I arrive at Ikageng’s offices and Busi is already waiting for me outside on one of the benches. Her face lights up with this big, happy smile when she sees me walking towards her.
I am excited and a bit apprehensive at the same time; I am curious to learn more about Busi, am very aware of the fact that I am a complete stranger with a different background and upbringing. I hope that despite all that we will be able to connect.
Her big smile gives me confidence.
She seems so content, I would have never guessed what lies underneath this happy-go-lucky-looking teen.
Busi is the first of a small group of young adults within the Ikageng programme who I have agreed to meet and get to know hoping to create a photo documentary to tell their life stories, the role Ikageng plays and what difference Ikageng has made in their lives.
Ikageng takes care of orphaned and other vulnerable children, so if you are in the programme you have some kind of hardship to deal with. I am aware of that. I know that there are a large number of orphans out there and that they don’t have it easy. I actually take my hat off to them and how they manage to fend for themselves and their siblings. This is why organisations like Ikageng exist, right? It makes sure that they have a roof over their head, get food and can go to school, with uniform; so as long as the organisation has the funds to do this, all is okay, not so? Well, that is what I thought then.
My world was about to be turned upside-down. Nothing and nobody could have prepared me for the journey I was about to embark on.
Busi grew up with her grandmother and her dad. Her mother left her when she was only 10 months old…She just left; no explanation, no note… Busi grew up not knowing how her own mother could just leave her.
“Why couldn’t she at least write me a letter?”
Her father was not well. He suffered from diabetes, was in and out of hospital and could not work. Busi remembers many days when the paramedics would come rushing to their house to help her dad when he was sick. He passed away a couple of years ago, 2 days before her birthday.
A few years back Busi managed to make contact with her mom; they agreed to meet; but just before Busi was supposed to really see her mother for the first time, when finally there was hope for her to get some answers, possibly even closure – her mother passed away… Just like that any chance for Busi to ever find out why her own mother left her and took away the privilege which most of us take for granted – the privilege to grow up with love only a mother could give to her child – is ripped away from her. Just. Like. That.
Busi went to her mother’s funeral which was obviously very difficult. She cannot understand why it was not possible for her mom to make contact with her.
Busi still lives with her gran.
She is 81. She has outlived all her 5 children. She has been struggling for years to try and make ends meet but her pension is not anywhere nearly enough.
“I remember days when all we had to eat was one loaf of bread between four of us – and we had to make it last for 2 days…”
In this ever-changing world where nothing is like it used to be, the role of the grandmother as a care taker has become increasingly important and many communities could not cope without them these days.
The parent generation is in serious decline and leaves a vast number of hildren behind who are still too young to look after themselves. The “Gogo” is often the backbone of the family and has to look out for the well-being of this second generation. With little or no pension money it can get very tough.
Luckily Busi met Ikageng and was taken onto the programme when she was 14. Since then, life has become a little easier. The organisation pays for her school fees, uniform and supplies food parcels. Like so many kids in similar circumstances, she sees Mom Carol as her mom. She very affectionately calls her “Malo”.
Busi currently helps out at Ikageng with office work and admin and is studying to re-write her matric exams.
Inspired by the people who helped her dad whenever he was sick her dream is to become a paramedic. In order to enroll she needs her matric and a valid drivers license which she is hoping to get once she has passed all her exams.
One of the biggest challenges most of these children and young adults face is to not lose faith, not to give up and get on the wrong track. It is their mental rather than the physical strength to hold on and to follow their dreams, no matter what, that is being tested, day in, day out. I remember how hard I thought my teenage years were as I was trying to grow up and I had a very privileged childhood with a mother and a father, a very stable roof over my head, and it never ever crossed my mind that other children, when they get home from school, there might not be food waiting for them on the table.
Busi, I have huge respect for where you are in your life right now. You have come a long way and have the possibility to make a difference in your life and in the life of others. Do not give up on this dream of yours. And don’t stop believing in yourself! And don’t ever lose this beautiful, contagious smile of yours!