Ivona Carolissen, Lauren-Lee Geldenhuys and Abigail Vermeulen

Organisation: Khula Development Group

Area of operation: Paarl

Paarl East is known for its high dropout rates, gangsterism and substance abuse. As a youth, it is easy to be influenced and continue the cycle of many in your community who do not see a way out.

This was the case for young Lauren-Lee Geldenhuys, a grade 5 learner at Magnolia Primary School who was at risk of becoming a dropout. At only 12 years old, Lauren-Lee experienced the hardships that plagued her community.

Lauren-Lee lived with her aunt, who ensured she had what she needed and regularly attended school. Sadly, her aunt passed away, and she had to move in with her mom, who was struggling with substance abuse.

Wanting her mom to get better, Lauren-Lee sought help from Ivona Carolissen, School2Home facilitator at Khula Development Group. Khula is a non-profit organisation that aims to restore hope through education by seeing every child from disadvantaged communities attend school daily.

In communities such as Paarl East, many factors influence absenteeism, which is why Khula provides social support to these learners so that they may have brighter futures. The School2Home programme focuses on learners between grades R through 4.

Ivona worked with Lauren-Lee last year when she was in grade 4. “She would come to sit with me every day, even if it was to build a puzzle, for a hug, or to share something about how things are at home. At that time, her mom was not in a place where she could be a present parent to Lauren-Leen,” she said when asked about Lauren-Lee’s journey.

In June 2023, a social auxiliary worker at Khula, Abigail Vermeulen, worked closely with Noleen Geldenhuys, Lauren-Lee’s mother, on her journey to become sober again. Noleen eventually agreed to go to a rehabilitation centre to alleviate her substance abuse problems. She completed her rehab programme in September, and the changes were evident. Noleen had a positive outlook on life and was ready to work through previous trauma that hovered over her.

Seeing her mom’s progress motivated Lauren-Lee and made her happy. She now regularly attends school and dreams of becoming a psychologist. Through Khula’s intervention, Lauren-Lee and Noleen were supported and shifted their mindsets to become better versions of themselves.

Photo: Lauren-Lee Geldenhuys