Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A soup kitchen without religion

A volunteer-mother reading a picture book to the kids while waiting for their lunch to cook. – All pictures by APH

TCC Co-Founder and Director Hayward Sagembo (left), explaining the “anomalous” situation in social services provided by NGOs in his settlement

Kids queuing for especially-prepared lunch soup

February 19, 2010
Letters from Port Moresby


AFTER making a headcount of orphans who came for last Saturday’s feeding session, he walked back to me and said: “Fredo, we got 51 kids today. Anyway, attendance is better today than last Saturday’s.”
Actually, this should be a big concern, but Hayward Sagembo was not worried.

“Guardian parents are now realizing that we are doing our best to serve these orphans, making the most of what we got here so they are again letting their kids to come back and have food from our soup kitchen.”
Hayward, 34, is the Co-Founder and Director of the Tembari Children’s Care (TCC) Inc, an orphanage looking after at least 78 children who reside with respective parent-guardians at ATS Oro Settlement at 7 Mile outside of Port Moresby.

Since 2003 when there were only 35 orphans under its care, TCC has been giving lunch meal to the settlement orphans at least four times a week, including a Saturday feeding session.

The past seven years were crunch years as the three founders, Rishabh Bhandari, Penny Sagembo, Hayward Sagembo; had spent their own money to pay for orphans’ food. These days, however, they are better off with some modest funding help from two foundations, a private vessel towing company and kind-hearted individuals.

But two Saturdays ago, the feeding attendance dropped to 45. Hayward knew why.

“You see,” he told me after a feeding session last Saturday: “We are having problems with some people in the settlement. They are spreading wrong information to parents and guardians of those orphans about TCC.

“I feel that they are out to ruin our program for these kids and I know their motives.”

“They” are those individuals who, after failing in politics, have recently started their own “feeding program” at the settlement.

But the trouble is that they are trying to “pirate” the kids from TCC’s so they could gather as much children as they could and use the statistics for funding proposals to foundations and funding institutions.

And this has upset Hayward. In their attempt to steal his wards, he said individuals are also allegedly spreading lies.

One such lie is that TCC is just holding feeding sessions to get funds and pocket them, an allegation which he vehemently denied.

He explained: As a community-based organization (CBO) registered with the Investment Promotion Authority (IPA), TCC is governed by laws and by its own constitution, with counter-checks from officers for transparency in all its activities, including its spending.

“But what is worst is that they are telling settlement parents that our kids are orphans of people who died from HIV/AIDS and that these kids are infected or HIV-positive, this is, of course, untrue!”

Such misinformation, says Hayward, has scared many parents and guardians that they prevented the orphans – about 28 -- from coming to read books at TCC’s learning center and to have lunch meals.

The fact is, Hayward and his wife Penny know more about HIV/AIDS than anybody else in the settlement, their being certified HIV/AIDS counsellors.

Hayward is a full-time HIV/AIDS counsellor with Simon of Cyrene VCT based at Hohola, while Penny is a technical officer for sexual health at the Save the Children, Inc, an NGO based in Boroko.

“Those parents, being ignorant that they are, are getting confused of the information fed to them by TCC’s rival groups, because if these were true, how come TCC is getting full support from foundations like WeCare and Digicel Foundation?”

Just to think that WeCare just spent more than K7,000 in school fees on TCC’s 42 school-age children who are now enrolled in 17 preparatory and elementary schools around Port Moresby.

Besides, WeCare and a Port Moresby-based vessel towing company Pacific Towing Ltd led by its general manager, John Whitfield, are each giving a monthly grant of K400 to pay for the cost of TCC’s four times-a-week feeding program and related expenses.

It is the consistency in the way Rishabh, Hayward and Penny, who are the TCC founders alongwith the volunteer mothers have pursued their services to the kids, that the kind-hearted individuals are now volunteering to sponsor TCC’s Saturday feeding where the orphans are given especially-cooked lunch.

Marina van der Vlies, chief executive of Digicel Foundation, a TCC benefactor,earlier described TCC as “visionary” for the great things it has done to look after the orphans’ education.

To neutralize the negative effects of misinformation, TCC’s volunteer-mothers went around the settlement, and are still doing so these days, explaining to guardian parents TCC’s welfare program.

Finally, doubting parents have seen the light, having been convinced of TCC’s earnestness in helping the kids.

Hayward said that being community-based, Tembari Children’s Care Inc, has its resources right in ATS Oro Settlement, and these resources are the children under their care.

“We are right here in their midst, we see each child’s problem at once and we try to deal with such and we have instilled in the minds of well-meaning parent-guardians that they should own TCC and support it. They should consider TCC as their own because it’s the one that will take care of orphans left to them by their deceased parents.”
While TCC sits right in the settlement, other social-oriented groups trying to operate at ATS Oro Settlement are Port Moresby-based. The settlement is home to 9,000 people of whom 3,000 are children.

“Those other groups are all based in Port Moresby … they come to the settlement to interview local people, gather facts and stats, submit their funding grant proposals to relevant institutions, and disappear for good once the cheques are released,” Hayward said.

“Their supposed resources – the poor people, particularly the children who are supposed to benefit from such grants, are here in the settlement but these groups are operating away from them, with no contact at all; and their only link is the fact that these children have been used by those groups to obtain such funding grants.

“I think this is not right.”

Because TCC is blind to churches’ denominations, it effectively serves the nutritional, education and parental needs of its children who are from 10 different religious groups.

But in the case of churches providing social services at the settlement, which Hayward declined to identify, the situation is “ridiculous”.

“Their delivery of services is ineffective, because not everyone gets the benefit from money these churches receive from donors, including the Government. Government funds should not discriminate anyone.”

“If you belong to a particular denomination, you are not welcome to receive the benefits, say medical or educational, and you don’t get fed, as in a feeding program despite your hunger because you don’t belong to their church. How could this happen to our people who are all children of one God?”

Well, there are many more “anomalous” situations floating around but TCC, through Rishabh, Penny and Hayward; and their volunteer-mothers, are determined to rise above them, for the sake of the 78 orphans.

Oh yes, last Saturday, two new guardian parents came to see TCC founders to “enroll” with TCC five newly-orphaned kids who were left to their care.

Five more mouths to feed add to TCC’s burden, but it’s all right. Rishabh, Hayward and Penny have always believed God will provide.

(If you wish to sponsor the special Saturday lunch meal for the 83 orphans and abandoned kids, which costs at least K150, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. After buying all the ingredients, I do the cooking myself. One reader of this column, Mr John Whitfield, GM for Pacific Towing Ltd, Port Moresby, has bought at Brian Bell two huge cast aluminum cooking pots (30 litre-pot) to make it easy for us to cook the food. The specially-prepared Saturday food would give the kids a decent, nutritious lunch meal, which they don’t get on weekday feeding sessions. Weekday lunch meals consist only of bread and a thin slice of cheap meat loaf or black tuna meat or a combination of kawkaw and boiled veggies as the budget for each meal is only limited to K40. So, nothing much when it comes to nutrition.)

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