Facing the Challenges

She didn’t have it easy. Life in Mbekweni, on the outskirts of Paarl, is hardly a breeze. Especially during the hot summer months when the heat makes the air wobble like jelly above the corrugated iron roofs. It was this kind of day when Patricia’s son passed away while sitting in his wheelchair in the sweltering heat. Her world nearly fell apart. She often recalls the pain and desperation she felt and how she didn’t want to carry on.

 There were other setbacks as well. Her shack burnt down twice in township fires, she’s been burgled several times and she seriously considered leaving everything behind and just giving up.

But her belief that God has given her the task of caring for little ones whose parents can’t look after them during the day, gave her a reason to live. She especially has a heart for disabled children who often battle to find a place in the mainstream schooling system and decided to make that her focus.

Neighbours had already started leaving their preschoolers with Patricia when she was caring for her son at home. So, what started out as a grieving mother looking after little children, soon grew into a full-scale day care centre, that she aptly named, Thembinkosi – ‘thanks be to God’. And she still thanks God everyday for giving her the grace to carry on.

We Shall Overcome

She realised that her calling in life was to provide a protected, stimulating place for township toddlers and she decided to give it her all. Determined to transform her humble dwelling into a place where children will not only be safe, but where learning and early childhood development can take place, she worked relentlessly to achieve this.

She worked together with local government, non-profit organisations, as well as private funders. She applied for a RDP house and managed to get a shipping container delivered to her property where she could teach the grade R’s.

She completed courses and appointed teachers and helpers while registering with the appropriate institutions to get funding and accreditation. It was a long road to the thriving preschool center she heads up today with about 40 children under her wing. During picking season, the number swells to 70, so the need is great. But Patricia feeds and cares for the little ones and she does it with unwavering dedication.

She still nurtures her dream of building a House of Safety where disabled children can be accommodated when parents are unable to take care of them for whatever reason. “Sometimes parents themselves are hospitalized and then family members are not equipped to look after the disabled children and there is nowhere for them to go. This is a big problem.” Patricia also emphasizes the need they have for transport for these children in many of the townships, and also, where she lives. “At my centre, we really need a vehicle to collect children from different areas. It is something I’ve been working towards for a while now.”

At the End of the Day

Today Patricia heads up forums, she speaks at campaigns to raise awareness about children with disabilities and the importance of early childhood development. She especially wants to empower and encourage parents of children with disabilities in her community and goes from door to door to achieve this. She was elected chairperson of the Western Cape branch of the Disabled Children’s Action Group (DICAG). At the end of the day, Patricia is a true hero whose determination, fighting spirit and unfaltering faith, makes her an unmissable pillar of strength in her community.