As I said before, South Africa is the kind of place you can come and find a feel good story on virtually any corner. You know why? Because where triumph abounds, tragedy equally abounds. (You can use that.) This week, my feel good story is incarnated in the form of Celia, a woman who runs an informal orphanage in Kwanokothula.
Celia is my type of woman. She sees a problem, and doesn’t wait for approval to solve it. She’s in her early 40’s and previously worked as a maid (from what I was able to gather). There are 8 kids that she keeps in her home in Kwanokathula where she feeds, clothes, educates and mothers them from a 4 room house.
I discovered in talking to Celia that the orphanage started under what I deem ‘abnormal circumstances’. She was sitting in church about 3 years ago when 2 police officers walked in with a set of twins. They said that the twins had been abandoned and would anyone take them – they had nowhere else to go. She said she felt a tug on her heart that wouldn’t let her be free, and she offered to take in the twins. The only problem was she wasn’t working because she was sick. She had no income and her house had not been finished yet. (It still isn’t.) However, she determined that even though she was ‘not strong enough to work, perhaps she was strong enough to take care of two kids’. And that’s what she did and still does. Everything she has has been miraculously donated by equally kind-hearted locals and foreign charities.
I was terribly impressed by her house. The kitchen, living room and kids bunk-beds are all in one 12 x 12 room. The toddlers sleep in cribs lined side by side in a space no larger than my kitchen at home, and her room is adjacent to theirs. It has a bed, a dresser, and an enormous hole. Scratch that: It’s an escape route that was created by the blow men in The Expendables. I gripe about our rented house here in Plett, but at least all the walls in intact! And we’ve had so much rain and plunging temperatures…it’s a wonder she gets any sleep at all. All that aside, she showed of her children and her house with pride and a weary smile. The brick layers keep promising to come, but this is Africa. They’ll come when they’re good and ready.
The kids aren’t really orphans at all. As it turns out, most of them have just been abandoned by their parents. Drugs and alcohol have claimed the lives of many women in this country, leaving most of them little better than waking, walking corpses. The littlest girl in the orphanage is called Cynthia. She’s 3 years old, and half Stone’s size. She was born underweight with fetal alcohol syndrome and left by her mother in the hospital in the incubator. The social workers in the area are all familiar with Celia’s program and approached her about taking in the child. They had located her mother, and it turned out that she lived no more than 100 yards from Celia’s house. Celia dropped in on her one day and found her sitting outside her shack, drunk.
“Why haven’t you gone to see your child in the hospital?” Celia asked her.
“Tsew. The hospital is in Knysna,” the woman scoffed. “I don’t have money to get there.”
“Ahhh…but you have money for booze, eh?” Celia mocked.
She took Cynthia in the moment she was discharged from the hospital and has kept her ever since.
A number of the other kids have similar stories. The police found one little girl was found crawling at night in the filthy streets of the township at 8 months. Her mother (also a drunk) sucked her teeth and said she has no time for a baby. Her grandmother also sucked her teeth and said that it was ‘not her baby, so why should she care for it?’ Two brothers from Zimbabwe were abandoned by their parents as well. Both were drunks. The father has recently taken steps to get a job and try to be more responsible, their mother hasn’t. He drops in to see them every so often.
Sometimes, with no warning, when the parents have cleaned themselves up, they come and claim their child(ren) from Celia. She says those days are never easy, because some of them have been with her from their infancy and she is the only mother they have ever really known. I can’t imagine that those are good days.
It’s true what they say: The strongest super heroes don’t wear capes.