A house of safety for children is taking shape, bit by bit, out of the growing need a group of about 20 women from Stilbaai have come to recognise in eight years of participating daily in the lives of the community of Melkhoutfontein.
Stilbaai on the Western Cape’s southern coast is adjacent to Melkhoutfontein, a village where poverty and an increase in substance abuse have resulted in teenage pregnancies, abortions, HIV/Aids, a growing school drop-out rate, children living on the streets and other social problems.
Major needs for intervention revolve around young children, especially street children and those living in dysfunctional homes where parents feel overwhelmed by what they experience as a hopeless struggle to cope with the demands of life and their children’s rebellion, says Jenny Olivier, one of the volunteers who daily offer time and talents in an attempt to break the cycle of abuse and deprivation.
Part of the voluntary effort is a 240 square metre after-school and social centre building project that will also house several other activities already being run for children and adults in what is widely known as Ouma Lena se Huis, next to the piece of ground on which the new building will stand.
Once the building is complete, the three-bedroom Ouma Lena se Huis will be used solely as a place of safety for children. Ouma Lena is Lena Viljoen of Stilbaai, who has donated the house and its adjacent stand to the youth of Melkhoutfontein in the name of the Talitha Kumi Trust. The volunteers have been running their project from her house since 2006.
Building plans are in the process of being approved by the municipality, says Olivier. The overall cost is an estimated R600,000.
“At this stage R300,000 has been donated by various people. We don’t know where the remainder will come from to build,” says Olivier.
“Ouma Lena said I’m the first person she has heard of who builds a house without money, and that it must make my husband very nervous,” Olivier jokes. “But our Father owns everything, and although I don’t know what He wants for every one of us, I do know He wants children to be safe.
“We have never had to worry about a need for money in the past” she adds, referring to meals cooked to feed between 75 and 80 children daily, plus meals for 25 to 30 adults at weekly and monthly gatherings.
She applauds the generosity of Stilbaai residents who, she says, have paid for most of what the volunteers have managed to put in place over the years.
“By the absolute generosity and love of the people in Stilbaai, about 90 percent of our project’s needs are met. It is remarkable how God works in people’s hearts. I think His whole plan was to provide a channel for His children to show appreciation for what He has done for us.”
Programmes offered by the volunteers include golf and ballet, kickboxing, art lessons, craft projects, children’s church, English-language lessons, remedial training and projects to help vulnerable children with special needs, such as those with foetal alcohol syndrome. There are also motivational talks on parenting skills for foster and biological parents, “as our greatest desire is to help grow leaders in our community”, says Olivier.
“We started in 2004 in partnership with the local social worker Cornelia Giliomee, running a holiday club along the same lines as those offered by Stilbaai churches. We didn’t have a house then and rented the community hall in Stilbaai. Every Friday evening we would have a youth club. Next we introduced a friendship circle of women in Melkhoutfontein who would gather once a week and share as friends and also plan the events we arranged. We now have a monthly women’s meeting where we build each other up and encourage one another. For us it is friendship all the way, and sharing our Father’s love, trying to grow leaders who will be the difference in the streets where they live.
“We do not receive any funding from the state, but work very closely in partnership with Badisa, the local welfare organisation, and the South African Police Service. As a result of the involvement by the SAPS, Elize Claassens of the Stilbaai police was elected their woman of the year.”
The numbers of children in need of care have been growing, says Olivier.
“My greatest desire and prayer is that we will one day have enough volunteers to enable us to focus on children one-on-one. These kids are not used to individual love and care. Although we have very well-qualified people helping us, the biggest thing is to share love, hope and caring.
“In the last week-end of every month we share an evening meal with 20 to 25 men and women to encourage and empower them through a Bible reading and help them with parenting skills, as some of their children are roaming the streets. Because they try hard to scrape a life together and don’t spend time with their children, they feel hopeless when the kids become rebellious. They see only the problem and feel there is no solution.
“The house of safety is a great need, because when children have to be removed from their home (even for short periods) they have to be sent away, and it is very traumatic for everybody. There is also a shortage of foster parents.
“We have asked a couple who live in Melkhoutfontein to be house parents. Already involved with our street-children project, they have been remarkable and made a real difference, also reaching out to parents. We gave the names of these children to our volunteers to take to their church cell groups for prayer.
“We thought that this would be a five-year project, because these kids were very unruly and had no idea about discipline or personal hygiene, and they were using drugs. We took them in and every morning they had a bath and breakfast and were taught basic writing skills and sums. Four of the children have gone back to school and three have been sent for rehabilitation. Their parents still attend the monthly meetings.”
Olivier testifies that problems like aggression, substance abuse, a pervasive sense of hopelessness and lacking personal value are no match for the power of prayer.
“After eight years at Ouma Lena’s, I can testify that prayer does work. Please pray for the work being done.”