Community Initiatives

Interview Ms Ntswaki Qwabe

Ms Ntswaki Qwabe lives and works in Ga-Mathabatha, Limpopo region of South Africa. A retired district nurse, in 1998 she used her pension money to care for 18 children with disabilities and Aids orphans in her area. Her efforts have yielded into a community based organization, Fanang Diatla (meaning help each other), with 1100 children under its care. She now champions all local development in the nine villages of Ga-Mathabatha which has a population of about 13 000. In this feature she tells us more about her work.

How did you get involved in community development?

I was a district nurse for 22 years. When you work in a rural area, you often mend the clinic alone. People come to see you not just for illnesses but for all kinds of reasons. You become a priest, a counsellor, a social worker, a mother, a friend, the list goes on. You become part of people's lives and at times the centre of their lives. Someone would visit the clinic and complain of a headache. Only to find the problem is not physical, often it was about domestic violence, unemployment, or stress as a result of poverty. As a nurse, I provided medical care and often went further to provide moral support to families. Retirement presented an opportunity to spread my services beyond my profession. I could not just retire, become redundant in my community when there was work to do. I also knew I could make a difference, I knew my community very well and I knew that for change to happen people needed to feel their dignity was not honoured. They needed to be part of the process.

Then, how did you create Fanang Diatla?

I used my pension money and the help of four other women from the village. Two of them were illiterate and the other two had primary education. What I needed from them was compassion. Together, we identified the malnourished children and those with disabilities. We started with 18, then the numbers grew as we discovered more vulnerable children around the villages. Today, we are taking care of about 1100 children, some of whom are Aids orphans. In the beginning, I asked local chiefs and business people to assist us financially. Now we are sponsored by different local organizations and corporations. The children also access social grants from the government.

How are you acting on social determinants of health in your area?

We learned early that everything is connected to the environment. When we started caring for children with disabilities and Aids orphans we found ourselves doing more than feeding them. We now have three drop in centres, the children come in before they go to school. We visit their homes, monitor their health. We have created a safety net for each child. There is a social worker, nurse and guardian in charge of each one of them. We did not want to build institutions, we wanted them to be back and live with their families, some live with relatives. We also work with other organizations for example Children of the Dawn. We have gone beyond looking at child development to addressing community needs in general. We have a large group of local volunteers who help manage the following:

How have you managed to sustain your services?

By creating a network of support including government, local businesses, and other rural community based organizations. We have made it possible for children to access social grants and we are always engaging our government to participate in our programmes. Mostly, our support comes from the private sector and we work with other community organizations to strengthen our growth and skills development. Organizations like REDI allow us to boost our knowledge base and resources.

Children of the Dawn is run by Magali Malherbe and works closely with Fanang Diatla.

How was Children of the Dawn started?

Children of the Dawn started in 2002 when we realised the scale of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South African and the thousands of orphaned and vulnerable children it leaves behind. Many informal, semi-formal or formal groups of women were trying to help the children in rural areas, however they lacked financial and technical means. Children of the Dawn was therefore created to offer sustainable financial and technical support to community-based organizations caring for orphaned and vulnerable children. We have a deep faith in community development, and that communities know best how to care for their own children.

How did Agnes get involved in it, is it part of Fanang Diatla?

Ms Qwabe and Fanang Diatla Self-Help Centre were involved from the very beginning of Children of the Dawn. In September 2002, we piloted a child sponsorship programme. Each child received funding from an individual within South Africa or from overseas and their basic needs such as food, clothing and education were covered. We started with 10 children from Ga- Mathabatha. When the project worked, it was extended to more children and to other villages.

What services do you provide?

We provide holistic care to the children. We cover the following: nutritional programme (food parcels, lunch boxes, meals at care centres, nutritional complements), school support programme (school fees, school uniforms, homework support, liaising with teachers), hygiene programmes (hygiene products, training), monitoring of health, counselling, ground work to access government social grants, leisure activities (trips, games, etc...). We are not an orphanage or a closed institution. We care for the children within the community. The children continue to be in their original home with a guardian (or not in some cases) and we operate from care centres.

How many children are you taking care of?

A present we care for 149 children (through 4 Community-Based Organisations) - 60 in Mathabatha, Limpopo Province - 40 in Bushbuckridge, Limpopo Province - 39 in Kgautswane, Limpopo Province - 10 in Phuthaditjhaba, Free State Province

Who are your main funders?

We rely on individual sponsors, mostly South African, but also French, British, Swiss, and Canadian. We are also funded by private companies.

Is there a need for other support to help sustain initiatives like this one?

YES definitely. With the number of orphans and vulnerable children growing by the day, everything must be done to take care of these children. A partnership between NGOs and government is necessary. It is something we need to explore further.

Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI)

Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) is a holistic rural development program addressing Enterprise and Social Infrastructure Development needs in the various provinces of SA. REDI does this through providing the 3 levels of support:

Contact Details

Ms Ntswaki Qwabe
Fanang Diatla Self-Help Centre
Tel: +27 72 709 2966
Fax: +27 15 632 4115

Magali Malherbe
Chairperson: Children of the Dawn
Tel: +27 72 428 0939

Dave Millard
REDI Development Network
Mobile: 082 4570826
Work: +27 11 646 5245
Fax: +27 86 688 3148

Link to a report that describes the living conditions in Ga-Mathabatha,

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