* Community Trust aims to impact young people

Big-hearted Bana Ba Letsatsi Trust in Maun exists to make a positive impact on the lives of young people. Executive Director, Taboka Rotsi fields questions from Botswana Guardian on what her organisation is about.

BG: Please introduce yourself. Taboka Rotsi: I am Taboka Rotsi, the Executive Director of Bana Ba Letsatsi Trust, Maun Botswana. I am mom to a four years old princess called Victoria Tjeludo Naledi. I have worked for civil society organisations for the past 20 years. Prior to joining Bana Ba Letsatsi, I worked as Programs Administrator in the Northern Region of Botswana for the Botswana Red Cross Society for six years. I was driven to this kind of work by my love to serve humanity, especially those who are less fortunate. Being able to help those facing challenges in life gives me lots of joy. It delights the humanitarian spirit in me.

BG: How long have you been working for Bana Ba Letsatsi?

TR: I joined Bana Ba Letsatsi Trust in 2016. The name Bana Ba Letsatsi was derived from the fact that Maun is a sunny area. Before enrolling with us, the children were always roaming the hot streets of Maun hence the name, which literally means Sunshine Children. Figuratively, the name represents hope and light.

BG: How many people does Bana Ba Letsatsi employ and how many children do you have?

TR: We have 12 employees and three volunteers. We have a total of 121 children and 27 young people aged between 19 and 26 under our youth skills development programme.

BG: What are the aims and objectives of Sunshine Children and to what extent are you achieving them?

TR: Our vision is to ensure that all children become responsible, social, and self-reliant members of society. Our mission is to enhance the nation's capacity to assist in keeping children and youth in Maun away from roaming the streets.

We also help the children avoid negative influences by empowering them through rehabilitative education and psycho-social support. Our objective is to rehabilitate school dropouts and send them back to mainstream schools through the Out of School Education of Children programme, create a supportive environment for orphans and vulnerable children, youth, and caregivers, and improve access to essential services such as education and health care, as well as strengthen the capacity of families and caregivers to protect and care for their children, strengthen community-based responses to provide immediate and long-term support to vulnerable households.

BG: What facilities does Bana Ba Letsatsi have?

TR: Bana Ba Letsatsi Trust has a beautiful, newly-built secure campus where the beneficiaries will thrive. The new campus has four secure, well-sized classrooms to accommodate 70 students. Additionally, there is reliable water, power supply and security alarms.

The main objective of the new BBL Centre is to improve the services we provide by doing the following: creating an improved, safe environment to support our beneficiaries’ rehabilitation and learning, promoting a sense of community and belonging for our beneficiaries and for the Maun community and develop a space best suited to BBL’s current programmes and needs of our beneficiaries.

The new building is a U-shape block which includes two separate classrooms, an administration centre, multifunctional rooms, a combined digital room, and a library. The campus will also have areas for recreation, that is, a playground, and ball sports areas. In addition to areas for skills building, we have a vegetable garden and chicken rearing spaces. The facility is a place which the kids are very proud to call their school.

BG: Are there plans of expanding the facility?

TR: Bana Ba Letsatsi is currently fundraising for the second phase of a building which will be the education centre with four classrooms, a digital classroom, a library, two counselling rooms, two staff rooms, an eating and indoor area named the Sunshine Hall as well as a spacious kitchen with a cold room.

BG: Who sponsors Sunshine Children?

TR: Bana Ba Letsatsi depends on donations from individuals, companies and international aid. For the past 10 years, 75 per cent of the funds came from the local safari industry in Maun such as Ker and Downey Botswana, Safari Destinations, Travel For Impact, African Bush Camps, Harkness Safaris among others.

BG: To what extent is the spectre of drop-outs a problem and what causes the children to drop out? How are you addressing it?

TR: The people of Maun are very much aware of the services we provide to the children and call in to alert us about children who have dropped out of school. In addition to community awareness of our services, 75 per cent of our beneficiaries are referred through the Social and Community Development and schools.

BG: How successful are the rehabilitation efforts and how many of the children graduate to mainstream schools?

TR: Of the 121 school-going, 93 were reinstated back in mainstream schools in 2020/2021 and all those back to school are all performing well academically.

BG: To what extent do you interact with the parents of the children and do the parents contribute to the rehabilitation of their children? Do you empower parents with parenting skills?

TR: We hold parent-child communication sessions every two months to discuss the rehabilitation process both at the centre and at home. The discussion further gives parents tips on how they can support positive behaviour change and the dynamics of parenting in this day and age. For parents who are not cooperating, we engage government social workers and the police in cases where the children are neglected and abused.

BG: Do you come across parents who neglect their children and what do you do as an organisation?

TR: Sixty-five per cent (65 per cent) of our beneficiaries are neglected and drop out of school because of a lack of parental guidance and love.

BG: Do the parents understand and appreciate your effort and do they always welcome you when you visit their homes to discuss issues pertaining to the children?

TR: Most parents appreciate the services offered to their children and them as parents. They are very open to us conducting home visits. Home visits are of paramount importance because that's when we assess the home environment and ensure the safety and security of our beneficiaries.

BG: Do you encounter situations whereby the children are home alone because the parents are employed? Under the circumstances, what role do you play?

TR: We have encountered that and we have engaged the child protection unit and the parents themselves to find a solution in terms of a safe place for the kids to stay while their parents are out in the deltas. The kids normally get placed with relatives and regular counselling and home visits are conducted to ensure that the children are safe. In severe cases of neglect, we place the children at the Women Against Rape Shelter while we find a solution.

BG: Do you assist the children on issues pertaining to tourism management?

TR: Some of our graduates have been employed in the tourism sector.

BG: To what extent is the government helping? TR: The government provided us with a house in the Chobe ward, Maun, for 20 years. The house is currently used as a skills development centre for our young people who were unable to progress to tertiary schools. The OSEC programme implemented by BBL is facilitated by facilitators trained and provided by the ministry of education together with the OSEC curriculum.

The government has been supporting our feeding programme for learners at the centre since 2017. It Is unfortunate that it was cut up to 70 per cent this year due to Covid and we have only received food from the education department in Maun only three times this year. Because of where our beneficiaries come from, not having enough food to feed them daily leaves them very frustrated especially since the meal they have at the centre may be the last meal for the day. We are in talks with the government and hopefully, soon they will be buying enough food to feed our children at the centre.

BG: As community leaders, what role do the dikgosi play in the rehabilitation of the children?

TR: The village leadership supports BBL in cases where children need to apply for birth certificates and identity cards. They also sensitise community members on issues regarding children dropping out of schools and the consequences.