What does it take to make a real difference in a community? Most people want to help others but usually revert to only donating money, clothes or food.
Although this certainly helps, it is not a sustainable solution to an ongoing problem. Annelien de Jager, from Take Action Ministry, says they have a different approach to tackling the real social and economic problems a community faces.
“We are all about Kingdom transformation – we see a person as a tree – with a mind, body and soul. To really help a tree grow and bear fruit, we have to invest in bettering all aspects of their life,” she says.
Take Action Ministry is especially invested in the Hammanskraal community outside of Pretoria, where they are trying to improve the lives of the people on a daily basis.
“Hammanskraal is like my second home; I feel safe when I go there,” says De Jager.
She says to truly help the people there she had to get to understand their basic needs.
“Each community’s needs may differ. The first step is to find out more about the history of a community and try to understand why the people ended up in poverty; only then can you devise a strategy to address some of the basic needs”.
“Hammanskraal,” she says, “was once a flourishing community where work was abundant. It was an industrial area where people worked at various factories. Unfortunately, the factories closed down and the community members were left with nothing.
“Consequently, they were forced to search for work further away from home. This meant that they had to leave their children behind”.
De Jager says absent parents is the root of the biggest socio-economic problem in Hammanskraal.
“There are so many children who grow up parentless because their parents have to work long hours; some of them even leave their children to fend for themselves! These children then end up with a grandmother or other older woman in the community who does what she can with the little that she has to sustain them”.
According to her, Hammanskraal children that grow up without guidance then make bad decisions and get involved in drugs and crime as they have no other means to sustain themselves.
“This obviously creates an even bigger socio-economic problem. Without the moral guidance of a parent or mentor, these young adults are lost”.
First and foremost, Take Action Ministry wants to help children.
“We began to talk to the local elderly women who took on the responsibility of looking after the children. They look after several children a day, feeding them with money that comes out of their government pension”.
De Jager says it is important to talk to these key people, assess their needs and help them to do what they do better. After the ministry assessed the real needs of the community, they approached various organisations and took hands with them in a combined effort to help the community get on its feet again.
The ministry further decided to focus on helping existing care centres to accommodate more children in the daytime and feed them at least one healthy meal a day.
“If their daily nutritional needs are met, we can start looking at their emotional needs and investing in educational programmes to create a better future for them”.
She says the ministry identified various “white elephants” in the community – construction and other projects that were started but never took off.
“We approached the government and other non-profit organisations to help us restore these projects and develop them further”.
She says it took time but that they now have about 17 care centres up-and-running in Hammanskraal.
“The main goal of the care centres is to support children by giving them a safe place to stay during the day, have a balanced meal and receive a good education,” she says.
To get the centres up and running, the ministry had to network with several roleplayers.
“We first investigated which centres needed to comply with government requirements to receive help. We also had to bring the buildings up to code. This meant fostering relationships with various people that could support the ministries when they did not have the requisite skills.
“We are the bridge between the people who want to help and the community that needs the help,” says De Jager.
Take Action Ministry consists of volunteers who visit Hammanskraal regularly, mentoring and monitoring the programmes and care centres and developing new strategies.
De Jager says: “Our goal is to support the community and encourage them to use their resources; we want to plant people (trees) and sustain them so that they can bear fruit and one day also contribute to bettering the community”.
She feels strongly about using resources already available to the community. “Rather build on what is already there than starting from scratch”.
She believes in joining hands with others.
“We cannot do this alone – to make a real difference we have to take hands with people from all walks of life. The private sector, government and other NGOs.”