Mthatha is a hugely important town for many people in Eastern Cape's Oliver Tambo District. Though the city is only home to around 150,000 people, Mthatha is a key centre for as many as 1.5 million from the surrounding area.
Mthatha is located to the north of the provincial capital, Bisho. It is a rich and vibrant city; its streets packed with bakkie taxis and hawkers plying their trade.
Probably the region's biggest claim-to-fame came with the birth of Nelson Mandela in a small village called Mvezo, just 30 miles from our Children's Village. Mr Mandela was overjoyed to heard that our we were opening a Village in the place where he spent his childhood, saying: "It will be near my childhood home, from where I take my strength and which holds fond memories."
Overstretched resources and buckling infrastructure
Resources and infrastructure are overstretched in Mthatha. The sewerage system is notoriously prone to break down, and the consequences of this can be devastating for the local population, as raw waste enters the water supply. Roads in the area are patchy too and riven with potholes.
Poverty is extremely high, with around two-thirds of the population incapable of meeting one or more basic needs. Sadly, financial security seems to be divided very much along pre-apartheid racial lines, with the black majority earning a much less than white and Indian residents.
Most people are employed in casual work. Street selling - or hawking - is commonplace, with people competing to sell fruit and vegetables, as well as services such as tailoring and hairdressing. The vast majority of hawkers are female, with menfolk leaving the area in search of more sustainable work. The lack of another caregiver means that mothers have little choice but to bring their children to work. Most make less than 500 Rand - or £30 - per month.
Worsening conditions pushes families into hardship
The Oliver Tambo District is among South Africa's poorest regions. Joblessness averages 77% across the region, and access to services is severely hampered. Over a third of people in the countryside must travel for more than an hour to visit a hospital; a journey which costs more than 10% of their monthly income. Education is simply unavailable to the majority of people. Well over half of the population cannot read or write.
What is SOS Children doing to help?
SOS Children began work in Mthatha in 1997. At the very centre of our work is our Children's Village, which was officially opened in 2001. Here, children who have no one else to care for them grow up in an SOS family, under the care of an SOS Mother.
Children growing up in the Village attend our SOS Nursery with children from the local community. Our SOS School provides the next step in their journey, and the beginning of an educational career that continues right up to the level of vocational training.
Working with the whole community
We work with the community to boost educational opportunities and access to healthcare. In particular, we ensure families affected by HIV/AIDS get the medical care and support they need, removing the burden of care from children and helping them stay in school. We also carry out HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns to help reduce the infection rate.
When families cannot afford tuition fees, uniforms and school equipment, we provide financial support. We also deliver skills training and help families start businesses so that they can benefit from a sustainable livelihood.
The trauma of living amid poverty, sickness and hardship can last long after the strains are removed, particularly for children. We offer counselling and psychological support to help people cope with the stresses they are under and recover their wellbeing.
SOS Children lifts families in Mthatha out of poverty for good. Our work helps children enjoy a safe and secure upbringing.