Itipini Project, Umtata, South Africa
By Karl Grobl
The Itipini clinic located in Umtata, South Africa, provides basic medical care and supplemental food to more than 300 families living in the city’s garbage dump. The free health clinic, school, and food distribution center, located amid the garbage, is funded entirely by charitable contributions and without government support. Ex-patriot Jenny McConnachie has been running the clinic for over 5 years. She visits the site daily.
Jenny McConnachie sees patients in the clinic building which has no electricity or running water. She sees an average of 50 patients per day. While Jenny cares for the sick, other volunteers distribute the weekly ration of corn meal, rice and cooking oil to the waiting crowd.
Families live in homes constructed from discarded building materials. During the day, families sift through mountains of garbage, looking for anything of value. The most fortunate find discarded shoes to protect their bare feet from the ever-present shards of broken glass and sharp twisted metal. Whatever saleable items they find are sold in the local market and provides their sole source of income.
Life in this shanty town is unquestionably difficult, but there is a palpable feeling of “community”. The proud residents have set up a system of streets, passageways and alleys through the “neighborhood”. There is even a security guard or “commandant” who questions unfamiliar visitors.
Despite appalling conditions, life here is safer than in Umtata, where crime, drugs and violence are prevalent and escalating. Recently, Jenny found a local physical education teacher who has agreed to start a soccer league in the dump. The soccer program will help keep the children from wandering in to town. Jenny just keeps thinking of ways to make life better, one person at a time. South Africa needs more Jenny McConnachies.