a day and teaches him to draw and play with playdough, they are not bound by blood.
Manyokole is a volunteer granny at the Indawo Yethemba Children’s Village in Ashburton.
The Children’s Village was started in 2008 by Dr Bob Graham, from Jacksonville, United States. But it was officially opened in July 2009 after the construction of the home was complete.
The smallholding, which used to be a bird farm, “was in terrible shape when we got there, which is why we got such a good deal,” said Graham.
Since then the Grahams have converted the plot, which was previously scattered with outbuildings, into a completely kitted-out property that meets the needs of the permanent residents as well as the children who attend camps at the village and guests who visit from the U.S. Soon the property will also house abandoned babies in a cottage that is currently being rented out.
The seven children, who are all HIV negative, but who have been affected by Aids, are housed in two furnished homes with a gogo in each. Manyokole looks after six of the children in her home and Leah Dube (60) looks after one little boy in the next door house.
Currently there are two more houses that stand empty, but which will be filled as soon as two more grannies and 12 more children are taken to the village by Child Welfare and the Social Development Services. Three new children will move into Dube’s home within the month.
The village does not accept anyone from off the street. Orphaned children and gogos must first be approved by either Child Welfare or social services. This is to ensure that the best possible grannies are chosen to look after the children and that the children who move to the village are orphans. The gogos who live at the village are not doing it for the money, said Graham.
“We don’t employ them, we empower them. There are so many grandparents around South Africa who want to help the youth, they just don’t have the resources.”
Graham, who has done case studies on young adults in the U.S. who came from homes with no parents and poor economic backgrounds but who still managed to achieve in life, said that the children who achieved in life had a caregiver.
“I found out that it does not matter how at risk the child is as long as these risks are counterbalanced by positive factors such as a caregiver, and grand- parents are especially positive forces in these children’s lives,” said Graham.
Graham is certain that the children who live at Indawo Yethemba Children’s Village will be successful.
“As long as we keep surrounding them with positive factors, they will leave as productive members of South African society,” he said.
Graham does not want the children to spend all their time at the village. They go to school and church outside the property so that one day when they decide to leave they will know about the world outside.
The children, who are all toddlers, are looked after consistently by their two gogos. The Grahams have no involvement in how Manyokole and Dube run their homes. But religion and culture play a large role in the way that the children are brought up, and which are things that both gogos find important. Manyokole used to work at a pupil patrol in Signam. She found out about the project through her church.
“They were looking for volunteers and I thought that I would like to do that. I have one son, but he is grown up now, but now I have six [other] children,” said a smiling Manyokole.
“I want these children to grow up for God and be something in the world, I can’t even explain to you what I want for these children, but I can tell you they are all good things.”
The Christian message is a central theme at the Indawo Yethemba Children’s Village and Graham believes that it is the church’s responsibility to look after children who no longer have parents.
“The problem with all the children in Africa who do not have homes is that the church is missing. It is not the government’s responsibility to look after orphans, according to the church. It is our responsibility, the church’s responsibility,” said Graham.
Churches around the U.S. recognise this and along with other sponsors such as Pepsi Cola, they fund the Indawo Yethemba Children’s Village.
Graham said although 90% of their sponsorships come from overseas, local organisations such as Round Table and community members from Ashburton have also been very generous.
“When farmers from the community found out that we wanted to grow our own produce, they helped us plant and they showed me how to do it,” said Graham as he gestures to the few vegetable patches that are starting to bud. In the future they hope to have about 55 beds of vegetables.
And just like the vegetables that will grow in the Ashburton soil, the children who will grow and develop on this land will be nourished, mentally, physically and spiritually.
With the guidance of their gogos and the Graham family, local children, who may have started life on the wrong foot, will walk out of Indawo Yethemba Children’s Village as achievers.