In the early 1990’s, at the height of the AIDS pandemic, Marilyn Bassin (a physiotherapist and children’s rights activist), began volunteering in the paediatric wards of a government hospital. Seeing babies being wheeled into the procedure room to die alone, so as not to disturb mothers around them, she realised someone had to step up and advocate human rights.
She went on to volunteer at an orphanage for children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. She stayed here for the next 6 years, insisting that children’s rights be upheld, and making dying as pain-free as possible for those little ones.
The nurses would fondly call the children referred to her as ‘Marilyn’s Children’. Scores of little ones were assisted in some form or the other. Marilyn co-founded a Jewish/Muslim interfaith group with a Muslim cleric. Jewish and Muslim teenagers worked weekly side by side for years, improving the lives of so many children at the hospital.
In 2014 Boikanyo the Dion Herson Foundation left the hospital and began work in an informal community nearby, alongside a group of social workers who assisted families living in abject poverty. There was much to be done here, from advocacy work to forcing the authorities to take responsibility for human rights abuses. Some children had special needs and were struggling to survive in shacks. Marilyn accessed help for them from other NGO’s or from government departments.
Chapter 9 Organisations played a part in getting some of these children into a safe space, and Boikanyo the Dion Herson Foundation learned how to network extensively.
From 2014 to 2018 Boikanyo the Dion Herson Foundation packed Christmas gift boxes for over a thousand children at a time. Huge parties were held in early December for those who were on a list, those who lived in deplorable circumstances.
Starvation was evident everywhere in the informal settlements. Money was raised to plant a soccer- field -sized vegetable garden at one of the local primary schools. It was a prime example of a self- help project. While upskilling community members in vegetable gardening, it wasn’t hard to see the unmistakable needs of the community.
There was the arduous job of keeping children in school and giving them a reason to stay in school. This area saw a 50% drop out of school, and young girls turned to sugar daddies, young boys joined gangs.
Trustees of the NGO visited schools in the area and started understanding the challenges faced by children who grow up in such poverty. They started providing learners in 5 schools with sanitary pads, socks and school shoes. Handouts of Easter Eggs and thousands of blankets became annual events.
The NGO started assisting with maths augmentation classes, and maths marks began improving in those children who attended the program. This maths program became one of the greatest achievements of Boikanyo the Dion Herson Foundation, with far-reaching benefits for those who participated.