“If we can’t, who can?”

The slogan on the signboard outside the Good Hope Day Care centre in Mbekweni outside Paarl is both a statement and a challenge. It explains why, three years ago, Xoliswa Mjezu opened her doors to 18 physically and mentally disabled children. As the single mother of an autistic daughter, Xoliswa has faced first-hand the challenge of finding a safe space where her child can receive the love and special care she needs. Her search led her to the discovery that in her community, there is no such space. And so, she created one.

“This is actually my mother’s house,” Xoliswa explains. “It is a care centre by day and a family household after hours.” I try and process this information as Xoliswa walks me through her centre-cum-home. The space is neat, well-organised – but tiny. Then Xoliswa tells me that she not only shares the house with her 12-year old autistic daughter, but that it is also home to her sister, her late brother’s three children, her cousin (who is also one of the carers) – and a young girl suffering from cerebral palsy to whom she has been a foster parent since May last year. “She was being neglected at home, so the social workers dropped her off here,’ says Xoliswa. I detect not a hint of complaint or discontent in her tone of voice.

Xoliswa moved to her mother’s home when her husband passed away in 2009. As a single mom, she was struggling to deal with a hyperactive three-year old who, at that stage, had not yet been diagnosed as autistic. When her daughter started receiving care at Paarl Stimulation Centre, Xoliswa volunteered her time as a carer and was eventually appointed full-time.

‘My community needs me’

“Whilst I was there, I really started to notice the need in my community. Paarl Stimulation Centre can only take 40 kids. I got the opportunity to go to Boland College to do my ECD level 4 and level 5 training and with that background, I decided to start Good Hope in March 2015. I started with six kids. Now I have 18 and there are many more on my waiting list,” says Xoliswa.

Currently, the Good Hope Day Care centre is the only of its kind in Mbekweni. Still, because of the inadequate infrastructure, the centre is not eligible for any government funding. The children in her care range from ages 2 to 20 – and the centre employs four carers and a cook. For the first two-and-a-half years, all staff members worked as volunteers. Xoliswa smiles broadly as she shares the news: “Since September last year, Valcare is paying salaries and that has been a big help to us, really – a big help!”

Some of the carers and volunteers at the Good Hope Day Care. Zandiswa Ngamani, Siphokazi Nkayi, Naledi Xola and Xoliswa Mjezu.

A team effort

Despite the fact that she receives no government funding, Xoliswa is doing everything she possibly can to tap into available resources, seek support and take initiative to one day, see her business plan come to life. Her meticulous filing system contains all the paperwork.

Xoliswa approaches foundations and private companies to help out. Donations have made it possible for her to arrange outings for the children to expose them to a change of scenery and new experiences. “Two years ago, we went to Muizenberg beach and the children just loved it. We always try to include the parents in these outings.”

Big dreams for a brighter future

The centre’s greatest need – and Xoliswa’s dream – is a larger facility, properly equipped to deal with the children’s special needs. “This is a very informal environment. It is so inappropriate. There is so much I want to do, but we just don’t have the space or the equipment to stimulate the kids the way we should,” says Xoliswa.

Her long-term goal is to see a residential facility open its doors in Mbekweni. “The most frustrating part is that when the parents of children who are severely disabled are no longer there, these children receive no care. Often, their so-called relatives don’t take care of them. In our community, it is not safe for these kids. They become victims of sexual activities – and a child who is mentally disabled cannot say who did this to him or her.”

If we can’t, who can?

Xoliswa has taken up the challenge. Her resources are severely limited, but she tells her story with passion and energy. She seems unfazed by the giggling little boy who is clambering all over her whilst we’re talking. She is a brave woman. She is convinced that with the help of others who share her vision, despite all those who say they can’t, she can.

Xoliswa outside the small house where she runs the Good Hope Day Care Centre from.

You can help

Xoliswa has expressed the following needs that will help them serve the children more effectively and efficiently. Please see the list below, and get in touch with Valcare if you’d like to get involved.

  • Accountant to help audit her books
  • Small mattresses for nap times
  • Volunteer physiotherapist (and other therapists)
  • Physiotherapy equipment
  • Donations to help cover the centre’s running costs. Parents only pay R300 a month, of which Xoliswa pays R160 a child for the transport to get them to school and back home daily.
  • Sponsor an outing