Hi there, please tell us about MES?
MES is a Christian integrated social development organisation that has been changing the heart of the city since 1986.
MES has been actively working towards providing sustainable solutions to pervasive poverty in the inner cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Kempton Park in South Africa.
What is your role?
MES aims to empower people holistically to live independent, sustainable and meaningful lives. We do this through the provision of programmes for pre-schoolers, learners, youth and adults.
How have you evolved since opening in 86?
MES first started as a response to inner-city poverty with a feeding programme to address food relief. The 2nd focus was a pre-school. The 3rd was developing a shelter and training model aimed at young people living on the street. Healthcare, social work services and adult training followed with youth servant leadership. Initially, MES ran a programme approach linked to service delivery. Over the last two years, MES repositioned its services to a more age-specific approach Focus Group target. The focus groups are Pre-schoolers, Learners, Youth and Adults. The Cape Town and Port Elizabeth branches launched eleven years ago and the Kempton Park branch ten years ago.
Are your shelters currently at capacity?
We are currently utilising two shelters because of space and capacity; Ekhaya Shelter is accommodating 90 people, and 54 people at Impilo shelter. The Kempton Park, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth shelters are also at capacity.
Where are you sending people you cannot help?
The challenges remain that there simply are not enough shelters available for all homeless people. If the need is for shelter, we do not have alternative options at present. For substance abuse challenges, we work closely with SANCA and DSD. Health-related matters the Jhb branch works in close cooperation with COJ clinics and Drs without Borders. Department of Home Affairs is assisting with identification documents while DSD is assisting with counselling.
How has COVID-19 changed the way that you operate?
All of our ECD centres and After School Programmes were closed on the 18th of March 2020. They will open when we are granted permission after the lockdown period. MES made arrangements with the parents to waiver April’s monthly fee so that our parents use that money for food for their children who are at home during this time.
MES also established a WhatsApp line and an online communication channel to assist us in communicating with and sharing information with our parents, staff and other stakeholders.
The reason for this is to ensure there is a platform for parents to raise concerns, get clarity on facts around the pandemic and to give MES a platform to report positive cases.
Our shelters, canteens, health and social work services are deemed as essential services and will continue to operate, although under different circumstances. There are special arrangements made to keep feeding the children too; these are meals they would usually get at school. The challenge with our shelters is that we have lost the door income from the overnight shelter model and we now have to provide three meals a day in addition, plus activities to ensure people are busy to avoid high frustration levels due to lockdown rules. Due to capacity and funding limits, we do need the public, business, churches and government’s support as well as volunteers to assist hands-on.
How many volunteers do you have working right now?
We have about 30 people that are taking care of our beneficiaries; this includes staff and a few volunteers.
Please tell us about these brave souls who are putting themselves at risk to help?
We have shelter caretakers who take care of the beneficiaries at the shelters. Social workers who help with the intake process and the overall care of the beneficiaries. Health workers who are assisting with the health needs (of the shelters) every day. Drivers for pick-up and delivery of goods/donations and our Joshua Youth team who are assisting with preparing meals.
We are blessed with so much support from our volunteers; however, we have had to make the difficult decision not to have a lot of people come through to the shelters to minimise social interaction. The few we do have, help us when we put food parcels together. Help us collect donations from different donors and households as well as a few professional chefs from some of the top hotels in Johannesburg, who help us prepare nutritious meals. During level 5 lockdown our volunteers helped us feed over a 1000 people a day in parking areas in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town.
Are you receiving government funding and/or help from big business to assist since the COVID-19 outbreak?
Gauteng Department of Social Development continues to support us financially in these trying times, but only for the Impilo Shelter. The government does not fund the other projects. Medical screening teams from COJ have supported us at the Impilo project. Our fundraising team is also working on getting more funds from other sources (corporates, individuals, churches, etc.) to assist with operations.
Let’s get back to your programmes for Pre-schoolers, Learners, Youth and Adults…
- MES JHB provides three high-quality Early Childhood Development Centres (Roly-Poly, Dinaledi and Kids Academy). The number of children per centre ranges from 110-130. MES pre-schools offer affordable solutions for early childhood development where we provide appropriate education, nutrition and stimulation to ensure critical development milestones are reached. These ECDs offer a safe and stimulating environment for children aged between six months and six years.
