/ 21 April 2005

Daily struggle denies children a future

Paula Niel cannot take any of her four children to school because she does not have money to feed her family, let alone for expenses like their registration fees or school uniforms. She has repeatedly gone to the local school to beg the principal to allow her eldest son, Nathan and daughter, Felodine, to be allowed to go to school without full school uniforms. ‘I made too many promises to buy school uniforms once my husband gets paid,” says Niel. ‘But, when he gets paid, he does not come home until he’s spent every cent.”

To survive, she and her children have developed a ‘family business” selling pieces of metal, which they collect during school hours when ‘it’s quiet and there not so many people looking for them” at a scrap-yard. ‘All of us make about R20 a day,” says Niel. Business isn’t always that good, though – sometimes they make as little as R5 or nothing at all.

The money is used to buy food, toiletries and household items like candles for their small house made of old corrugated iron sheets with a tiny window covered only with an old dirty rag.

Niel says it breaks her heart when she sees her children playing ‘school”. ‘Felodine (13) is a very clever child. She was in Grade 9 last year and she loves school with all her heart. She plays school with Fabian (7) and Leander (5). She teaches them to read and write,” she says.

Although day-time means work, it is their most peaceful time of the day. ‘Once my husband comes home, there’s tension in the house. He comes home drunk. He beats me in front of the children,” she says.

Asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Felodine cries. Her mother believes there will be no hope for her children ‘until there is free education for all in this country”. She believes her children’s fate has already been determined by the circumstances. ‘It breaks my heart to know that they’ll end up like me. Without education, they have no chance of becoming better people. They will remain poor for the rest of their lives and so will their children,” she says.