Houties programme keeps kids busy

* The group from Hangbergs Houties after-school programme, which provides children in the community with a safe space to do homework, and have fun while learning new things.

An after-school programme in Hangberg is teaching children how to be better citizens.

The Houties programme for children aged six to 15, focuses on a variety of activities, and is open to all children in the area at no charge.

Houties is part of Meraki Bay, a project which was started by two Spanish volunteers, Ignacio Alonso and Carlos Andrés, during a visit to South Africa in 2017.

During their visit, Mr Alonso and Mr Andrés saw the poor conditions Hangberg’s residents were living in, and created Meraki Bay.

According to Richardo Phillips, who oversees the Meraki Bay NGO on behalf of its founders, the project’s aim is to give back to society through positive youth and community development.

“In Hangberg there is a big need for kids to stay busy after school, and to keep them away from gangsterism and other harmful activities. Houties works with the Hangberg library to give kids the chance to do their homework in a safe and quiet space after school, whereafter they’ll part-
ake in art and crafts, board games, sports, life skills training, or
recycling at the Hangberg Recreational Centre, depending on the day.

“On Saturdays, the kids will either go on an incentive trip or clean-up the town by picking up trash at the Hout Bay Harbour – they learn about responsibility while saving the ocean life.”

Mr Phillips explained that the “incentive trips” aim to expose the children to life outside of Hangberg and Hout Bay.

“Every two weeks, we’ll take the kids to see a movie, or visit various career fields to expose them to the different jobs out there. Sometimes we’ll just take them around Cape Town – some of these kids have never been outside of Hangberg, so even going to Wynberg is something special for them.”

Houties “coaches”, Niklaas Jansen, Edgar Theunissen, Dené le Roux, and Marco Linden, are all trained to ensure the children’s well being at this after-school programme.

Mr Jansen said volunteering at Houties “is a blessing”.

“It’s an honour to help the kids, it satisfies the heart to see them happy. Most of them don’t have anyone looking out for them, and at Houties we give them structure, and a safe space. Here, they can talk to adults about what is bothering them without any judgement, they can ask questions about life and get honest answers.”

Mr Jansen mentioned another one of Houties’ goals – building self-confidence.

“All kids need some form of validation; we want them to believe that they matter and have purpose, so they can go into the world and spread positivity. Sometimes teachers or family members can’t provide individual attention, and at Houties we do.”

According to Mr Jansen, protecting children is the whole community’s job. “When kids act out, it’s a call for attention, which parents and teachers sometimes view as ‘naughtiness’. We need to be alert when kids show us they need attention, and if we want a better community, we need to work together as schools, families and organisations.

“In Hangberg about only 2% of the entire community lifts themselves out of poverty. Many people choose the easy temptations, like drugs or alcohol or not working at school, and at Houties we teach the kids that through hard work at school, discipline and respect in life, you will reap the rewards as an adult. We coach them for a better life – how to make honest and good decisions even if they find it difficult. We want to end the cycle of hardship, by giving the children the opportunities most of us never had.”

Mr Phillips said Hangberg’s children suffer a lot trauma.

“There are always protests in the area. The 2010 riots, the 2017 uprising – there is always some chaos happening, and the children are left scarred. Houties offers a place away from life’s troubles, even if just for a few hours a day.”

Keesha Arendse, 12, told the Sentinel News that she loves being part of the Houties. “Here we can talk about life, and things we’re too scared to talk about with our parents or teachers. If things go wrong at home, you can tell the coaches. I tell the kids at my school to come to Houties, because its fun here and we learn a lot.”

Apart from Houties, Meraki Bay also has a few other community projects, including maintaining a garden at Sentinel Primary, a coffee shop where they sell moringa health bars, as well as female empowerment group, where women in the community learn skills to provide for themselves.

Mr Phillips said while Meraki Bay does great work in the Hangberg community, there are at least 95 other NGOs with the same
goal.

“This tiny community has many NGOs trying to bring about positive change and upliftment. If we could join forces, we could all have a more meaningful impact. We can make a bigger difference by pooling our resources, and it will also be easier to attract sponsors to fund our cause,” he said.

For those interested in joining Houties, they can be found at the Hangeberg Recreational Centre on Karbonkel Road, weekdays from 4pm.