Visiting the Johannesburg Children’s Home

This week I was thrilled to undertake my first photographic outing since our arrival in Johannesburg a few weeks ago. I joined the head of StormCloud Advertising to go through to the Johannesburg Children’s Home (JCH) to take some photographs that they could use on their website, in funding campaigns, for flyers and any other media or communications platform they want to make use of. Sitting in the passenger seat as we navigated the chaotic (and still, frankly terrifying) highways around the city in order to get to their premises, I wondered what this organisation would be like and what positive changes they were offering to the lives of the children they care for. I was curious to see how the site was managed and how the organisation was run. Founded in 1892, the home is a denominational establishment that aims to take in children that come from an abusive or traumatic homes. They offer housing, education, therapy and development activities to the children of all ages that they have living with them; being given care at JCH.

Upon arrival to the large, green premises, I walked into the reception and met a few of the staff that worked there – both in the admin and social work departments. We had gotten there a little early and the children had not yet arrived back from school for the day, so we headed over to photograph some of the facilities- such as the hall or laundry services – that get hired out as a source of income to assist with the running costs of JCH and it’s programmes. Upon arriving at the hall, I was delighted to discover that there was a lot of art  hanging on boards and walls from a recent exhibition of the children’s work. I found it really comforting to see how much creative room the children at JCH are offered. In Africa especially, creative thought leading to creative design and entrepreneurship offers income and a lifestyle to many. Due to this, it was really encouraging to see that these children were developing a love and skill for art and creativity under the guidance of JCH. Their work was of a high standard and exceptionally beautiful; various pieces caught my eye as things I would love to take home and hang from my own walls… and they were painted by individuals under the age of 18! Needless to say, I hadn’t even met any children or toured the grounds, but I was already impressed.

As photographing the art came to a close, the children arrived in their school buses and a small group of 5 joined us as the main group we’d be photographing in and around the JCH property for the afternoon. All the children were confident and friendly, happy to be involved in an unusual activity for an afternoon. Their warmth and strength of character was infectious and they chatted to me excitedly as we walked across from reception to the vegetable gardens where we wanted to take the first photos of the day. We got to the garden and the children excitedly dived amongst the plants, showing off an impressive knowledge of food names and a good attitude toward wanting to partake in working in the gardens and being out in the sun. The younger girls with us giggled as they found out that the bright green fruits that were growing were in fact tomatoes, and not apples as they had thought, and the two older boys proudly pointed to and named cabbages, spinach and other herbs and veggies flourishing in the ground.

From there, we began to walk across to the housing areas in JCH. Within this organisation, they provide housing in a cottage system, with many 5-8 bedroom cottages scattered across the property. Each cottage has a house mom and 3-8 children of varying ages living in the house in order to provide a family-like living environment. We walked through the cottages, heading to the therapy rooms and computer centre. In these on-site facilities, children are offered social work and therapy sessions to overcome abuses or traumas they had suffered. A computer room also offers them the ability to learn computer literary skills and utilize other technological resources such as the internet. Whilst there, one of the younger girls expressed an interest in my camera and how to take a photograph. Always eager to share the enjoyment of photography, I placed the strap around her neck and placed her small fingers on the buttons in order to allow her to take a few pictures of her own. Her friends were happy to oblige her by posing and soon the camera was being passed from small hands to small hands in order to have turns being either photographer or model. They laughed and fooled around and took pictures of one another; they spent ages looking through the images they had taken and laughing over together. It was really encouraging to see how happy and carefree these children were with themselves and among one another. I don’t really know what I was expecting before I arrived, but I was invigorated by their energy and excited approach to the world and people.

From the computer rooms we moved across to one of the houses where the two youngest girls from the group stayed. On the way we stopped off at the art rooms where the children showed off their painting ability and added their handprints to the wall outside that featured the handprints and names of many children that went before them. Upon arrival to the cottage, we met the house mother who was putting together lunch for the children. The youngest girl in the group grabbed my hand and asked if she could show me her room. I happily obliged, being led through the house and up the stairs to her bedroom. She excitedly showed me her clothing cupboard that she had reorganised the day before and asked if she could take a photo of it as well as photos of me in her room and on the stairs. I let her direct me, giving her the freedom to take the images she wanted within her space, and she giggled and showed me each shot as she took them as we walked along. Each room was modest, with two beds and two cupboards, but was clean and well stocked with everything the children would need to make this their home. The house also sported a recreational and games room for the children and had handmade anti-bullying and life-encouragement signs all over the walls. Outside the front door there was a line of polished school shoes, neat and ready for the children to wear to school the following day.

Like most social organisations in South Africa, the JCH could certainly do with more funding and staff. However, they are not letting this impact the work that they are doing for the children that they take in. The children are being housed well and are being provided with great developmental resources within a caring environment that offers them the care, support and opportunities that they need. Having arrived at JCH with few expectations, it was a pleasant experience learning more about the organisation, the work that they do and the much needed resources and care that they provide.

If you would like to donate to the Johannesburg Children’s Home, please click here. Alternatively, visit their website and see other ways that you can get involved in making this organisation even better than it already is. Organisations like this thrive if supported and considered by a community around them and it is certainly one deserving of one’s time, resources and attention.

Johannesburg Children’s Home
Photographs taken by Jamie Dimitra Ashton