During the month of October, Islamic Relief South Africa (IRSA) will be running a national campaign, Children Deserve To Be Children which aims to raise awareness about the struggles faced by orphans and vulnerable children in accessing quality education. Shanaaz Ebrahim-Gire filed this report.

Reducing poverty is one of the main goals of Islamic Relief. It is a well-reported fact that education is a sure route out of this state of vulnerability and would significantly improve the lives of orphans and vulnerable children and poor households.

According to the United Nation’s International Institute for Educational Planning, education would help boost economies and strengthen community participation with government. It would also protect children, promote social cohesion amongst other things.

Although access to quality education for all children is a right enshrined in the South African Constitution, it still remains a luxury for thousands of orphans and vulnerable children.

Recent statistics from UNICEF purport that there are approximately 3.7 million orphans in South Africa, of which 150,000 children are believed to be living in child-headed households. The main cause for these shocking statistics is as a result of HIV and Aids.

With millions of ordinary South African families living well below the poverty line, on an average of less than R1,500 per household, the government is facing an uphill battle to eradicate poverty and especially assist vulnerable children.

Islamic Relief believes that access to quality education for an orphan or vulnerable child is the only solution to fighting poverty and inequality. The NGO has made education a priority among its long-term and development-based efforts.

Projects are aimed at both adults and children and include building and equipping schools, offering literacy classes and training teachers. Many of the education projects target impoverished women and young girls, helping them break free from poverty and ensuring stability for generations to come.

Islamic Relief South Africa is currently supporting the educational needs of 1,200 orphans and vulnerable children. The assistance includes school fees and tertiary education bursaries, stationery and school uniforms. “We are working closely with our rights holders to ensure that they perform well in school so that they can study further and attain skills which would help them out of poverty,” Country Director, Yusuf Patel explained.

He said that the educational support programme implemented by Islamic Relief supports children from the pre-school level, through to Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Education.

“Our trained care workers have been working closely with the family unit, closely monitoring the children’s psychosocial, nutritional and educational needs,” Patel said. “This ensures a holistic development of these vulnerable children who would normally have no support system…We want all our rights holders to become responsible and self-sustaining citizens.”

According to Orphans Officer, Razaan Dadabhay, some rights holders felt ashamed because they did not have the basic school essentials such as school shoes and stationery and would rather opt to stay at home.

“We support assist rights holders in a number of ways, depending on the age group and need. Islamic Relief provides school uniforms and stationery after finding that many children did not have these basic items to attend school. Some guardians explained that their child felt ashamed to go to school and in some cases were victimised or bullied.”

This October, Islamic Relief has pledged to give back children’s childhoods with its’ dynamic ‘Children Deserve to be Children’ campaign which is aimed at equipping rights holders with the necessities needed to enjoy a fruitful and productive schooling year.

“We have developed a School Toolbox which will include all the necessary items such as stationery, books, school shoes, etc. which will aid our beneficiaries in enjoying the schooling experience,” Head of Fund Development and Communications, Fazlin Fransman explained.

“Our programmes team has found that since we have provided these school supplies, the students has been a drastic improvement in school academic performance and school attendance.”

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