From America with love

Inkululenko Care Centre upgrade

By Garth Johnstone

It’s a community project with roots in Knoxville Tennessee, in the US, but which played out in a community in need in the KZN Midlands near Mpophomeni.

When Stephen Henley, a 17-year-old scout from Knoxville was considering what to do for his Eagle Scout service project, he had something unique in mind. Instead of a project at home in Tennessee, he decided to rather identify something that would impact on people in need in the Midlands, South Africa.

Stephen’s mom was originally from Pietermaritzburg and he still has a lot of family here. His mom went to America when she turned 18 to work as an au pair.

Stephen, who visits KZN each year, was told about Inkululenko Care Centre in Mafakathini, where women were caring for seriously disabled children – many of whom require round the clock care and attention.

The mother of one of the kids, Gabi Dlamini, had started the centre out of desperation, as the local schools were unable to provide for her child. She spoke to the local councillor and the inkosi and a building was identified.

Unfortunately, it was not adequately equipped for the children, or to deal with the freezing winters. The women had to carry the kids to a rough toilet outside and access to water was a long way away. There was little insulation in the building and the kitchen needed equipping, there were no mattresses for the children to lie on, or desks and chairs for them to work on.

Scout Troop 800

Stephen, who is a member of the Scout Troop 800 in Knoxville, connected with the Howick Scouts. 1st Howick chairman Kim Burnie said this was a requirement for Stephen’s Eagle service project, as normally the scouts involved other scouts rather than just adults in such projects.

The children from Howick got stuck in, two or three were on the site each day, helping with construction, cleaning and paving.

Water tank for Mpophomeni creche

Stephen also put in many hours at home in the US raising funds through his Facebook page, GoFundMe and other initiatives.

His uncle, Howick resident Tony Fisher – who is also active in the scouts – congratulated Stephen and all those who had worked hard on the project during an emotional ceremony to launch the revamped centre on July 9.

Inkululenko Care Centre

Gabi Dlamini with Stephen Henley.

Gabi Dlamini and the other women, with the children in their care, cautiously approached the centre once the ribbon had been cut to see newly painted walls, brand new desks and chairs, mattresses, revamped kitchen, toilet facilities and, importantly, a snug, insulated building with all windows repaired and in working order. They had not previously seen all the work that had been done.

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“I feel so happy today. Now we can provide proper care for our eight kids,” said Gabi. “It is so cold here but this building is now warm.”

Gabi said she hoped they would eventually cater for 20 children from the community.

Asked how it had all started, she said, “I started this centre because I had a disabled child. I tried to take the child to school but it was very difficult. I also struggled with transport.”

The store room – once Stephen, his family members and the team from Howick had done their bit – was packed with mattresses, stationery, toiletries, library books, food stuffs and toys. The kitchen too had been properly equipped. The insulation in the facility was noticeable, given the icy wind outside on the day the centre was launched.

Some of the companies that helped provide materials, equipment and labour included: Bright Lights Electrical; Pavemasters; Brentwood Flooring; PMB Ceilings, Bargain Basket and Just Build. A German NGO had also provided suitable desks and chairs.

True Scout

Kim described Stephen as a true scout, a friend to others who gave selflessly to improve their lives.

• The Eagle Scout Service Project offers the opportunity for candidates to demonstrate leadership skills learnt in scouting. The project is done outside the sphere of scouting.

*Inkululenko Care Centre is still looking for kitchen equipment and assistance with a Jojo tank. If you are able to help call 079 703 1479; or contact Kim Burnie on 082 572 5050.

Stephen is continuing to raise funds for this project: On Facebook search for StephenHenleyEagleProject