Ave Maria

Big brown eyes met us as the door to the little home opened. Smiles of appreciation and welcome invited us in. Had it not been for a home Maria and her two younger sisters would have needed to take refuge in the veld.

At fourteen, Maria is a radiant young woman ready to take on the world. Many years has shaped and restored the once fragile young girl.

Maria, at a tender nine years old, needed to deal with the abandonment of her paternal father only to be left with an ailing mother. With eager anticipation she waited on her mother with the hope of her speedy recovery. As time passed and her mother regressed and slipped away, left her behind with two young sisters. Ntabiseng, five, and Makhubidi, three. Family members packed their bags and departed after the funeral leaving Maria with no one. Without money, care or understanding.

Many situations like this can be found in townships all over Southern Africa. What is called a child headed home is merely a family devastated by loss. Without ever knowing her father, Maria had to take up the responsibility for cooking, cleaning and supporting her broken family. At ten years old without life experience and the ability to earn an income they were left with nothing. All that remained was a small government home, given to their family. Unable to get a foster grant, Maria was without guidance, adult advice and hope.

This traumatic event created scars seen today. With initial fear, resentment and anger, Maria watched and waited for someone, a miracle. But nothing came. As the years dwindled anger turned to frustration and eventually only became a silent pain. With occasional food parcels from foreign companies and aid from Ndlovu care centre in the community, Maria and her sisters were able to survive. Words are unable to capture situations like these.

At the time of her mother’s death Maria and Ntabiseng attended school in the township. While away at school Maria locked Makhubidi inside the house out of fear that she would walk away. One might suspect that leaving behind a three-year-old all alone inside a house is irresponsible. But this is the reality many young child headed homes face. Harsh lifestyle and unimaginable circumstances are not even powerful enough a word to describe the life of Maria and her family.

The traumatic effects of the death of a parent are more than any child should bear alone. Imagine for a moment what it must have felt like to have your world shatter. Responsibility that was unasked for. Rage, anger at the world for its injustice and depression are but a few emotions Maria experienced.

With constant break-ins and vandalism, Maria feared for her sisters and herself. Homes without burglar proofing can prove an easy target. Criminals prowl the streets and feed off the innocent, eager to delight themselves in the defacement of the young. Unable to sleep at night due to unimaginable fears, her schoolwork deteriorated under pressure. In spite of it all Maria still passed year after year. Without a proper education Maria will never be able to find a suitable job to give her the security and freedom a young woman desires.

Children should be playing in the streets with their friends, coming home to a warm meal and the affection of their parents, not a desolate place without love or understanding. Apart from severe financial burdens, being abandoned causes eternal scars of worthlessness and rejection. Children like these should not be looking after their siblings and fighting for governmental support. At such a tender age no child should bear the responsibility of a parent.

Unable to get a foster grant from the government made things a little harder. Without an elder to aid in the application process, Maria was lost. Under aged Maria turned to Ndlovu for assistance. Ndlovu Care centre in the heart of the Groblersdal Township, have become a lighthouse and an incredible aid to thousands of inhabitants.

Vulnerable children have always been part of our lives. But never before has it been as profound as it is today. Due to increase in HIV Aids and diseases like TB many homes have been left broken and without an adult heading the family. Child headed homes have become a normality. Without the guidance and care of an adult these young children have been left behind having to fend for themselves.

With an incredible vision to aid Vulnerable children, Ndlovu and their various partners made this possible. Incredible progress has been made through the provision from charity organisations like Champ. Ndlovu were the first to introduce me to Maria and her family. With her younger sisters both settled into a nutrition club, she was able to go to school and hopefully attain a diploma that will give her the ability to find a great job. The effect of something as simple as a job can give back self worth and security unmatched.

Champ fully supports community projects like these in various regions. Founder of Diep in die Berg, Anton Van Zyl, together with numerous partners, created Champ. With support from big companies and individuals alike, Anton has the ability to steer finances into projects like Ndlovu Centre.

For a small amount of R80 a month, a young child can be fed and taken care of for a whole month. Their needs are basic. Food, shelter and security are all they need. If not for help like this vulnerable children would disappear in the masses and no one would ever know of their existence.

Thanks to endeavours such as Champ, Maria and her sisters have been greeted with a Christmas they will never forget. A new dining table and a stove are the biggest gifts they have ever received. Even Christmas trees and gifts were only a distant reality to these young girls.

Four years later, questions still linger in her mind. Why did it have to happen? Why me? The unfortunate reality is that no such question could ever be answered. At fourteen, Maria was able to get a small job on the farms surrounding her township during the school holidays. For the first time in her life she had some money to take home. These children welcomed us into their home without a single expectation. Not wanting anything in return they simply took us on a guided tour of their humble home. Filled with pride that they have so much they are aware that they are more fortunate than most of their friends.

You too can make a difference in the life of a vulnerable child. With a world that is shaken and shattered, no hope can prevail. Reach out to your world and make a difference. Bring light, life and hope back into the lives of young vulnerable children like Maria and her sisters.

Partner with Champ and make someone’s dream a reality.

By Magdalena Baben