Participate, Empower and Navigate
Over the years PEN has bought several properties in the city centre and Sunnyside, which not only house their offices, but which have been transformed into affordable housing units, rentable office space and a clinic.
Participate, Empower and Navigate
The 1990s, a turbulent period of political transition, also brought change in many cities in South Africa – one of those being Pretoria. Many businesses and government departments began moving out to the suburbs, and it looked as if it was dying a slow death.
But rather than passing quietly into the night, the inner city simply changed – its demographics, economy and raison d’être morphed as those searching for jobs and a better life flooded in from rural areas and neighbouring States. Office blocks were transformed into apartments, turning the inner city into a vibrant, colourful place that many call home. Now if one ventures into the inner city after 5.30pm one finds life – people simply living.
With change came a myriad of challenges, however. The inner city wasn’t equipped to handle the influx of people as well as the coming together of different ethnic, language and economic groups, religions and cultures. Basic services were strained. Crime increased. The inner city, although alive once again, was tearing itself apart.
In contrast to all the companies leaving the city centre in the early ‘90s, an organisation by the name of PEN (Participate, Empower and Navigate) moved more decisively into the city to see how and where they could help. Born out of a small youth ministry operating from the Dutch Reformed Church in Bosman Street, the group of young people saw an increasing number of children being left at home alone as their parents went out to work, or to look for work, and started to ask themselves whether there was anything they could do.
PEN now serves thousands in the inner city, from those humble beginnings. As Marinda van Niekerk (CEO of PEN, and a member of the original youth group) says, “Rather than looking only at the problems, we believe there are many opportunities for individuals to get involved in making the difference we want to see in our country. We saw a need and PEN grew from there.”
Over the years PEN has bought several properties in the city centre and Sunnyside, which not only house their offices, but which have been transformed into affordable housing units, rentable office space and a clinic. This provides the organisation with a steady, sustainable income, which covers salaries, basic services and administration. Donor money is then able to go directly to helping individuals in PEN’s programmes.
Most of PEN’s programmes fall within two clear divisions: Wellness and Wholeness. Wellness speaks of providing for people’s basic needs like food, health, medical care, housing and psychological well-being, while the wholeness programme deals more with the top end of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – how people are able to change depending on their lot in life, and how they see themselves.
Doris Mkhonto, house mother at one of the three places of safety run by PEN proudly speaks about how PEN “has become like family to all the children” in their homes, and adds that she regularly receives letters from the children who thank her, their ‘granny’, for being there for them; for taking care of them. “We are family,” she adds, “We love each other.”
Within its Wellness Programme, PEN also operates the Sediba Hope Centre (on the corner of Bosman and Vermeulen Streets) which is a joint initiative between a number of organisations in the inner city. The centre provides care for disenfranchised people infected or affected by HIV and AIDS, as well as skills and small business training. Sister Alice Mokone points out that “PEN aims to assist individuals in the inner city as holistically and completely as possible, which is where Sediba fits in.”
An important part of the Wholeness Programme is getting children ready for school. Apart from the two preschools which PEN runs directly (Pennies Nursery School in Schubart Street and Sun Sparrows Nursery School in Sunnyside) they also facilitate a Preschool Forum, which assists many of the informal day care centres which have sprung up in the city centre. Most of these, including two which operate out of the Schubart Park complex in central Pretoria, would never get proper registration from the Department of Social Development and Health because of their lack of resources and trained of teachers. But they are fulfilling a dire need.
And so the forum provides regular training (including important skills such as fire-fighting readiness) in all facets of early childhood education, administrative support in terms of getting the centres registered, and (where possible) educational play equipment.
But that’s not all. Through the Early Childhood Development programmes, PEN has access to almost 1 000 children in fourteen different preschools, which makes them the perfect organisation to run the HIV testing programme called “Hide and Seek, Find and Treat”. In conjunction with the Foundation for Professional Development (FPD) and Sediba Hope, PEN staff encouraged parents and caregivers to have their children tested for HIV. Despite parents initially being reluctant to get involved, a total of 54 children and 30 adults have already been tested in their first two schools. With 12 more schools to go within the PEN structure, the PEN staff are hoping to reach a total of at least five hundred children through this programme.
PEN’s reach in the city is wide – through the above-mentioned programmes to school-based events, faith-based groups, holiday camps, provision of clothing and food to the needy and others.
Nikon in South Africa, through the Nikon Africa Trust, came alongside PEN to see how they could help, using what they know best – photography. Although not core to Nikon Africa Trust’s mandate “to provide hope for under-privileged potential photographic students in Africa through training, mentorship and equipment-provision”, this was an opportunity in which the Trust was proud to be involved.
The Nikon Africa Trust was formed, as Stefan van der Walt (CEO of Nikon in South Africa) says, “to create opportunities in disadvantaged communities for sustainable livelihoods through photography” – the key being sustainability. “Nikon doesn’t want to just sell photographic equipment, it wants to make photography a lifestyle,” he adds.
The Trust’s staff documented many of PEN’s projects and events for three months – photographs being so useful in terms of marketing and just keeping a record of an organisation’s journey. The Trust also helped redesign PEN’s website – often the first impression anyone has of an organisation – using an easy-to-manage and clean template. PEN’s staff have been empowered and trained to maintain the website themselves. Several of PEN’s stories were also penned by the Trust’s staff for publication in local media.