Poverty makes you think creatively

Years ago, a certain Miss Floor tried to get our class to grasp the basics of the French language. Of the language I don’t remember much, but I do remember one thing Miss Floor said to us: “Poverty makes you think creatively”.

I am convinced that the children who come to visit us in Badsberg Close, Heideveld, have minds that work differently from other children’s. The grown ups to, too, but that’s a story for another time. Heideveld’s girls make mud cakes in the silver paper they get from empty cigarette packs. The boys buy kites made of refuse bags for R2 from uncle Dommie, and take much pride in flying them all day. They speak Afrikaans, English, Cape Flats and a language only they understand.

The teenage girls think they can learn to crochet in an hour and the 12-year-olds get very excited when their group succeeds in finishing a puzzle that was intended for six-year-olds. Of technology there’s no question. Internet is available at the local library, but you’re only allowed to use it for 10 minutes at a time due to the long queue.

Teaching the kids basic manners remains a challenge and I often feel like “Aunty Please-and-thank-you” (or, of course, kanallah and shukraan – “kassie” in colloquial – the Muslim equivalent) and “did you flush the toilet and wash your hands”? However, sometimes they surprise me and I feel like I’m floating on a cloud for weeks. “Aunty Lisa, can I please have a little water?” or “The soup was very, very nice” (and this on a sweltering summer day when most of us would refuse to eat a warm cup of soup).

A major challenge we’ve noticed in the midst of all the creativity around us, is that the children aren’t stimulated enough. Their vocabulary is limited, especially the little ones, they cannot distinguish colours, cannot count and have no idea how to connect a picture of an animal with its name. As a team we’ve realised we’ll have to address this issue. But how?

Fortunately there are clever people who know exactly how to tackle the problem, like Magriet from e-kerk. She came and taught us how to keep the children’s attention and how to stimulate them in creative ways. During our training we held a concert, wore costumes, played with clay and drew pictures. One exercise Magriet taught us was to draw our “monsters” – those things that taint our lives and stop us from living to our full potential. Immediately after the first exercise, we had to draw a picture of what our lives would look like without those monsters in it. Armed with this new-found knowledge, we asked the children from one of the Kid’s Club classes to draw their own monsters. They were all between the ages of eight to 12 years.

Their pictures consisted of people swearing at one another (they even wrote down all the swear words), people shooting or stabbing each other (some of them laying in puddles of blood), many bottles of wine, drugs in various forms and the word gangsterism (it was probably too hard to draw). I know sexual abuse is also part of their lives, but it’s still a topic that gets swept under the carpet.

After the children drew their monsters, they had to explain to their teachers what they drew. The pictures they drew still haunt me.


What will next week’s pictures look like when they have to draw what their lives would resemble without the monsters? People who smile and laugh out loud? Safe schools? Families socialising at a dinner table? A dad in every home? Hearts and sunshine and streets that are safe with trees and dogs and cats that are taken care of?


Or will they draw uncle Dommie, making them all colourful kites with long tails high up in the air crying out: Freedom!