KWA-ZULU NATAL, South Africa — UNICEF estimates that 14 million South Africans lived below the poverty line in 2022, nearly five million of which were children. With Covid-19, natural disasters and global political turbulence exacerbating poverty in South Africa in recent years, its children are becoming more vulnerable than ever to poverty and violence. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Pippa Jarvis, Managing Director of TLC Children’s Home, discussed the organization’s mission and work to support vulnerable children in South Africa.
TLC Children’s Home
“I wanna be able to bring people in who feel like there is no hope, and show them that with a little bit of love and support you can be your best self,” Jarvis said. “And that when you are your best self, you will do…what I’ve done for you. You’re gonna do that for other people.”
TLC Children’s Home is a refuge for orphaned and vulnerable children in South Africa. It was founded in 1993 in response to the increasing number of orphaned children during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Its mission has since expanded to include protecting mothers in need and fostering a stronger community for child-rearing, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Caring for Orphaned and Vulnerable Babies and Children
TLC’s core work is providing direct care for vulnerable South African children between the ages of one and five. As of 2023, more than 900 children “have called TLC home,” with an average stay of 4.5 years each. Most of TLC’s residents spend the majority of their first 1,000 days at the home, as this is a crucial period in a child’s development.
For instance, according to a 2017 UNICEF report, children who are properly nourished during this period have a 10-times-greater chance of overcoming life-threatening diseases and earn 21% more as adults — two factors that play an outsize role in escaping poverty. Jarvis summarized the significance of the first 1,000 days for vulnerable children in South Africa, stating, “The experience of a baby — and that goes from conception forward — that experience is so pivotal to the rest of your lifelong outcomes that really, if humanity wants to do anything, we should really look after our pregnant mummies and our babies.”
Growing Hope With the Mother’s Program
Thus, TLC also provides critical support to pregnant women in need. South Africa has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates globally, with girls aged 10 to 19, many from impoverished families, giving birth to around 160,000 babies in 2021-2022. TLC works to assist expectant mothers while remedying an invisible harm of typical crisis pregnancy care. As Jarvis explained, “When mommy’s going to crisis pregnancy centers, they often relinquish their older child to the care system thinking that they’ll come back and get them after things have settled. But, you know, that’s very, very hard to do.”
To address this issue, TLC houses pregnant women in need, along with any existing children, on-site while empowering them to regain stability. These mothers come from backgrounds plagued by illness, abuse, teenage pregnancy or other poverty-related conditions that have prevented them from supporting themselves. During their time at TLC, they participate in educational courses, gain work experience within the organization and receive a regular stipend. “They can stand and look at the world without feeling like the ground is giving way under them, and they can make plans for the future and for themselves and their children,” Jarvis said.
Fostering Community at the Center for Family and Belonging
Yet, Jarvis also emphasized that personal strength alone is not enough to overcome adversity; in reality, “human beings require their community, they require their society to thrive.”
According to the World Bank, more than 20% of South Africa’s population was living in poverty as of 2014, and nearly 30% is unemployed as of 2022. TLC has launched a new initiative called the Center for Family and Belonging to help prevent “segmentation and fragmentation” among already vulnerable South African communities and foster collective growth.
The center will provide support groups for mothers, teenagers and adopted children; counseling and therapy services; a “safe space” tea room; a charity shop; a dignity bathroom for unhoused locals; and an intergenerational playground that welcomes elderly and disabled people. Jarvis also envisions eventually offering dignified, safe maternity care that will provide an alternative to birthing in hospitals.
Pippa Jarvis on Making a Difference
“You can make a difference wherever you are, because everyone belongs in a community,” Jarvis said. The Center for Family and Belonging will be “a place where even on your worst day, you know that someone’s got your back.”
– Faye Crawford
Photo: Courtesy of TLC Children’s Home