SOUTH AFRICA: Lucia Ngobeni: "Before, it was difficult for old people to talk about sex"

"Gogo" Lucia and some of the children she cares for
Johannesburg, 26 May 2008 (PlusNews) - When loveLife, a non-governmental organisation that targets South Africa's youth with HIV awareness programmes, started assembling a network of grandmothers across the country to help prevent HIV among children, they approached Lucia Ngobeni, 56.

She had already been taking abandoned and orphaned children into her home for over 15 years and was affectionately known as "Gogo" (Zulu for granny). As part of loveLife's goGogetters network, she will now receive some support to continue educating children about HIV and AIDS.

"It started when I was staying in Pimville [a neighbourhood in Soweto, Johannesburg's largest township], and I was getting up early to make a fire. Two children were always coming and sitting by the fire, so I asked them: 'Where do you come from so early?' They said, 'We stay in the street, our mother and father divorced and our stepmother doesn't like us'. I asked the family if I could take the children to stay with me and they said, 'Yes'.

'In 1991, when I moved to Rietfontein [another Johannesburg township], it was a crisis, with the children and old people having no food, and a lot of poverty. So I started going to the baker and asking for bread and milk, and I started to give the people food; a lot of children started to come to my place. Then the police and social workers started bringing children to me. They say, 'Can you help us Gogo Lucia?' I say, 'Okay, I'll try'.

"[The department of] social welfare can't give foster care [grants] for more than six children, so it's very hard because we have 28 children staying here, and at weekends I can have about 60 children coming here to eat and play. Others come here in the morning before they go to school to get porridge.

"I'm always trying to reconcile the children with the families, but sometimes when the parents pass away, they get abused. When you try to reunite them with their relatives, they don't want to go there.

"These children are so difficult, especially the orphans. Sometimes, when you try to correct them, they say: "If my mother was here ..." and that's going to be hurtful to you, like maybe you don't love them. But when you pray, God helps you.

"When LoveLife started goGogetters, they came to me because I was already teaching the kids about HIV. Even though they get information in school, it's not enough. We sit down with them; we give them classes on HIV and AIDS.

"Before, the old people were sitting with us telling us [when we were young] how we must grow up if we're a girl or a boy. An old man would sit with the boys and tell them you must reach this stage before you can be active in sex. So, even now we're doing that.

"Before, it was difficult for old people to talk about sex, but the way children are dying, you can see nowadays children are [HIV] positive from the age of 13 already.

"So we start them at 12 years, telling them about HIV and AIDS. From 12 years we don't allow them to have sex, but those bigger ones, they must have safe sex, with condoms.

"With loveLife, we'll really be doing the same; the only thing is that we've got some support. They'll give us R300 (US$39) a month and there will be lots of activities, like a vegetable garden, and more education with the children – we're going to make a Saturday school and the youth from loveLife will come and help us.

"I do a lunch club for Gogos once a week; I started it in 1994 - it's like a support group for grannies. When they come here we teach them how we can help each other with the sick ones and the children."


Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews, Youth - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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