Feebearing - Cape Town - 140529 - The Lakheni After School Centre at Lahluza Secondary School is helping keep children off the streets and developing skills. The Cape Argus joined them today for music lessons. Pictured: Music teacher Billy Ontong teaches recorder. REPORTER: DYLAN OKTOBER. PICTURE: WILLEM LAW.

Cape Town - On average, children spend seven hours at school every week day, working towards a better future for themselves. The fortunate ones return home to parents, a meal and constructive support when doing homework.

But that is a far cry from the reality of thousands of “latchkey kids” in Cape Town’s poorer communities.

The Partners with After School Care Projects (Pascap) Trust is working to address the “overwhelming effects of poverty in the lives of children in South Africa”.

Launched in 1992, it aims to provide a “holistic teaching experience” to children in underprivileged areas, at no cost to the parents.

The trust, which relies on private, state and lottery funding, now has five after-school care centres in the Western Cape and three more being developed in the Eastern Cape. One is in the heart of Khaye-litsha, at Luhlaza Secondary School.

The Lakheni Centre, with its purple walls and brightly coloured posters, was hosting a group of 12 teenagers when the Cape Argus visited on a cold Thursday afternoon.

Having just finished a tiring school day of work and assignments, the group of 12 were seated in the revamped classroom, around an enormous desk.

Each teenager had a sandwich and a warm beverage in front of them, and Nabillia Fritz, a registered counsellor and facilitator, asked whose turn it was to say grace.

Fritz was a counsellor at Rape Crisis before realising that she had a passion for children and loved working with them.

“They like the programme. What they appreciate the most is the input they themselves have regarding the programme and what learning methods best suit them.”

Fritz started facilitating at the centre in January and says she had to adapt to her new surroundings and a different cultural dynamic.

“The language barrier was a bit of a challenge at first, and the fact that the children and I could not relate because we practically came from different worlds. But as time went by they warmed to me and we’re like a big family. I am like their big sister. I learn from them as much as they do from me,” she says.

Fritz says the children are showing signs of a sense of belonging, achievement and comfort, all of which contributes to the extra pillar of support the centre provides.

Soccer enthusiast and aspiring scientist Lathitha Mgongelwa, 14, says that although he disliked maths last year, he has found the extra lessons at the centre helpful and is aiming for 80 percent or more in his June progress report.

“After school we come here and we get help with our homework. We’ve learnt many things and also have fun playing around. We even have a maths tutor. When I came to high school, mathematics wasn’t my favourite subject, but my tutor helped me understand and I am more confident in class,” he says.

A parent, Ntahbiseng Ngaka, says she has seen a great improvement in her 14-year-old son, Lehlohonolo, since he started visiting the centre.

“I like the programme. It changes lives, not only the children but their families too. I saw a great improvement in how my son deals with his personal problems.”

Ngaka says Lehlohonolo was always angry and he would never speak to her about what he was going through at school or at home.

“I wish every parent could send their child there because they are helping us as parents too. Because of the programme, I know how to deal with my son’s emotions because he teaches me how to do it.”

When asked about the need for after-school care programmes in the city’s poorer areas, Patrick Solomons of Molo Songololo, a children’s rights organisation, says: “There is a need for various age-appropriate activities for children and young people – safe and caring spaces, as well as supervision...

Each school should have an aftercare school programme encompassing entertainment, sports, arts, culture, and studying for all learners up to 4pm. School feeding programmes are essential in poor areas. It must be subsidised by the state.”

Paddy Attwell, spokesman for the Western Cape Education Department, says the provincial govern-ment has adopted a “whole of society” approach to the issue of aftercare.

“The provincial government’s main aftercare programme is called the Mass Participation, Access to Opportunity and Development (MOD) programme. The programme provides access to sports and cultural activities at about 180 MOD centres across the Western Cape, including the Cape Flats,” says Attwell.

“The department is currently not working with the Pascap Trust, but will gladly work with any organisation seeking to improve the quality of life of learners in our poor communities.”

In Khayelitsha, the Lakheni Centre is filled with the sounds of instruments as the children practise the recorder, guitar and keyboard.

Fritz says that while the children continue to have trouble motivating themselves, “as a counsellor I can only play my role as best as I can and ensure that when they go home, they leave with the reassurance of being supported and the confidence to take on the world”.

Cape Argus