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South African Orphans Tell Story at UN - 2001-08-01

Members of a South African organization which works to help children orphaned during the apartheid era have visited the United Nations to gather support for their work.

The organization, the Ithuteng Trust, cares for more than 1,500 young people in South Africa who were left orphaned during the apartheid era, all between the ages of 12 and 24.

Many of the young people were rescued from violent gangs, others were juvenile offenders. Of the young women cared for by the trust, the majority had been forced into prostitution, and an estimated 80 percent had been raped. The trust provides each child with counseling, training, and education.

Children from the Ithuteng Trust were brought to the U.N. to tell the stories of their lives, as part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness of the repercussions of global conflict on children. The visit was sponsored by the U.N. office of the special representative for children and armed conflict.

The director of the South African group, Jackey Maarohanye, or as she is better known, Mama Jackey, says it is only logical that if children are looked at as the future, they should be given the opportunity to overcome the violent legacies of the past.

"We tend to forget about the children who have actually witnessed the atrocities," said Mama Jackey. "And if we have to regard the youth and the children as the future of any country, and we happen to have such children within our own countries, what type of leaders are we going to have if these children do not undergo any counseling?"

Since its inception, the trust has helped more than 2,500 young men and women, most from the township of Soweto. Most of the older children went on to pursue higher education, returning to the trust to help train younger children.

Officials are lavish in their praise of the program. South African President Thabo Mbeki called it a miracle project.

Mama Jackey says that despite the particular atrocities which marked the apartheid era in South Africa, the experiences of the children in the Ithuteng Trust are largely the same as those of children in any armed conflict around the world. She says there is no reason why the work being done by the Ithuteng Trust cannot be copied in other parts of the world as well.