15 August 2012 saw the official opening of the Afrika Tikkun Uthando Centre in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, in a heritage building which has been given a new lease on life.
Afrika Tikkun, a humanitarian non-governmental organisation which focuses on providing education, health and social services to children, the youth and their families through a number of centres of excellence, recently relocated its Hillbrow centre to the former Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children on Constitution Hill in Braamfontein. The centre has been operating from its new premises since mid-July and the numbers of children and youth attending it have already grown tremendously.
Speaking at the launch of the Uthando Centre, Afrika Tikkun’s CEO Marc Lubner thanked the organisations sponsors – both private and corporate – for their contributions, and paid tribute to the professional team responsible for renovating the building for their high quality work and professionalism, but above all their humanitarian spirit. They included the architect, Harold Lipschitz; Mark Kruger of Esprit Construction; Russel Irons, the quantity surveyor; Norman Caplan, the structural engineer; and Morris Mizrahi, Afrika Tikkun’s special projects manager.
Lubner also paid compliments to the Department of Infrastructure Development and in particular the MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, for the opportunity to develop the centre in partnership with the department, and for the speed and efficiency with which Afrika Tikkun’s occupation of the building was facilitated. “We look forward to walking together into a brighter future – one in which the youth are equipped with the skills and values that will make our country better,” he said. He also took the opportunity to thank all the Afrika Tikkun staff – who work at all the centres in the country – for their dedication to their jobs and their passion, which consistently stands out as a hallmark of the organisation and its projects.
MEC Mahlangu, in her keynote address, thanked Afrika Tikkun and all who contribute to the organisation for their efforts to make our country better and to help young people to realise their potential. She said that government needed better policies in place for partnering with the private sector in projects of this kind. She also commented that far better use could be made of many buildings which are government owned but standing empty, and promised to explore models such as this in which government assets can be used to benefit society.
An extensive refurbishment
The Department of Infrastructure Development is the landlord. Afrika Tikkun has a rolling nine year lease on the portion of the building which it occupies and undertook extensive renovations on the premises. These renovations were funded by Afrika Tikkun’s donors and sponsors, with the biggest of these on the Uthando Centre being the Gary Lubner Family Foundation. Afrika Tikkun is grateful to all its sponsors, which also include Eskom, Nedbank Infrastructure, Datatec, ApexHi, the German Embassy, Internet Solutions and a variety of Australian donors via GDG.
Renovation work on this heritage building presented a number of challenges. It had to be almost completely gutted and redesigned inside – firstly to clear it of a large amount of blue asbestos, and then to accommodate the new requirements. These included making space for 250 children in the ECD programme as well as creating facilities such as the kitchen, dining area, library, computer centre and other areas for school children to use.
The building was essentially derelict when Afrika Tikkun’s team moved on site, having been used as a dumping ground for all manner of medical debris and left unmaintained for some 30 years. Once this was cleared, a special team had to clear out the asbestos – wearing protective clothing which they needed to burn each day upon leaving site. The asbestos was collected under strictly controlled conditions and transported in sealed trucks to special designated disposal sites. The interior was stripped down to bare brickwork and concrete in most places.
The interior then had to be redesigned to accommodate classrooms, the kitchen, dining areas, the computer centre, the library and various other facilities. Because the building had been added onto over time, the concrete floors were not always constructed on the same level and this meant that the floors had to be re-screeded in order to bring them up to a single level. Column positions also had to be moved as in some cases, they were in difficult positions for classrooms to be created around.
A leaking roof and a partially flooded basement from an old boiler made for some difficult damp problems. While the most critical of the damp issues have been addressed, it will require ongoing work to rectify the problems entirely.
The outside of the building cannot be touched because of its heritage status – other than to restore certain components to their original states. The original wooden sliding sash windows are still in place, but have deteriorated badly. They could not be removed and replaced with steel frames, however, so the contractors have restored them to the best of their ability. There are a good many windows in the building, and not all need to be able to open and close in order for it to be adequately ventilated, so certain of the windows were identified for sealing up, which means that the sliding sash mechanisms don’t need to be functional.
The original Otis lift in the building has been carefully restored by Otis to working condition. Since the building has five floors and some of the users and visitors are disabled, having it in working order was imperative.
Better support to the community
The relocation of the centre to its new home in Braamfontein will enable it to provide better support to the community. The centre had outgrown its previous home in Hillbrow and was only able to run an Early Childhood Development programme (aimed at children aged two to six) effectively from there. The move has allowed Afrika Tikkun to make provision for its full range of programmes at the new building. With the Uthando Centre’s new premises in Braamfontein, it is now possible to continue the Early Childhood Development offering, into a Child and Youth Development Programme for older children, offering access to educational, recreational, emotional and career guidance and support. Greater family support is also possible. A state-of- the-art computer centre, a new library, a fully equipped kitchen and a number of other facilities make for a place where children can come after school to receive help with homework, learn computer skills and take part in cultural or sporting activities. Play areas for the smaller children and sports facilities for the older children are also on the agenda and will be developed as soon as sponsorship is available.
About Afrika Tikkun
Afrika Tikkun is an NGO that provides education, health and social services to children, youth and their families through centres of excellence in South African townships. Its aim is to empower communities to develop new generations of productive citizens.
Services offered as part of the Holistic Development Model at Afrika Tikkun centres include:
- An early childhood development programme that provides a solid foundation for children between the ages of six months and six years.
- An after-school programme of sports, dance, art and other activities that promote discipline and encourage personal growth. This programme also offers access to a computer centre and life skills training, including career guidance.
- Family support services, including specialised services for abused children, amenities for mentally and physically challenged children, and a support programme for parents with children with special needs.
- A nutrition and food security programme that includes feeding kitchens, food parcels and vegetable gardens.
- A primary healthcare programme that looks after the physical and mental needs of the community.