/ 1 November 2013

Making a difference to children’s lives

Angela Larkan persevered with limited funding and no experience to create a safe haven for children that has grown from strength to strength.
Angela Larkan persevered with limited funding and no experience to create a safe haven for children that has grown from strength to strength. (supplied)

In 2008, Angela Larkan founded a non-governmental organisation called Thanda After-School in KwaZulu-Natal after extensive research showed there would be an increase in the number of orphans and vulnerable children living in South African due to the impact of HIV and Aids.

Angela built the school in the rural community of Mtwalume, near Hibberdene about 100km south of Durban, an area with high rates of HIV and unemployment, and where the majority of the economically active population, migrated to the cities.

Her low-resource model initially received little financial support, but she persevered with limited funding and no experience to create a safe haven for children that has grown from strength to strength.

“We decided to tackle the underlying issues, to offer comfort, create curiosity for learning and develop critical thinking skills that would empower children to develop their communities sustainably and become positive role models for the future,” says Larkan.

“Walking between rural huts and talking with policymakers, I didn’t see a viable model of care for orphans and vulnerable children, so I developed a model that uses local school buildings and unemployed youth to fill the gaps.”

Her work and passion have inspired her colleagues as much as the children themselves.

A colleague of Larkan’s, Subashini Govender, says: “Angela is such an amazing, down-to-earth and humble person. She gives her all to the school and works relentlessly every day. Sometimes she’s awake at 4am and only goes to bed at 1am the next morning, trying to make this happen. She is such an inspiration.”

Bonnie Hattingh, another one of her colleagues, says: “When you watch her with the children, her face just lights up when she is around them, when she sees how happy and excited they are about being at Thanda. She is driven and has such a good heart, and really believes in what she is doing.”

Tough journey
“Doing this kind of work is like being on an emotional rollercoaster,” says Larkan. “Standing up for people is what drives me. I want to fight this fight every day. What I find difficult is continuously running out of funds, when everything we have worked so hard to build is at stake all the time.

“And to see other communities equally in need and being unable to help them because I don’t have resources or funding is difficult.”

Her model is based on sustainability, which is a cornerstone of the skills imparted to the children who attend Thanda.

There is an after-care service, as well as the Thanda Centre, which now hosts a library, a computer laboratory and a kitchen.

“We provide more than 350 hot and nutritious meals to learners to combat malnutrition and stunted growth,” says Govender. “Angela is always looking for ways to improve the area and the lives of the people in it.”

Through Larkan’s determination, the Thanda After-School premise has expanded considerably and she works with unemployed women to make beadwork to sell to overseas markets.

A project called GardenZima brings together unemployed youth, adults and the elderly to create a community garden.

“They have all been trained by Thanda to use environmentally friendly techniques,” says Govender.

The Next Steps Sewing and Entrepreneurship Project, which was started last year helps unemployed young people to learn a trade and be educated enough to start their own businesses, Govender says.

Larkan’s philosophy is to help young people become more and do more with their lives. She has invested considerable resources, both emotional and financial, towards that end and it has seen some remarkable results.

“One of my favourite times is when I take a moment to sit outside in the afternoons to listen and watch, and I hear hundreds of children screaming and shouting, having fun playing games and being kids,” says Larkan.

“Helping people has always been my passion. When I read about the devastation of Aids in Africa, I applied for a grant to conduct research in South Africa. I was 19 when I landed in Durban and I just made myself business cards and started driving around Zululand trying to learn as much as I could.”

Her plans to help these children have become a viable and impressive reality, and she shows no signs of slowing down. She is an inspiration to an entire generation and anyone who steps into her world for a moment and sees what she is doing.

“When I am sitting alongside someone who is suffering, it motivates me to work harder because I know I need to make a difference,” she says.

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.