“I am certainly seeing the socioeconomic challenges here,” says Plymouth graduate Harrison Nash, when he reflects upon life in South Africa. “It saddens me what children are exposed to at a younger and younger age.”
Speaking from his adopted home in Port Elizabeth, Harrison’s words are not those of someone resigned to the hardship and inequality of life in the country, but a reminder of the daily challenges he faces in his work with children and teenagers. For, since 2012, the BSc (Hons) Social Work alumnus has been using all of his skills and expertise to lead developmental, recreational, therapeutic and caring services for the youngsters on behalf of the Maranatha Streetworkers Trust.
“It is a lot of work and long hours with weekends included as I strive to know all the children and keep myself available as a support for all of them,” he says. “I do therapy myself, assist with homework and studying for our older children, and do my own activities with them where possible as well as carrying out home visits to townships and engaging in ongoing fundraising.”
There are around 32 children, aged between 5 and 19, at the residential youth centre in Port Elizabeth, called Siyakatala, where Harrison is part of the management team. Many have been removed from their homes for their own safety; others have been orphaned or were found begging on the streets. In most cases, Siyakatala will work to find family members for the children to stay with, but for many, the centre is their home.
Through the centre, the children attend weekly scouts and cadets sessions; learn to swim, dance and carry out life-saving techniques; and undertake musical and occupational therapy, in addition to receiving counselling and remedial therapy. The boys can play for the football team in a local league, and there are group outings as well.
“Of course there can be challenges with children addicted to substances, for example,” says Harrison, “but we work holistically and have seen some incredible success stories. And I have been blessed to have friends come and volunteer, because it is wonderful to have new role models for the children – we desperately need that input.”