The first hurdle was letting the community know we were in their neighbourhood. To do this I visited three schools within walking distance from the building we were to occupy. That building was leased from Johannesburg Child Welfare to Social Development. People claimed their pensions and were able to see social workers. A director of JCW, Susan Rammekwa, accompanied me to visit the principals of each school. All the teachers from all three schools agreed that their burden was extreme as they were forced to become social workers in addition to teaching. They readily agreed to give us a list of children whose parents had died of AIDS, or who were dying or who were unemployed.
Armed with this list Susan and Michelle set out to visit the homes of the children and explain to each adult who was a caregiver, that Rena le Lona was being set up in Zone 6 and their child was a candidate for afternoon care and Arts education.Our biggest problem was deciding how many children could attend as the lists were long. 100 was the number chosen. The centre opened with 80 children.
We had no food for the children. Our saving grace came in the form of Ilana Friedman of Magical Moments. Greater Good South Africa gave Rena le Lona a booth at their first NGO fair in the Mandela square in Sandton City. There in a tiny space barely able to move, I sat surrounded by one hundred colour photos of smiling, happy children taken by Roz Berzon, an incredibly gifted photographer. It was her gift to us. People were attracted to the happiness and Ilana was one. Through her we were able to feed the children daily and she found sponsors who bought us tables and chairs,
a television, a DVD player, skipping ropes and many other necessary items.
There was no furniture of any kind in the centre. Roz Berzon had a friend who had another friend whose mother had just died. All the contents of her mother’s house that the Segal family no longer wanted came to us. This included carpets, chairs, books, clothing, material, costumes, ballet tights, kitchenware, plates, cups and saucers.
It was a wonderful start for the centre.
Taking Over the Premises
The Department of Social Development was due to leave the premises in January but they stayed until June. It was difficult changing the centre from a social development office to a children’s creative centre but patience won out and by the middle of the year we had the building to ourselves and could pull down all the wooden panels that divided rooms into tiny offices and open the space for play.
Designing the Programme
Under Having never done anything like this before I sought advice from the Wits School of Education and Stanley Sher agreed to come over. As his area of expertise is training student teachers to teach Art he agreed to bring their students to Rena le Lona to do their practical training on an annual basis, that is , once a week for 6 weeks.
Their input accelerated learning for both the student teachers and the children.
Maintaining the Food Supply
We desperately needed a consistent supply of food for the children’s lunch every day. By this time another aunt of one of our children agreed to help with the cooking. Susan Mfaswe. My nephew, David Lee, mentioned our work to
a friend of his Ross, who happened to be director of what is now called Bsi Steel. Since 2006 Bsi steel has spent R1000
to R1500 a week on food for the children.
Setting up a Board
At the start the sum total of people working on Rena le Lona was two – Joy Sephton and Michelle Friedman in SA. Tom Seeberger was back in New York. Two men discovered Rena from Greater Good SA and they were Marcel Macmahon and Wagied Allie who became board members. Before that, a number of interested people came for meetings but only Dolly Mokgatle became a Board member. A friend, Ronnie Scheurenberg, decided to get involved and he came onto the Board, as did Lynne Scullard who then brought Shereen James who brought Munna Desai. Karen de Vos became our book-keeper and Callen Hodgekiss, whom she knew, our treasurer.
It took at least a year for the Board to be established.