What it’s like being a privileged ‘OVC’

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The Department of Social Development has coined the acronym ‘OVC’ to speak of Orphaned and vulnerable children. This forms an umbrella term for children without parents, needy, and those living with disabilities.

By virtue of this, the government through the Department of Social Development provides quarterly ‘social grants’ to help relieve the children. This money meets the gap in providing essential basic needs, it hardly stretches far beyond into being labelled luxury. Unless of course, one has extensive means at their disposal and the grant comes into play as a mere add-on.

I lost my mother in 2008, I was 9. At the time I already wasn’t living with her, her sister had taken me in a year prior so as to give me a ‘fighting chance’. See, Ha Chaba Makhoakhoeng is a rural place in the North filled to the brim with young mothers without an education, and unhealthy drinking habits. A disheartening daily reality.

I was taken away lest I face the same treacherous fate. The new place was a breath of fresh air and extended my horizons; we weren’t exactly well off, just comfortable. Primary school was a breeze and in 2012 came the first high school year, the rite of passage had come. Early teens and autonomy.

I went to high school on a government sponsorship, of course that only covered school fees. It was in my second year that we applied for a social grant to help bridge the gap in our school needs, mine and my two little sisters’. The M600 which later appreciated to M750 was a little something that went a long way in seeing us through each day.

Now look, I was a thirteen-year-old that lived in what was and still is considered a ‘suburban area’ in Butha-Buthe and attended the highly renowned Butha-Buthe High School. That, to many, said I had means and to some extend a privilege over other OVCs I would have to wiggle my way through queues with every three months. The claim was true only on a misplaced compassion level.

The Social Workers, I believe, had taken their time to extensively and accurately assess every person’s need so as to ascertain alleviating it. You would get at the social welfare offices and be frowned on for looking clean. Ironically enough, the social officers would always preach hygiene just before dispatching the grants. It was always at the top of their concern and yet the biggest misconception going around us was that if you dared took time to look presentable you’d be immediately cut off from the social plan.

In a way that belief was heart-breaking as it informed you of the lengths people would go to protect their only means of sustenance. The downside was that most children genuinely could not afford to even try look presentable. That was always a tear-trigger.

Whenever the date came, it would be on a weekday and if it was not during the holidays I would always show up in school uniform as Butha-Buthe High you do not just miss school. I always felt out of place as in uniform you became an outcast. Would always be subjected to hearing of how better than everyone else there I thought myself to be.

Well it wasn’t entirely all bad, friends were made here and there. Over time it became a heavy burden to bear having to stand in those long queues and bear witness to just how people my age were barely getting by.

One would have a restless child strapped to their back, another barefoot in the cold. Most of them came from child-headed families, abusive backgrounds and poverty stricken realities. This grant was all they had. While I needed my M250, after division among three, for basics like sanitary napkins; they needed their grant for basic survival.

It ate at my conscience as most people pointed out that my place was better off filled by a person in need, because apparently I didn’t fit the criteria. In a way I felt my need and my sisters’ was being invalidated. Like we had no right just because I was in school. As if by mere virtue of that I was well off.

There were many trying times along the way. My sisters lived less ‘comfortably’ than I did. In remote areas, exposed to the poverty I was taken away from. The grant cushioned their discomfort. It was always soothing to get a call about how they were able to get those buccaneers they so needed.

This social grant always came through where our guardians fell short. The years have been good to us; the girls have been doing well at school and one starts high school in the next year. I will always believe the grant played a role in laying the foundation for their prosperity.

Looking back, taking time to appreciate what we had because of the grant would always make me feel content and at peace. In those moments, the criticism always became obsolete because I was reminded of why we even made an application in the first place. With time, mean conversations of my privilege had become irrelevant and of zero substance to me. I felt whole.

Those four years queuing at the social welfare offices helped develop my sensitivity and opened me up to different realities I was previously ignorant of. The interactions I had with people from different walks of life are worth treasuring.

I helped a visually impaired man navigate his way through the long queues in the scorching hot sun. Listened to an elderly woman affectionately tell me about her grandson that lived with a disability, watched her face glare up and those old eyes light up as she talked of how she’d never entrust his care in someone else as long as she lived, saw her almost tear up when she described how the going gets tough at times.

Stood in queues for many elderly people because in a way it made me feel fulfilled, it might sound egotistic but honestly I would do it again just to feel that content brought by lending a helping hand again.

It has been three years since my last ‘pay’ and I still think of ‘M’e Lijo and Ausi Sephasi; the way in which they’d each ask about how school was going, the concern they’d show in my development, the way they inspired this rural girl to aspire to greatness.

Each different time moulded and added to me a layer of self-worth and love for everyone around me, taught me that every little deed of kindness does a lot in improving one’s day; be it even if just one day. I will always hold memories of those days dear. In my own perception — I truly was, without a shed of doubt, privileged.

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