Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

MES

After working with Madulammoho Housing Association (MHA) for 5 months, I finally read an overview of the organization’s history.  Although I don’t often write about my work here (because I’m an engineer and honestly it’s really, really boring), the history is fascinating.

MHA was born out of Metropolitan Evangelical Services (MES).  MES began operating in Hillbrow during the 1980s to respond to poverty issues faced by the community.  First a soup kitchen, the volunteer organization quickly grew to provide training and support programs – particularly for homeless street youth.

As MES grew, it began offering a wider and wider variety of programs to target different social needs.  Unfortunately, the organization also became more and more disjointed and uncoordinated.  In 1994, the leaders of MES decided reform the organization to make it more business-like and tighten its structure: the goals and objectives were clearly defined, they began employing permanent staff members, and the programs became more focused.

As MES worked more and more within the community, they began to realize that providing goods and services only offered short-term solutions to systemic problems; this was not the most sustainable or efficient way to impact peoples’ lives.  Consequently, MES began to focus on training and skills development to provide people with practical skills that could lead to specific employment opportunities rather than educational certificates.

MES partnered with organizations that would be willing to accept MES trainees as interns.  Out of this, they developed their strategy of “Prevention, Intervention and Exit.”  The focus is to assist unemployed, impoverished people in training so that they can achieve entry level jobs (such as security guards or plumbers’ assistants).

The most important part of this strategy, however, is “exit.”  To help people end their dependency on MES, a co-coordinator was matched with each trainee to monitor his or her progress for a year after employment placement.

During this monitoring process, the co-coordinators realized that that a person’s ability to retain employment was highly linked to his or her living arrangements.

The trainees had relatively low incomes (R 1,500 to R2,000/month) and, as result, struggled to find decent, affordable housing in the necessary areas.  They often lived in poor, overcrowded conditions with high levels of alcoholism and drug use, which increased their likelihood of being pulled back into unhealthy lifestyles and ultimately back on the streets.

Once it became clear that lack of affordable accommodation negatively impacted MES’s developmental gains, the organization began examining the options for decent accommodation in the inner city.

Can you guess where this is going?  Tomorrow: “The Birth of Madulammoho.”

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