. . . A future beyond the dust
The dusty streets of Rammulotsi are paved with many a heart-breaking tale of missed opportunities, abuse, defeat and pain.
Driving into the Free State township adjoining Viljoenskroon, people go about their daily tasks as though each day feeds into another without any ambition or dream being groomed. An intrinsic existence. The norm. Life as they know it. Even so, one cannot help but sense that a giant is asleep in Rammulotsi, a wondrous giant with astounding potential if only it would be awakened.
In a small room in the community’s local day clinic – the PAX Clinic, is a woman driven to see her neighbourhood begin to dream anew. Ellen Mokitlane, 58, is no stranger to Rammulotsi’s ailments, this has not inhibited her from stirring the giant to rise above circumstances and blossom into something beautiful.
Born in Parys where she lived with her grandmother and visited her parents in Rammulotsi, she has now made the township her home.
Mokitlane runs the Ntataise Clinic Outreach Programme. Ntataise is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1980 with the objective of helping women in disadvantaged rural communities gain the knowledge and skills needed to establish and sustain Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes.
The organisation has at its heart the rights of the child, and ensuring all young children have access to quality programmes which support their physical, mental and emotional development right from birth.
The Clinic Outreach Programme seeks to support vulnerable parents and caregivers, and in particular new young mothers, to provide, as best they can, for their babies’ and children’s’ needs in order for the child to thrive.
Mokitlane, in her outreach, provides a safe space for caregivers and children to openly speak about and share their challenges at home and within the community. As a result, the community has come to trust her with their most vulnerable stories and wounds, which has resulted in her playing the role of guardian within Rammulotsi’s community; a community of an estimated 7 000 households according to the 2011 Census.
This Sesotho-speaking community is predominantly black and female, and in this small society women tell sad tales of abuse and children suffer heart-wrenching ailments.
One woman, a mother of twins, talks of troubles within her marriage. The HIV-positive woman is unemployed and met Mokitlane last year when she was considering taking her life. She has spent nights without food, in an abusive relationship with her husband which at times threatens to affect her children and the family dynamics as a whole.
A mother whose four-year-old child was recently diagnosed with cancer and currently undergoing chemotherapy says Mokitlane told her about the ECD playgroup programme provided by Ntataise on certain days in the community as well as the playgroup at the clinic. This was after she had realised, with regular trips to Bloemfontein for chemotherapy, the unemployed mother could not afford school fees for her daughter under the circumstances.
“When she’s with other children she’s herself. She became shy after falling ill, but when she’s playing with her peers it is as though she has forgotten about her condition,” she says of her daughter.
Another young woman, an unemployed mother of a child born blind has relied on her elderly grandmother for support raising her child and Mokitlane for direction on which doors to knock on next.
The mother, a teenager when she fell pregnant, subsequently dropped out of high school to take care of her child.
“My grandmother uses her last cent to make sure that my son has everything he needs,” she says.
The grandmother however also realises the power in the community work being done by Mokitlane. “Ellen always shows up at our home to lend a hand,” the grandmother says after relaying the pain of their journey so far.
To each of these women, Mokitlane has been an aid, relentlessly following up on each case, visiting homes until suitable solutions are found.
“I love my job. I help people see life in a different way. Your destiny is not determined by your circumstances, you can change that,” says Mokitlane.
On the day of the visit Mokitlane addresses a group of mothers visiting the clinic with their children. She advises them on the importance of playing with their children and the gift of allowing their children opportunities to play. She informs them of the Ntataise ECD programmes which are available in the community.
She encourages them to spread the word in their communities and further urges unemployed mothers to come to the ECD venues with their children.
“You are the first teacher your child will ever know,” she tells them.
On a daily basis Mokitlane sifts through stories of abuse, violence, neglect, missing official documents, health issues and much more, all the while providing a safe space for children to play and develop.
Within the four walls of that one room in the clinic she is transforming her community one parent and one child at a time. She is lifting the veil for parents and children to see a future beyond the dust.
“I did a course with Ntataise in 2016. It was during this course when I realised that the community has a lot of gaps that need filling and the people do not know where to go when they need help. I also completed the Ntataise level 4 ECD training,” notes Mokitlane.
In instances where Mokitlane has no expertise to assist a member of the community she makes strong referrals to other support services within the community such as social workers, councillors, the clinic and police.
Before running this programme Mokitlane worked in the farm community within Viljoenskroon helping with playgroups, assisting people to obtain identity documents and helping resolve any conflicts within the community.
Mokitlane is also no stranger to the violence that runs rampant in Rammulotsi. As a victim of a heinous crime herself, she has used her experience to better understand and show genuine compassion to the victims she counsels daily.
“The work I’m doing has helped me heal and I encourage those who have been abused to also talk about their pain for their own healing,” says the mother of three.
Mokitlane’s vision for her community is a society in which its people live a better life, where children find their way and have a brighter future.
“Many of the people come back to tell me how their lives have changed. I work hard, I’m very proud of myself,” says Mokitlane after reflecting on the impact her service has had on Rammulotsi.
In Rammulotsi, Ntataise works with pre-schools and communities offering accredited ECD training programmes for pre-school practitioners as well as development and community outreach programmes. They work directly with pre-schools, pre-school aged children, their parents and the broader community. Their programmes include the Ntataise toy library as well as a mobile playgroup unit.