By Aalyia Sadruddin ‘
Good afternoon everyone, how are you today?’ said Kristine Pearson in a cheerful voice. I smiled nervously as I took out my newly purchased notebook. I had been looking forward to this visit for a while. It was the first time I was to make a trip into the field under the guidance of Kristine, my mentor who is the CEO of Lifeline Energy, as an aspiring researcher.
Our field site was a new MaAfrika Tikkun community centre in Diepsloot, a township settlement which sits on the edge of one of Johannesburg’s most up-market suburbs, Dainfern. Diepsloot is home to roughly 150,000 people, most of who live in two by three meter shacks constructed from pretty much any material one can lay his or her hands on. Such materials include wood, plastic, cardboard and scrap metal. HIV/AIDS, high unemployment, food insecurity, recurrent xenophobia and persistent crime are endemic issues in settlements such as Diepsloot. MaAfrika Tikkun is a NGO which is committed to care for vulnerable children in townships in a compassionate manner that is sustainable over time.
I visited numerous informal settlements in my home country Kenya however I was embarrassed at my naivety when I visited MaAfrika Tikkun, for having never considered the importance of clean lighting. Each girl and boy in the group we visited was susceptible to contracting ailments which affect their eyes and lungs. Such children are forced to use kerosene and candles as their homes lack electricity. I researched kerosene and read that children drink it, as they mistake it for juice or water.
This fact made my nerve twitch even faster when I heard, Tshepo, 12, said that he watched his two year-old sister drink kerosene, which subsequently led to her death. Tsepho’s story makes me question the limited attention paid by governments towards the use of unsafe household fuel. In addition, the children in the group were afraid of being kidnapped or ‘stolen’ as one of the girls, Mercy, expressed. Using candles and kerosene makes it difficult for normal activities such as completing homework using the toilet, and visiting friends after the sun sets. Even though the children faced hardships in their everyday lives, each appeared to have the will to progress, a quality that made me respect all 18 children even more deeply.
My afternoon in Diepsloot made me realise the importance of distributing aid in a locally sensitive, respectful, yet effective manner. Attaining access to clean, safe and sustainable energy has the ability to plant a permanent smile on the faces of those who are not accustomed to having access to the resource. I was dually humbled and injected with hope at seeing each child engage in an astoundingly simple winding activity, and create their own light- a true Harry Potter moment.
My sincere appreciation goes to Kristine Pearson and Chhavi Sharma who over the last six months have taken me under their wings, helped to train and encouraged me to understand the broader vision of Lifeline Energy.
*Aalyia Sadruddin is a Researcher for Lifeline Energy.