"We must make a difference" - Address by Brenda Silberbauer

Brenda Silberbauer recently gave the following address at Impumelelo Social Innovations Awards and sums up the ethos and hopes of this dynamic organisation.

I would like to start by trying to explain why we do what we do by telling you of an incident that happened just last week. A little boy in Grade 2 ran into Kids Club calling for ‘Tannie Tina”. He could barely speak with excitement, and could not wait to tell Tina that he had come first in maths, and received a cup for it! And another for soccer too! We celebrate every victory, however big or small. 

When we started Siphila Sonke 15 years ago we were not thinking of helping children academically, but rather of feeding chronically ill people so that their medication could be effective. We wanted to help them become active members of the community again. We have needed to innovate and adapt to help whole families, to address each new challenge by working closely with other NGO’s to make a difference in our community.

We wanted to help them become active members of the community again.

We strive to encourage our children to rise above their situations. We also have four children on full scholarships at the local fee paying school. Children are chosen on their attitude as much as their academic ability. They must show determination and a will to improve. They must be able to cope with instruction in Afrikaans which poses a problem for many of our Xhosa speaking children.

When scholarship children are taken out of their mainstream school some may struggle to adapt and fit in thus we ensure they receive regular counselling. We also encourage them to continue attending Kid’s Club. Once they start High School they find they have too many afternoon activities. We keep contact and send regular updates to our benefactors who sponsor the scholarships.

Recently we managed to get Silindokhle into Astra School a special needs establishment; she is a young disabled girl with dyslexia who had been struggling to cope in normal school. She loves her new school! She needs to board there but we provide transport for her to come home one weekend a month. This was Lien’s initiative and intervention. Lien heads up the Kids’ Club.

We also strive to encourage our staff to develop their own potential. Linden started with us as a volunteer as he was not working after having completed his matric. He became a paid member of our staff and has now been accepted to study at University. We are so happy for him. Unathi who has been with us many years wants to study to become an auxiliary social worker, but the cost of the course is R18 000 which is hard to cover. From starting with only volunteers we now have a staff of eight; some full time and others part time. This equates to a lot of fundraising as running costs are rarely sponsored.

We need to innovate all the way. When numbers drop off in Kid’s Club we ask why? In winter the children go home straight from school as they are wet and hungry, so we provide a sandwich before they start Kid’s Club and then help them with their homework. When we hear there are gangs intimidating the kids on their way we talk to the local community to make sure the kids are safe. When we pick up a change in behaviour we arrange counselling for the family. We know we need to help the whole family, to work holistically. We know we can’t work in isolation but need to work with other NGO’s and government organisations.

It is so hard to quantify the impact we have made. We still have beneficiaries who die despite our intervention – but there are many more that make remarkable recoveries. There is Pumla who was on death’s door several years ago, but is now a healthy mom who does beautiful beadwork. Some of our Kid’s Club kids are still failing – but then there are little champions too and others who are succeeding. Our Kid’s Club has grown from about 12 regulars to over 100.

We must make a difference. We have made a difference. We need to make a difference.
Claire BrearAwards