Giving hope where there’s despair

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Johannesburg, eGoli, Jozi, whatever you what to call it.  Some argue it is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Others love it for its jolly vibe and fast-paced life.

Johannesburg is home to some of the most beautiful and posh suburbs in the country, where the rich and famous are found. Westcliff, Kyalami, Sandhurst and Craighall are just some of Johannesburg's most affluent suburbs.

However, the city is also a base for some of the most dangerous neighbourhoods.

Hillbrow and Berea top the list of the most feared places around the Johannesburg inner city.

Once a vibrant multicultural middle class cosmopolitan neighbourhood - things have changed for what many use to call “Africa’s New York.”

The two suburbs, which border one another, are among the most densely populated in South Africa and they have a high-rise slum and is home to thousands of immigrants.

This area is also home to thousands of  South Africans, mostly from rural areas, who come into the city under the false assumption, made for more than a hundred years, that there is a pot of gold for everyone.

The harsh reality though is that the murky streets of Hillbrow and Berea are not for the fainthearted.

They are known to be especially dangerous and home to gangs, pimps, drug dens, prostitutes, vigilantes, hijackings and every crime imaginable.

But at the heart of this chaos, in Berea, at house number 17, Doris Street, one finds a different picture and story.

The street is home to the Door of Hope Children’s Mission which was started in 1999 by a Berea Baptist Church pastor, Cheryl Allen, and a number of her church deacons. A high number of new-born infants who were being abandoned daily in the area motivated them to open various ‘baby houses’ around Johannesburg.

Some would not give a second glance at the humble home at Doris street which to date has rescued and received 1460 children who have been abandoned. About 170 of these children came through the metal hatch attached to the home’s wall - which is referred to as the “baby bin”.  

The “baby bin” allows mothers to leave their children, usually new-borns, anonymously to be found and cared for.

Other babies are rescued from the side of the road, parks, bins, toilets and abandoned buildings.

The centre also rescues abused and orphaned babies in cooperation with other agencies such as police, social workers and hospitals.

The centre then provides a temporary home for the babies whilst seeking a family suitable for long term foster care.

The centre volunteers also do educational talks at local schools about the importance of abstaining from sexual activities for underage people.

At “baby House 2”, visited by SAnews, there is currently thirteen children who are less than two years. Legally, “baby House 2”, is allowed to take in up to 19 children at a time.

It is one of the three ‘baby houses’ under the Door of Hope of which two are based in Glenvista.

Behind the pale blueish secured wall, there is a home with two rooms for house mothers, a kitchen, a sick room, room for young babies, room for older babies and a bathroom. The living room is decorated with family portraits of past babies who are now with their “forever families”. On the wall, a hand written picture frame overlooks the room with the quote “a single moment can contain countless memories.”

It’s just after 12 pm and care givers are hard at work changing nappies, while others are seen cleaning and it’s almost feeding time for older babies.

The group of about seven toddlers are giving their “mother” Edith Mahlare a hard time as they get up to toddler mischief against a backdrop of cartoon murals and painted walls which inspire a playful and uplifting mood around the house.

*Thando,* who is about 1 year, with her big, bright brown eyes, jet black eyelashes and a bright smile, giggles as she tries to get attention.

House manager Francinah Phago explains that there are many factors that lead mothers to abandon their babies.

“To some, it is underage pregnancy... poverty, forced prostitution; some children are conceived through rape while other mothers are from abusive relationships- fear of parents and resentment, it is different factors,” says Phago whose passion for children started when she worked for a crèche in her home province Limpopo.

“We don't want to judge mothers and we don't want to know the reasons for them abandoning their babies- our duty is just to save and ensure that the children have a better future,” says Phago who started working at the centre in 2003.

Statistics from Gauteng Health reveal that a total of 374 new-born babies were abandoned in Gauteng hospitals alone- in the past three years.

About 147 babies were abandoned in Gauteng hospitals in 2013, followed by 124 abandoned babies in 2014 and 108 babies from January to September this year.

An alarm goes off in the middle of our interview with Phago and she jumps to investigate.

After inspecting the monitoring cameras, a relieved Phago explains that the alarm sensors were set off by the wind.

“Normally when a person places a baby at the baby bin, the sirens go off and we have to rush to the hatch to grab the baby no matter the time of the day or night.  When that siren rings, we drop everything because we know there is a baby who might be fighting for his or her life.”

The last baby to come through, she says, was three days ago. The new born baby was then taken to one of their other centres in Glenvista.

When babies are received, house mothers inspect them for any medical emergencies that might need hospitalisation.

According to Phago, children come into the centre in all conditions - from being malnourished, neglected or premature. Others come with their umbilical cords still uncut, while others are sick or abused.

One girl who came to the centre was repeatedly sexually abused after her mother sold her to men who hold a belief that intercourse with a virgin cures HIV.

Struggling to hold her tears, Phago reveals that some of the babies the centre receives never make it.

Once the child is stable, the home tries to track down the mother before applying to a court to have the baby declared abandoned.

Only once a baby has been declared abandoned, they can be placed for adoption, most of the children are adopted.

“If they are not adopted after a period of time, the process is opened to other countries which sees them taken to loving families in Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

“Adoption is usually bitter sweet for all of us at the centre.  We cry tears; those are of joy because we are going to miss them but we are also glad that they have found a home.

“We bond so much with them and when they see us they see their mothers and people who love them.”

Among the success stories, the centre has recorded, is that of *Georgina,* who was the first to arrive at the Door of Hope in August 1999.

She was 14 months old, neglected and food deprived and was brought by her mother.

At first the centre thought she may be brain damaged due to an abnormal protruding forehead and she did not speak.

“We proceeded to give her lots of love and care, prayer, good nutrition and therapy. In time, she was adopted by a couple in the United States.

Now 17 years old *Georgina* was identified as an academically gifted student, in addition to her playing the violin and piano, says Phago.

Georgina was awarded a solo part in the world famous Virginia Children’s Chorus and had the opportunity of singing in the Royal Albert Hall in London, with an accompanying symphony orchestra.

The Door of Hope is a symbol of hope to all abandoned, orphaned and abused children in South Africa- a job the centre does 365 days a year. This determination speaks to campaigns driven by government such as the #356 Days Campaign and “#CountMeIn” campaigns which form part of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.

Government has been mobilising members of society, especially men, business, civil society organisations, faith-based organisations to join hands against abuse.

This year, the 16-Days campaign is driven under the theme “Count me in: together moving a non-violent South Africa forward.”


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