Social Support Services
- Social workers host quarterly workshops with parents, teachers and children.
- Health workers offer health education to parents, teachers and children concerning matters such as immunisation and childhood diseases.
- There are weekly Bible studies for the teachers and Bible clubs for the children.
- MES Johannesburg offers After school programme and Youth Clubs, which provide learners with educational and recreational support.
- We have a high school youth programme with a homework centre providing academic support and a safe space for youth to do their homework and spend their afternoons. They have access to computers for school projects, and they can participate in a variety of spiritual, life skills, recreational and academic activities. They also received a balanced, nutritious meal and mentorship.
- The youth in the inner-city have access to the dance school, with professional dance coaches and they partake in dance competitions and annual musical dance production. The name of the project is called Dance4aPurpose.
- We also have a variety of camps and events for youth which include the holiday programme, 10 Days of Hope outreach and camps for high school learners and grade 7 learners, where they are prepared for high school and assistance to understand their identity.
Social Support Services
- Social workers host assessment workshops for the After School Programme parents. Using the new M&E tool: Poverty Stoplight; social workers conduct needs assessments to determine the effective distribution of food parcels, for example. They also host workshops with the learners about bullying or abuse.
- Health workers assist with nutrition advice, immunisation, children’s diseases, growth profile (weight/height/muscle mass), eyesight, and hearing.
- Pastors offer Bible clubs and Bible study sessions.
- We provide advice and referral services to improve access to resources, assisting community members in job preparation, career guidance and job searching.
- Skills development (technical, life skills and business skills) to contribute to the empowerment of unskilled or unemployed youth. This increases successful job placement and empowers them to earn an independent living and make a positive contribution within their communities and the mainstream economy.
Social Support Services
- Social work service contributes to a reduction in poverty by building the capacity of poor families, youth and communities. They gain access to supportive social services and social relief support.
- Social workers and Community Engagement Officers conduct needs assessments and referrals to the training centre or relevant service unit external service provider. The youth also have access to workshops on parenting skills, gender-based violence, mental health, and life skills.
- Health workers also conduct workshops on personal well-being and the importance of taking chronic medication and do regular HIV and TB screening and testing.
- Restoration programmes are facilitated daily with the guidance of Pastors.
- Shelter and canteen services are available for homeless people at a small fee. MES aims to break the culture of hand-outs. Adults have access to all MES services, which includes the Assessment Centre, professional health services, social work services, spiritual enrichment, social relief and access to training the GROW Job Rehabilitation Programme.
- All clients are assessed before being housed in the shelters. This helps us identify what kind of help is needed. Based on the outcome of the assessment, they can either stay in our shelter or are referred to the appropriate service provider best fit to address their needs.
Social Support Services
- Daily Bible studies are available at the canteen for clients, and referrals are made to the Assessment Centre for social work intervention.
- God Restores Our World (GROW), is a job-and-life rehabilitation programme that creates shift opportunities where cash is earned for work done while being a part of a coaching and developmental programme. It provides the homeless and unemployed community with an alternative to aggressive begging and petty crime.
How can we help?
MES needs support in the following ways:
- Monthly toiletry packs
- Sleepwear for the winter for our shelters –the buildings are quite cold.
- Additional blankets
- Coffee, tea, sugar & milk for the winter months
- Potatoes, carrots, onions, fruits and meat is in high demand
- In Jhb we started a knitting and crochet club – we need more wool This initiative has really lifted the spirits, and they make amazing products. A market to sell these will soon be required.
- There is a need to extend this to sewing; we need at least five sewing machines.
- Non-perishable foods to help us increase the number of food parcels
- Toilet paper and cleaning material
- Craft and beadwork material
- Data for school support and paper to photocopy extra school support initiatives
- Protective clothing is needed – especially for the health team
Anything to add?
MES will continue to serve the homeless and vulnerable during the period of lockdown. However, we would also like to position solutions for the long term to ensure that temporary measures taken now will have a long-lasting positive impact on homelessness in South Africa.
Our Impilo facility will be essential in the weeks to come to accommodate overflow and potential beneficiaries that will need isolation if there is an outbreak in the shelters.
Phototography: Deon Raath and Pro Design Photographers