WINTERTON, South Africa– Long rows of rainbow-colored huts sit neatly on a golden field like crayons inside a Crayola box. The tiny, concrete structures shelter large Zulu families who live in poverty on the outskirts of Winterton, a rural farming town in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. The government-built township is home to more than 6,000 Zulu, the country’s largest ethnic group. Many residents here suffer from unemployment, hunger and diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
The Isibani Community Centre, a compound of cheerful, mustard-colored buildings located across the street from the township, is trying to improve health, education and self-sufficiency among residents. “Fortunately the lifestyle of the Zulu people is improving, but for many, daily living is an ongoing desperate struggle to simply survive,” says Isibani facility manager Sofi Ntshalintshali.
The non-profit center, staffed mostly with volunteers, offers a mix of programs from food and clothing distribution to HIV/AIDS awareness counseling to day care for children and adults with special needs. Trained caregivers make home visits to sick residents, delivering food and assessing health. Some of the food is grown in the center’s large, shaded garden. Vegetables and seedlings from the garden are sold to residents at affordable prices. The compound includes classrooms, offices, a church, a physical therapy room, a counseling center, a kitchen and bakery, and respite rooms for victims of sexual abuse.
I toured Isibani (meaning “Bring the Light” in Zulu) on a sunny Friday afternoon, a few hours after residents had picked up their weekly food bundles, which include maize donated by local farmers. The center was mostly deserted, though a handful of children were jumping rope on the rusty-red dirt. My camera distracted them, and they posed for a shot, squealing, “Shoot!” I obliged and they crowded around me to view the digital image, which returned a spill of giggles. (Enjoy the slideshow below.)