Funda Nenja: Five years old and growing stronger

Funda Nenja was started in 2009 by two volunteers who wanted to nurture and develop the relationship between children and their dogs in Mpophomeni, KwaZulu-Natal. The group grew quickly and today has volunteers from Mpophomeni, Howick and Pietermaritzburg and an average of 70 children with their dogs attending each week.

Through the free weekly dog training classes, the children develop respect and compassion for all living things by developing a bond with their dogs. The classes, as well as teaching kind, gentle dog training methods, education is given on animal welfare, the need for sterilization and humane handling of all animals. Both the dogs and children benefit from the loving relationship. Through promoting empathy and kindness, Funda Nenja hopes to inspire a generation of caring individuals who can pass on the message of kindness. The children also learn the need for self-discipline, commitment, responsibility and goal-setting. The senior team regularly compete at local dog agility shows and hold their own against amateur dog handlers and to the great delight of the public.
The classes are structured according to the age of the dogs. The children progress through the classes and many of the older children become instructors or interpreters. Funda Nenja is blessed with a large number of dedicated volunteers from the Mpophomeni community.

In 2013, Funda Nenja was granted funding from the AIDS Foundation of South Africa. This funding allowed Funda Nenja to employ the services of an Auxiliary Social Worker through nearby Ethembeni AIDS Ministry (www.ethembeni.co.za). The funding also enabled Funda Nenja to hold holiday workshops on life skills based topics, offer a stipend to our community volunteers and offer each child a nutritious snack on arrival. This funding was not renewed in 2014 due to budget cuts from the overseas donor. However, Ethembeni AIDS Ministry recognized the benefit and potential of the Auxiliary Social Worker and so offered to pay her salary and allow her to continue her work with Funda Nenja. The Auxiliary Social Worker attends each class and engages with the children and intervenes if their families need support. Her work includes counseling, accessing vital documents for social grants or referrals to other agencies.

Although it is a struggle, Funda Nenja has continued, through donations, to try to give each child a snack on arrival at training. We recognize that many of the children are from impoverished homes where any assistance in meeting the basic needs, such as food, are welcomed. In order to receive their snack, each child has to pick up litter from the area as we want to encourage the children to respect the environment, understand their role in caring for the environment and play a positive role in their community.

Each child also receives a small bag of dry dog food to use as rewards for positive behavior in training and for homework exercises during the week. This dog food is also kindly donated.

This year, Funda Nenja was chosen by FNB as part of their national You Can Help campaign. A film crew came to a training session and the finished video has just been released. The video can be watched on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5XYOK8FwYk

This was only the latest in a number of notable achievements since its inception five years ago which demonstrates the growth of the organization.
1. Sustains the participation of approximately 15 senior volunteers (experienced dog trainers from the surrounding urban centres) as well as interpreters from Mpophomeni township;
2. Seen attendance by the children grow from 12 per week to over 110 per week.
3. Transferred skills to four senior children who now are sufficiently competent to run training classes on Friday afternoons;
4. Provided career guidance for senior trainers and sourced post matric opportunities for current matric children;
5. Developed a strong brand and public awareness about Funda Nenja. This enables Funda Nenja to sustain its programme through regular (but small) donations of dry dog food (for gentle training methodology), collars and leashes and source donations from dog food companies like Hills, Ekunuba etc;
6. Raised funds to purchase a trailer for transporting dogs to dog shows around KZN;
7. Received a donation of two containers from Elias Mechanicos Building and Civil Engineering Contractors (now rebranded as the EMB Group) to be used for storage and as an office at the training grounds at Zamuthule School;
8. In February 2013 the Funda Nenja Demo Team was invited to the World of Dogs and Cats Expo, the biggest event of its kind in the country, where they impressed the public who were generous in their financial support after the expo;
9. Research project by UKZN Psychology Student on the impact of Funda Nenja on the children.
10. In May 2013, Funda Nenja received a generous grant from the AIDS Foundation of South Africa. This enabled Funda Nenja to employ an Auxiliary Social Worker (funded until the end of December 2013 and funded by the Ethembeni AIDS Ministry in 2014) who is tasked with interacting with the children around life skills such as HIV/AIDS awareness, gender issues, leadership and conflict resolution.
11. -In February 2014, Funda Nenja was chosen by First National Bank (FNB) as part of their You Can Help campaign.

For more information, contact Kristen Williams: k.c.williams@icloud.com or 084 458 2267

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