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Alcoholism, abuse and neglect: these are the realities of childhood that so many growing up in low-income communities across the country face. These were everyday occurrences for Ntombifuthi Booysen, a young mother who beat the odds that many other children living in Alexandra Township aren’t as lucky to overcome. Ntombifuthi and her younger sister grew up under the care of her grandmother, following her mother’s passing when she was just eight years old.

 Life was not easy for the two girls, but was especially difficult for Ntombifuthi as she recalls some of her younger days. “I can say my grandmother was an alcoholic. She drank every day. Her friends would come over in the morning and they would only leave in the night,” she says. “I would be locked out of the house sometimes and would have to sleep in toilets or in other people’s homes.” The home she lived in with her grandmother was a simple one bedroom with a small kitchen and living area.

Ntombifuthi slept on the floor in the kitchen, and believes her grandmother treated her this way because she was the older sibling and should have been contributing to the household more. “I was only 10 years old, what could I provide? I’m not sure what she expected but I wasn’t going to go out and sleep with men to be able to bring that money home. I was just a kid,” she says.

A ray of hope

“I came across Rays of Hope when I was in matric. They would come to our schools and identify children who needed help,” says Ntombifuthi. “By that point I had already given up. But they assigned me a social worker through Rays of Hope, and this time things started to change. They came through to the house – Bertha from Rays of Hope also came with – and they confronted my grandmother for the way she treated me. They would also visit and check in regularly, which in a way kept my grandmother in check. For the first time I felt like I had hope of my situation improving.”  Rays of Hope is a non-profit organisation that has been working closely with the Alexandra Township community for over 30 years, focusing on children and their families to improve all aspects of their lives. The NGO takes a holistic approach to its interventions, and journeys with them from vulnerability to independence to create a lasting impact on the broader Alex community.

 “They were bringing in food parcels monthly, so at least I felt like now I could eat. Things got better. They fixed our door, gave us a double bed and blankets. Life was so much better, I honestly wish I met them sooner,” says Ntombifuthi. In 2018, Ntombifuthi had given birth to a beautiful baby girl, and what would ordinarily be a joyous occasion was marred by her grandmother’s disapproval. “My grandmother started to become difficult with me again, saying ‘how can you bring babies here’ and that I was a disappointment.” She describes how her grandmother would wake them early on chilly winter mornings by opening the door and all the windows. “She would say, ‘come, wake up, wake up! My friends are coming!’ and it would be freezing in the house. You can imagine how this environment was for a small baby. I just wanted better for my child,” she says.

The fight for independence

With the situation at home deteriorating more and more by the day, Ntombifuthi knew she had to leave and find a safer and more peaceful environment for her and her small child. She lived with her child’s father for a short time before he too became abusive and violent towards her, and decided it was time to take a different approach. “In April 2019, I found out that my mum left us a house that my stepdad was still living in. It was around this time that there was a movement going on around here where they were removing foreigners from RDP houses and selling them, and they happened to take my mother’s house,” she says. “I was not having it. So I began planning.” She managed to get the title deed and, with the help of a dedicated SAPS detective, was able to have the illegal tenants removed, despite the risks involved and threats on her life from gangsters. “At that point, I didn’t care. I had my goal, and that’s all I cared about.” Ntombifuthi succeeded in getting the house back and moved out from her baby’s father’s house. “He let me know that because I was leaving, he wouldn’t care for the child anymore. When we finally got the house, I went to Bertha at Rays of Hope and told her the good news, she was very happy for us. I told her that we needed a few things to get started.” The house had been looted completely, from the light fixtures to even the front door. “Rays of Hope gave us a couch, a rug, and we still had the bed and blankets they had already given us before. They gave us a starter pack with cutlery and most of the basic things we needed.” After taking basic computer lessons through a work readiness learnership programme facilitated by Rays of Hope that aims to equip young people with skills they need to thrive in the workplace, Ntombifuthi was able to secure a position as a receptionist at Tamela, a financial services company based in Johannesburg. “After learning about my story and about Rays of Hope and how they’ve helped me and other children in Alexandra, they said to me that they want to empower me and help me grow and have been paying for me to study. I am currently in my second year at Boston for a diploma in systems development,” says Ntombifuthi. Ntombifuthi is now living safely and peacefully with her one-year-old baby and younger sister in her own home, and on their own terms. Her journey continues on a far more positive note than where it started, but this is not always the case for young girls and women living in Alexandra. Support Rays of Hope in changing the narrative and empowering more girl children and women in Alexandra to reach their potential, live safely, and pursue brighter futures. Visit www.raysofhope.co.za to find out more about the NGOs many community-based initiatives.


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