‘It’s my duty to give back’

“The children of Westbury have two options when they grow up: they go to prison or they die. Those are the only options left after you spend a lifetime taking drugs.”

These were the words of Rhoda van Buuren from the Together Action Group (TAG) in Westbury‚ Johannesburg‚ on Monday morning as she launched the NPO’s new literacy centre.

“The area is not good‚ the joblessness ratio is incredible and for the children here their only source of income is drugs. Children become users from as young as seven. A high percentage of children in the area are unable to read and so can’t work [when they are older]. What hope do you have to make it in this world and to get out [of poverty]?” said Van Buuren.

TAG has been operating for 16 years as a safe haven for the youth to come to after school. The organisation was started by ex-gangsters wanting to give back to the community.

The NPO has around 120 children attending their after-school programme every day. They have a further 40 children attending their restorative justice programme on weekends.

“These are our at-risk children – children taking drugs or with behavioural problems‚” said Van Buuren. “We recognise them while they are still at school and we take them in and help them before it’s too late.”

Children in the after-school programme receive help with their homework‚ while those in the restorative justice programme also receive counselling. They get a meal and are encouraged to play outside.

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