Making a difference

Kerry Cullinan, Health-e 30-08-2002

We are like the local factory because there are no factories here, says Enoch Nkonyeni as we watch a group of women toiling slowly up the hill carrying buckets of water for Ntokozweni’s vegetable garden.

Nkonyeni is the founder of the Ntokozweni village for the vulnerable, a place where abused children, orphans and old people without relatives to care for them can seek refuge.

Ntokozweni also offers a lifeline to 350 families through weekly food parcels for those who work in its self-help projects – the vegetable garden, a chicken farming project, a tuckshop and a sewing and knitting project.

The village is essentially two large plots straddling a hill in Izingolweni, an area about 20km inland from Port Shepstone on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast. Its biggest challenges are a lack of running water and sponsorship.

There are no jobs in Izingolweni, few prospects and widespread poverty exacerbated by a runaway AIDS epidemic.

The village itself, which started operating last year, survives on the goodwill of staff and volunteers, a lot of prayers and a few donations.

Part of Ntokozweni is built on land that belonged to Nkonyeni’s family. The KwaMthimude Tribal Authority allocated additional land, while an US-based organisation put up money for buildings.

None of the 21 staff including Nkonyeni get salaries, only modest allowances to cover their basic needs.

A gentle, bear-like man of 38, Nkonyeni developed the vision of starting a sanctuary for the unwanted while working with abused children in Port Shepstone.

There is so much physical abuse and neglect of children that people take this treatment as natural. They don’t even call it abuse, says Nyonyeni. There was also a lot of violence (between ANC and Inkatha supporters) here in the 1990s and that has resulted in a lot of orphans. And there are no lots of AIDS orphans.

Last year, Nkonyeni gave up his paid job to devote himself to Ntokozweni, together with his wife, Beauty. Although he is modest man not given to talking much, it is clear that the well being of Ntokozweni’s children is the primary concern of this deeply religious father of three.

Registered as a place of safety, the courts place abused children at Ntokozweni while the inkosi and social workers also send orphans and abandoned children there.

At present, 23 kids ranging in age from 4 to 16 live at Ntokozweni in small dormitories divided according to age and gender and supervised by seven child carers, who live with them.

There are only three old people, but Nkonyeni believes the need will grow because AIDS is wiping out the middle generation that would normally care for the elderly.

Initially, Nkonyeni imagined that the old people would be able to help to look after the children, but this has proved impossible as they are too old and in need of care themselves.

The village provides a valuable resource for the local community. Aside from feeding the 350 volunteers’ families, community members can make phone calls from the tuckshop and charge their cell phones. The knitting and sewing project makes school jerseys and uniforms for local schools at a cheaper rate than the shops. Day-old chicks are reared for six weeks then sold to locals for R23. Surplus vegetables such as cabbages and spinach are also sold locally. The village also runs a pre-school, although many of the locals can’t afford the R25 monthly fee it charges.

Despite these valiant attempts to make money, Ntokozweni is far from self-sufficient. It thus relies on donations to stock the volunteers’ food parcels and pay the staff allowances. But money for the food parcels runs out at the end of August.

Sometimes we don’t know what we will do when the money is finished, says Nkonyeni, but somehow God is looking after us and money always comes. 

Ntokozweni can be contacted at (039) 534 1220( Kerry Cullinan, Health-e 30-08-2002)