We drive in to Botshabelo every morning for our training. It is a 45 minute drive in the country and reminds me of driving from the Grand Canyon to Zion this summer. Dry, cows grazing, construction on the side of the road, flat with hills in the distance. Bloemfontain was so normal, McDonalds, KFC, car dealerships, white people, roads better than at home. But the similarities end when we enter the township of Botshabelo.
There are tin shacks and small cement houses. Dirt, garbage, mud. Poverty. We spent yesterday in the training facility (church) as we will today. The next two days we will be in the township more, in family homes and spending time with the people. This will give us a better sense of the community.
What we did learn about yesterday is Social Work. The Social Workers here mostly work for the government and are paid decently. But they have huge caseloads, 100! Our foster care case workers have 15. They say many of the foster families in South Africa do it for the money. They receive a grant from the government for each child they have and that is often how they live. So we have children who have suffered abuse and neglect put in families that have the wrong motivation and no skills. A very imperfect system. I asked the group yesterday “If you have 100 foster families and the government took away the grant, how many would you have left?” Someone answered immediately “zero”. They discussed it for a few minutes and decided 10% of the families are not it in for money. So you have a caseload of 100 and only 10 of them are actual fostering because they really care about children.
The children here are removed from birth families for many reasons… Domestic violence, mental illness, drugs, abandonment, abuse from family members, child headed households and young girls having babies. There are not many orphanages here (YEAH!) but that means when a child needs to be placed, they are not often placed in the right homes. There is a crisis care center that will house children for up to 90 days for a family to be found.
I think the biggest issue here is that there is a child welfare system in place. Other places we have worked they are starting a system and do not have to fix one. Here in South Africa there is a system that needs change and the social workers we know are very aware of this and also very frustrated by it. It is obvious that this group is overwhelmed and sometimes hopeless. We talked a lot about hope yesterday. We talked a lot about making a difference one child, one family at a time.
When they heard about how the program in Ethiopia worked they were stunned. Families foster and adopt without money. Ethiopia does not approve every applicant. You could see the wheels turning. And there was a great discussion about how some of the Ethiopian ways could translate into South Africa.
I can’t help but compare the work in other places. In Haiti the problem is great, but the energy and passion is high. Here the problem is great, but the energy and passion is wavering. I hope that we can give this group hope and energy and remind them of their passions. We need fighters, advocates, movers and shakers. And with this group it is possible, the more they hear, the more they brainstorm and share ideas.
What a world we live in. It is broken. It is hurting, but when you get a group of like-minded passionate people in a room, you cannot help but see the hope and believe in reconciliation.