“Do you get As?” I ask.
The two girls – they must be around 11 – giggle and exchange looks.
“Yes!” they say.
“How many As will you get for matric?”
I’m at Home of Hope in Kensington. It houses 24 girls rescued from the Johannesburg inner city and as the mission statement pinned to a board in the front room explains, their aim is to “restore the human dignity of girls and children roaming the streets by giving them a place they can call home to be rehabilitated into society to be useful citizens”.
Mam Khanyi with some of the girls at Home of Hope. She will not allow photos of their faces because of what she says is the stigma of being associated with prostitution or drugs.
I came across Home of Hope when I was looking for a good cause to donate a percentage of the proceeds of my art sales. It felt wrong to paint the Hillbrow tower in lipstick – if the medium is the message, then it’s a complex one involving femininity, beauty and vanity – and turn it into art when we all know what goes on in the area around it.
This is titled Panic (mainly because I painted it while having a panic attack)
Khanyisile Motsa, affectionately known as Mam Khanyi, is the driving force behind Home of Hope. She started taking children in by chance in 2000, when she discovered that many of them were roaming the streets, selling their bodies for income to take care of their families. Over the years, she rescued more and more girls – some from child-headed households, others from lives of prostitution and drugs. Today Home of Hope consists of this shelter, a youth and drop-in centre in Berea, and an outreach programme for children living in the inner city of Johannesburg.
Khanyi tells me she’s a firm believer in the importance of reading. Making sure that the girls get a good education is central to her philosophy; her own daughter is now a chartered accountant. The children attend New Nation School and some of her girls have already gone onto university; their lives will follow a path that would have seemed impossible before Home of Hope.
During my tour of the house, bought by FNB, it’s the beds that make the biggest impression on me. The children sleep in bunk beds crammed into bedrooms and a converted garage. Each is neatly made and home to an elaborate collection of soft toys and books arranged as carefully as if they were preparing to paint a still life. “I tell the girls that their bed is very important,” she says. “This is where they dream, and where they can be free.”
One of the beds in the dorm for the older girls
FNB volunteers help out and there are donations from individuals, but getting by is a battle. They need groceries, toiletries, cash for running expenses (especially petrol for transport) and heaters – there was one in the entire house and it was freezing in there.
Painting for #JoziTweetArt
10% of what I make from sales of my art goes to Home of Hope, so I’m hoping next month’s exhibition at Velo in Braamfontein will be a success. I’ve also challenged people to tweet about Johannesburg with the tag #JoziTweetArt. The idea is I’ll write the tweets into one of my cityscapes, give the entire proceeds of the sale of that painting to Home of Hope, and donate an additional R1 for every tweet I get. It’s ridiculously easy to do, so if you are on Twitter, please help out and tell your followers about it too.
The day before my visit, I’d listened to sobering talks about the Lost Generation at a trends conference, and I mention it to Khanyi. “These children are not the lost generation,” she says. “It is we, the adults, who are the lost generation.” I think of those bright little girls I’ve just spoken to, and in the midst of all the gloom, I think perhaps she’s right.