In, what she called, her keynote conversation Elinor Sisulu, Zimbabwean-born South Africa writer and human rights activist, argued that the whole eco-system around child welfare throughout the country has to change in order to re-think the role and practices of child welfare NGO within communities.
This year Child Welfare Grahamstown celebrates its 100th anniversary and Sisulu spoke openly how impressed is by Child Wellness Grahamstown’s notion of asset-based community development.; which does not just involve social workers identifying problems in the community, but rather shifting that process to also look at the assists and strengths in that community. She was also impressed by the focus on literacy and Child Wellness Grahamstown’s attempt to make learning fun and engaging. Throughout her address Sisulu also discussed the challenges of child welfare, in particular funding and how child welfare is often not prioritised by those with authority.
Based on her experience of working with local NGOs Sisulu believes that there is huge potential to address major challenges of working in child welfare, whether they be education, societal or environmental, but at the same time there seem to be huge hurdles in practically dealing with these issues. For example, the public schools in Grahamstown should be feeder schools for Rhodes University and yet many young people from the area are not going because they do not qualify because of their inadequate schooling. The issue of environment was also a concern for Sisulu, especially the amount of litter and population around schools. If children are going to school in these kinds of surrounds it effects not only their health and their morale and sense of self-worth.
All these challenges directly impact the welfare of children but they can be addressed by an investment into that sector. How do we make sure NGOs are sustainable? Sisulu believes that we do not have the right paradigm of thinking about child welfare NGOs as businesses that need to develop revenue streams.
“Realistically is that what we want a child welfare organisation to do. Is it our business to try to make a money or a profit? It is actually the antithesis of that.”
You can listen to Elinor’s keynote address and engagement with the audience here:
Sisulu combines training in history, English literature, development studies and feminist theory from institutions in Zimbabwe, Senegal and the Netherlands. She is the author of the award-winning children’s book The Day Gogo Went to Vote. Her biography on her parents- in-law, Walter and Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime secured her the prestigious 2003 Noma Award for publishing in Africa. Elinor’s involvement in book promotion and literary development efforts for many years has culminated in her work with the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation.