The CMI: Right near the Constitutional Court is a hidden away building, once a world renowned children’s hospital. Now it is host to no less than 30 brave and dedicated NGOs who continue to serve and protect Joburg’s children. The historical buildings provide services to disabled, abused and disadvantaged children, mainly in the medical, educational and welfare sectors. It serves two purposes: its heritage and historical value, and is a‘parent’ base to all the NGOs operating from there.
Facility manager, Barry Dawes gives a brief history of this prestigious institution. “It was previously known as the Transvaal Memorial Hospital For Children, which opened in 1923. It was started by the National Council of Women as a memorial to those Transvaal residents who perished in the First World War. Remembering that the war had recently finished and that Johannesburg was only 35 years old at that time, the achievement of financially providing all the capital to both build and equip the Hospital was an indication of the perseverance of the women’s council as well as the generosity of spirit of the people of the then Transvaal.
“The hospital became a centre with a worldwide reputation in paediatrics, until the new Johannesburg General Hospital opened in 1976, and all the services from the Children’s Hospital were transferred there. The children’s hospital then became abandoned and various government departments used it for storage of redundant equipment. The building fell into disrepair.
“Professor Hansen first suggested that NGOs which supported the paediatric department at the general hospital be allowed to use the facility, and later Professor Jacklin started implementing this policy. The Children’s Memorial Institute was finally registered in 2014,” says Dawes.
“The CMI board overseeing the organisation, consists of a variety of members, some are heads of NGOs, some are doctors and professors , plus a few interested parties with various skills to impart.
“The Board primarily provides oversight to the functioning of the Children’s Memorial Institute, but various sub committees exist which are actively involved in specific projects for the Institute, including fund raising, communication, finance, maintenance and new application assessment. All NGOs pay a levy for the services which are provided by the building, including cleaning, security and maintenance of common areas. As a registered NPC, excess funds are put into the development of the building and gardens.
“The Children’s Memorial Institute buildings falls under the Department of Health. Different NGOs in the building also receive partial funding from different government departments depending within which sector they are active.
Another board member, Jordan Salzman is volunteering her skills to work on the heritage aspect of CMI. “Being an important heritage building with an important historical contribution the CMI History long-term heritage project not only aims to bring attention to the history of the CMI building, but to showcase and support the important work being done by the resident NGOs here at present.
“The CMI History Project involves going through the archive to see what is there and make sense of it, as well as check its condition. We have a long term plan for the project which coincides with the building’s centenary in 2023. We will be collecting oral histories and memories from people who have been associated with the building, whether as staff, students, patients or visitors to add to the social history of the development of paediatrics. We will invite resident organisations to link part of their projects to an aspect of the archive.
“Currently there is a weekly session where youth from the building learn about the different skills and aspects associated with museums and heritage work, and part of this is to get their input and participation in creating our CMI museum. We have building tours and special events linked to the heritage of the building, which includes promoting the work currently being done there. Part of this is our quarterly ‘Open Archive’ where we invite the general public to explore part of the archive and get practical experience of working with a collection. It is also a great opportunity to get stories from people to add to our narrative about the space. People have also become volunteers on the heritage project after attending a tour and are now supporting other NGOs in the building as well.
“One of our biggest challenges is general upkeep and maintenance, and being such a large and old building even more so. Beyond having the essentials in order, this is a space for children and a ‘safe space’ for a community – so making sure it is secure and welcoming, which is why extra funds always go to improving facilities like gardens and playgrounds.
Professor Ashraf Coovadia, a specialist paediatrician, heads up the board. Through his being a doctor he says he was invited to be on the Board by colleague Professor Lorna Jacklin, who ‘persuaded him to be part of this worthy cause given its role in child health and well-being’. He tells us about the need for publicising the important function CMI fulfills.
Says Professor Coovadia: “I regard the building as a heritage site that most Johannesburg residents are unaware of. The rich history and more importantly the amazing work that is being done by the 30 odd child-orientated NGOs housed at this building. I think it will take more than word of mouth to spread the news about what is happening at this institution… Perhaps if the city were to include the site on tourist tours such as the Constitutional Hill tours across the road, this would be a way to get exposure.
“The Department of Infrastructure and Development give some support but it’s usually insufficient to maintain an old building that requires much work to keep it from falling apart. More funding is needed for maintenance and security,” he says.
Child Protection Week (Please note some photographs contain graphic descriptions which may upset sensitive readers)
Recently a memorial garden was opened at CMI during Child Protection Week, where loved ones dedicated messages to children no longer with us, either through murder, suicide or years of violent abuse.
There was not a dry eye as NGO Fight With Insight founder and board member Luke Lamprecht, Compassionate Friends and others paid tribute to vulnerable children who have lost their lives, in a city that sadly still has an unacceptably high rate of abuse and murder of children.
Pay It Forward
Attending CMI heritage events are a way for them to collect a small amount of income. Direct donations and other forms of help to these invaluable NGOs, working with children who are mostly indigent, are welcome. Also anyone with skills to offer on the heritage and maintenance side to preserve it and make it more welcoming.
Another form of support could be through volunteering at the resident NGOs, including promoting their work, as well as CMI’s purpose to the public via social media. To offer your help, contact Barry Dawes on [email protected]
CMI Resident NGOs:
ABBA adoption services
A Chance to Play
Children’s disAbility Centre
Children’s Memorial Institute
Paediatric Dental Clinic
Down Syndrome (Gauteng)
Els for Autism
Fight with Insight
Gauteng Children’s Rights Committee
JHB Child Advocacy Forum
JHB School for autism
JHB Parent and Child Counselling Centre
Lefika La Phodiso (Art Therapy Centre)
National Alliance for Street Children
Rig Human Development Programmes
Shaken and Abused Baby Initiative
Snowballs Autism Care Centre
Sophiatown Community Psychological Services
Teddy Bear Clinic
Thusanani Children’s Foundation