In the south of Johannesburg,
down Pela Street, across from a place where history is preserved, and bravery remembered; and cradled within walls born of hope and cries for safety, lies Ikageng.
The colourful signage down the dirt road I’ve taken tells me that I’m being privileged into something beautiful (the chorus of innocent voices that reaches my ears as I step out of the car confirms this). And within this space tucked away from the eddying of everyday survival and free from, what can sometimes be, the malevolent appeal of the streets, I feel sheltered and warm.
Tumi walks out to meet me - a young teenage girl, filled with all the awkwardness of adolescence and on the verge of defining herself. Hidden in shyness lay a beautiful strength and her smile dropped her guard against the morning sun.
I’d met Tumi before, along with Isaac and Earnest. Our meeting was fostered out of guilt. A leather jacket with a heavy price tag that I couldn’t bear to keep was the catalyst and my conscience the victim. And the idea to return it and instead find three kids needing of new clothes, at that age where clothing becomes a means to expressing identity, was born.
Tumi longed to dance. You could see it in her lyrical movement. And every time she mentioned the subject her words would joyously ballet their way to me and land gracefully on my ears. Pumlani, a young boy of 12, and Sanele his sister of 10 joined us at the small painted wooden bench that brought my knees up to my chest.
Pumlani wanted to be an accountant. His manner told me he was used to bearing a responsibility greater than his age, but the little boy inside that wanted to run free and boundless was clearly evident, and showed through easily when he talked of soccer. His sister, not shouldering the weight of responsibility, sought freedom instead of stability - dreams of being a pilot and a love for swimming overflowing from her shy embarrassment to communicate with me.
The voices of around thirty kids gathered in a circle and joined in, what I believe, gave them a strong sense of belonging, found their way to us through the steel window panes and facebrick walls of the classroom adjacent. Tumi told me that she couldn't follow on with dancing as she didn't have the money to pay for classes; Pumlani didn't have soccer boots; and his sister, school shoes.
Luxuries in their world for what we have become to accept as necessities in ours.
I made deals with the kids: Tumi would get her dance classes as long as I was invited to big recitals, and she did everything possible to become the best ballet dancer in the country; Pumlani, for now, needed to be a boy, so I would get him soccer boots as long as he played with his heart; and Sanele just needed school shoes (but I also wanted to see her swim), so made her promise me that she'd swim with all the grace and elegance of a dolphin.
We joined the circle after we shook on our deals, and relished in all the colour present in the room. It wasn't just the bright pink and blue walls, or the odd piece of artwork, or the way the light met bright eyed hope. It was colour that filled every sense - inexplicable in any spectrum and nourishing in every way.
I think that sometimes, we find hope when least expect it. In places, where we shouldn't find it. In people, where it shouldn't exist. Hope that takes our every day existence and reframes everything about it. And maybe, when hope and beauty meet, we must treasure it; and nurture it; and do everything in our power to protect it.
And so it happens, that in the south of Johannesburg, down Pela street, in a place where hope and beauty meet, and the songs of children fill the air with colour, people do everything they can to treasure and nurture and protect it. And this place is Ikageng.
For more information on how to help all the amazing children at Ikageng contact Carol Dyantyi at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://keepachildalive.org/our-work/ikageng-itireleng/