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Safe space for kids in South Africa

Wed, Aug 22, 2012

Seawinds, Lavender Hills. Despite its romantic name, Seawinds is one of Cape Town’s roughest areas, notorious for hard drug use, crime and gang-related violence. With a 75 percent unemployment rate, it’s certainly not an easy neighborhood for children to grow up in, but amidst the hardships is a safe haven for the children of Seawinds, a miniature village made up of shipping containers, the home of Mothers Unite.

Initially started as a feeding scheme by concerned mothers, the non-profit organization has branched out and now offers more than 120 children between the ages of three and 18 alternative activities to the social ills that plague their community, such as storytelling, computer literacy, food gardening training, art therapy, educational programs, sports and play.

While Mothers Unite is a community effort led by local women, director Gerry Gordon has been a major driving force. Compelled to make a difference in the lives of impoverished children through her own experience of growing up disadvantaged, the 48-year-old Capetonian gave up her job in corporate sales to dedicate herself to the project full-time.

“Our core focus is children. We aim to offer children a positive alternative. Kids are treated well here. It is important for them to know that they can be spoken to and loved just for being a child. For the kids who come here, this is their world, their safe space.”

Gordon’s sacrifice paid off. So impressed with the holistic project was the panel of judges for the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award for Cape Town, that they chose Mothers Unite as this year’s winner out of 254 entries, earning the project a prize of R750 000 ($88,757 USD). Gordon explains more about the project’s mission to create a safe learning environment for children to develop to their full potential, and to just be children.

Gordon says it all started in 2008 when a few hungry kids came to the home of Carol Jacobs, the original founder of the program. When the kids told her they just wanted ‘something to chew,’ Carol made a pot of soup. The next day she found double the amount of children on her doorstep. She asked two other mothers to help her. They started a small soup kitchen and it grew from there.

Gordon says Mothers Unite works with kids in a holistic way by looking at their nutrition, education, creativity and, to some degree, their healing processes. “These kids live in a challenging environment – poverty is their daily reality,” she said.

Gina Ginsberg, The Big Issue South Africa

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