Newcastle’s pillars of strength, the people who care for children, the disabled and animals

Kevin and Maxine Dladla aim to make a positive impact on young children's lives.
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Working behind the scenes, there are pillars of strength within every community. Individuals who make it their life’s mission to help those in need, but shy away from the limelight.

The Newcastillian focuses on four people who make it their life’s mission to make a positive impact on the town, often doing so in silence without expecting any reward.

Situated in Fairleigh is a pre-primary school, one that stands as a beacon of hope for the less fortunate living in Fairleigh and its surrounding areas.

Once falling under the umbrella of Newcastle Child Welfare, Peter Pan Pre-Primary is now being steered by Kevin and Maxine Dladla.

Kevin and Maxine Dladla aim to make a positive impact on young children’s lives.

Taking over the reins of the school in April 2019, Kevin and Maxine are looking at creating an opportunity for low-income parents to send their children to school.

“There are parents who want to send their children to pre-school but cannot afford it. We want to be able to assist them and give the children the opportunity to have access to foundation phase education,” explains Maxine.

Through their non-profit organisation, the Manna Foundation, Kevin and Maxine are making leaping changes at the school and the area surrounding it.

“We jumped into the project last year, challenging everything we were told we can’t do. We held an open day for the school, had a fun run and even hosted a dance as a fundraiser. These are things which weren’t done for the school before and they were all a success,” says Kevin.

At the end of the 2019 academic school year, the pre-primary had 13 children. However, the school now has 18 registrations.

“We will be re-opening the school on March 31 with the start of the second school term, as we decided to close the school for three months. The reason for doing this, is that we have a lot of changes for the school,” explains Kevin.

The changes involved improving the visual look of the school, enhancing the overall building and renaming it to Little Mignions Pre-Primary.

The purpose of doing this is to create a positive environment for less-fortunate children living in Fairleigh.

“We want the children to see it is okay to aim high and to want more from life. Many people have accepted their way of life, but we want the children to want to be able to interact with children from other suburbs, learn more and see there is more to life than what they are sometimes exposed to,” says Maxine.

Driven by the desire to create a positive change and to remove the negative stigma which often surrounds Fairleigh, the couple is truly becoming a beacon of hope.

“Last year, I started morning prayers with a group of youngsters from the area. We would talk about things which affected them, their lives and their dreams. We are also getting a lot of youth who were once on drugs to get actively involved in the community. By doing this, we get them to take ownership. Last year, when some youngsters attempted to steal from the school, the youngsters who were involved in the prayer group told us who tried to steal and this is because we gave them a chance and trusted them,” says Kevin.

By giving alternatives to youngsters who were once on drugs, while promoting education at a foundation level, Kevin and Maxine are two pillars of society.

As the couple strive to make a positive impact on the lives of children, there are those whose mission is to help the disabled.

The Association for the Physically Challenged, Nil Desperandum, is more than a mere centre for Newcastle’s physically handicapped.

It is a home, a place of friendship and a glimmer of hope for Newcastle’s disabled community. Working behind the scenes, ensuring the residents of Nil Desperandum lead a life filled with love, is Chantal Erasmus.

Chantal Erasmus with dedicated staff members.

As a home for disabled people, how did the residents come under Nil Desperandum’s care?

Chantal explains that some of the residents were left disabled due to cerebral palsy, accidents, shootings or other health-related issues. “We have one resident who was left disabled after he was attacked by a gang,” explains Chantal. 

Overseeing the operations of Nil Desperandum and working closely with each of the residents, is there one person’s life has truly touched her?

“It is hard to say whose story has touched me the most,” smiles Chantal. However, she says there are moments where each resident’s life touches her in a unique way.

“During the Christmas period, only nine people were able to go home. This touched my heart, as some of the residents no longer have families, or their family members are too old and frail to care for them even for a day.”

Then there is Bongi, a woman whose life changed forever after she matriculated. “She is only 28-years-old, but she developed Spinal TB and this left her unable to walk and blind. Before getting sick, she matriculated and had her whole life ahead of her.”

With each resident touching her life, Chantal says it is truly heartbreaking to look after the disabled at times. However, it is these very residents that see her returning to work every single day.

“If I am ever feeling down, the residents soon have me smiling. They are so full of love and can boost your spirits right up,” she smiles.

Working with disabled people on a daily basis, what are some of the challenges Chantal faces?

According to Chantal, funding is one of the biggest challenges she faces. However, despite the financial constraints, Chantal and her team often make do with what they have.

“We are also fortunate that there are people who support us and contribute to our cause on a regular basis, whether it is through meals or monetary donations.”

What projects is Nil Desperandum involved in?

“Our social workers see 154 disabled people in both Madadeni and Osizweni. As we can only house 25 residents, when we have enough donations, we ensure these people get something as not a lot of people know about them,” says Chantal.

As Nil Desperandum strives to assist Newcastle’s disabled community with Chantal at the helm, she is a true heroine, working silently in the background for the better of others.

While Chantal strives to help Newcastle’s disabled community, Heather Gero is a woman who renowned in Newcastle as an animal advocate.

Heather Gero with two dogs from the SPCA.

“I joined the SPCA 15 years ago. I played tennis with a friend and she mentioned how the organisation needed a treasure, and like most people, I did not want to get too involved as I really felt for the animals. So, I agreed on the condition that I would not see the animals.”

However, this soon changed when Heather quickly realised how much the animals needed the community’s support. She got involved with the animals and has striven to make a positive contribution to animal welfare in Newcastle.

From responding to cases of animal cruelty, educating people and rehoming animals, the Newcastle SPCA is an organisation which focuses on the wellbeing of all animals within our town. Heather working either silently in the background or standing in the front rows, acting as the voice for Newcastle’s animals.

“It can be heartbreaking at times, but the reward you gain from helping another living being that cannot speak for itself far outweighs the heartache that goes with it,” Heather explains.

 What drives Heather to always give it her all at the Newcastle SPCA?

“Animals exude unconditional love, regardless of where they come from. And if we can rescue just one animal, that animal is so thankful and rewards you with love. That is one of the main things that drives me.”

Educating people and seeing them become better pet owners is also rewarding, Heather emphasises.

“It is not a right to own an animal. It is a privilege and people should not own more pets than they can afford. An animal needs more than just a home. They need constant attention, love, food and there are the vet bills which people often forget about.”

Facing an array of challenges in assisting animals and combatting cruelty, Heather says working at the SPCA is not without its highlights.

“One of the highlights is seeing an animal which has come from an abusive background, get adopted and then seeing that animal being cared for, loved and being accepted into the family makes everything worth it. While re-homing is not our primary focus, as combating acts of cruelty is, relieving an animal’s pain and seeing him or she find their forever home, is an amazing feeling,”

Thanks to these four individuals, the lives of less-fortunate children, Newcastle’s disabled and the animals of our community have a brighter tomorrow.  Kevin and Maxine Dladla, Chantal Erasmus and Heather Gero, you are all true pillars of strength.

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