Today we had the incredible opportunity to meet some of the women who work at Ons Plek (“Our Place”), a shelter for girls living on the streets of Cape Town and beyond. Street girls often maintain a clean appearance and disguise their begging with requests for things like bus fare. For these reasons, they often go unnoticed even though they make up 12% of all children on the street. When Ons Plek opened in 1988, all other shelters for street children were for boys only. Each year since it opened, the shelter has helped almost 150 girls, between the ages of 6 and 18, to escape life on the street.
When girls come to Ons Plek, they start out in the residential safe-house. During this first phase of treatment, the girls are adjusting to life in a structured environment after having spent a few days or much longer living and getting by on the streets. The street children report that they eat better on the street than they did at home, and life on the street can be an adrenaline rush. As a result, it takes some time to adjust to a home with rules and responsibilities. The shelter staff prefer for girls to make their way to the shelter of their own accord so that they can be reminded that they are there by choice when these rules and responsibilities later seem too confining. When the girls have adjusted to life off of the street, they enter the second phase of treatment at Sivewe, a separate home for the girls who are focusing on rebuilding their lives.
Time at Ons Plek and Sivewe often focuses on investigating a child’s home situation to see if, with proper supervision and provision of resources, reunification might be possible. For those children for whom reunification with immediate family is not an option, other relatives like grandmothers or aunts may be contacted regarding the possibility of taking the child into their home. Non-relative foster parents or continued life in the shelter, while not preferred, are considered if family reunification is not possible.
The program provides education to girls during their transition into shelter life, and when they are ready, the centre enrolls the girls in school and provides in-depth tutoring and assistance with homework. Some girls have missed too much school to catch back up to their peers, and others do not have the desire or ability for continued education. For these girls, vocational training opportunities are provided.
Additionally, the program focuses on life skills training – the girls help in the everyday tasks of grocery shopping, budgeting, cooking meals, and cleaning the home. They participate in rule creation and enforcement at the shelter. The overall goal of the centre is to empower the girls to cope with life and the struggles they will face when they are out on their own. All of this amazing work is accomplished by a very small staff on a shoestring budget.
Country Club Christian has selected Ons Plek as the international beneficiary of our Easter Offering. After learning first-hand about the work of the organization and seeing some of the girls that live at the shelter, I can think of no more deserving recipient.