The new programme director of the SOS Children’s Village in Thornton says she wants to demystify the work they do with children who are placed in their care.
Lezel Molefe, 38, a Bellville mother of three with an Honours degree in social work, has worked in the NGO sector since the early 2000s.
She has had stints at Cape Mental Health, the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Epilepsy South Africa, Place of Hope in Crawford and the provincial Department of Health.
“While working at the Department of Health I worked at Stikland Psychiatric Hospital, where I was involved in rolling out the department’s ‘care model’ aimed at reintegrating patients into the community and reunifying them with their families.”
She then started her own practice, giving on-site wellness advice, training and treatment to private sector employees.
Now with SOS, she says the organisation offers refuge for children who have seen their families torn apart.
“Many of these, children are referred to us through court orders. We currently have 49 girls and 53 boys living in the village,” says Ms Molefe.
The children live in 14 houses with a house mother and SOS tries to build “a healthy family structure” and “shape their lives in a positive way”.
“Our external social workers work closely with the Department of Social Development and Cape Town Child Welfare to provide counselling to the families of the children at the village. We understand that there are various social issues and substance abuse issues present in the home.”
SOS makes every effort to reunite the children with their families, but until that can happen the houses where they live are made as homelike as possible, says Ms Molefe, so they can “experience a normal family life”.
Ms Molefe says she has always had an affinity for communicating with people and was advised by her high school guidance counsellor to become a social worker because she was always giving her friends advice.
“I was quite an introvert but after high school I came out of my shell.”
She has worked with drug addicts and people with various mental health issues and believes these and similar experiences have helped her understand the many factors that can break a family up.
“This place is a haven for many children who grew up in bad family situations,” she says. She feels it’s important for the community to understand SOS’s work so that the children aren’t labelled delinquents. I want residents and organisations to visit our village to see up close the wonderful children we have here.
“Come find out what we do and invite me to your community forums so I can obtain a better understanding of the surrounding community. We are planning on building a safe park where children from outside the village can come and play with our children in a secure space.”
She says much more awareness is needed in the country to tackle child killings and child abuse. “More awareness will lead to community action.”
And she urges parents to be present in their child’s life. “Each child in a family unit should feel special and know that they are loved.”
Email Lezel.Molefe@sos.org.za to learn more about programmes at the SOS Children’s Village.