A Journey of Strength and Grace

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I have waited a long, long time to be able to fulfill my passion, not just through volunteering which I do, but as a full-time occupation. Finally, after years of studying part-time to get my degrees, unbeknown to me a few years ago I was put on a path that would lead me to this day.  Dreams are funny like that, it may look like you are completely going in the wrong direction, until one day that all changes. You realise the direction you are going in couldn’t be more right and it’s exactly where you are meant to be. Sometimes patience and completely trusting really is a virtue.

As I headed out on the highway, I sang along to my favourite songs beating out in my car. It is a long(ish) drive out but I was excited and feeling exceptionally blessed to have been given this opportunity.

I drive into Mitchells Plain, a community on the Cape Flats which reflect the diverse class backgrounds of the population.  Sadly, it is known more for gangsterism and tik (methamphatemine) addiction.  As a young woman driving by herself, I can’t help but ask for protection while I do my work there.  The drugs and gangsterism is rife there and too often it robs lives. But within this community, there also lies hope.

Solomon’s Haven is just that, a Haven which has become a safe harbour for children who are most vulnerable within the community. It is run by Maria and Alec Solomons, a husband and wife team who have been married for over 25 years and with the help of their own biological children they have created a space that has become recognised by the children’s court as a “place of safety” where children who have been abused, neglected and abandoned go.  Maria is the most wonderful, soulful woman with the biggest heart and widest open arms.  It’s not the first time I have visited them, I have been on a few occasions but this time it was different. I was there on my own and my purpose was to spend time with these children and get to know them and their backgrounds.

It is here at Solomon’s Haven that these children find a sense of belonging; it is a place where they become part of a family and are cared for and integrated back into society.

A lot of the kids are at school when I arrive but as soon as I arrive the three young children that are not at school yet, start interacting with me. Their stories are plainly, heart-breaking. A HIV baby of just one year old, abandoned shortly after birth. A three-year old girl, who is always laughing I soon find out, constantly hugs me. Her laugh makes me laugh. She is incredibly precious.  She also has two older siblings at the Haven. Their parents are just not able to look after them. The six-year-old little boy is more deeply affected by his past. He’s speech is not up to par of a six-year-old and he tells me about burying his father. Maria tells me that his mother is addicted to drugs and is not able to look after him.

Suddenly there is a lot of commotion outside. Maria’s daughter Rochelle has arrived with her father, Maria’s husband. They are carrying in containers filled with food. You see I arrived on a perfect day, for each Friday Maria gets food donated and she does a soup kitchen for the community. With the kids playing to the side, I roll up my sleeves and get busy. The community is already lining up and each has brought their own “bakkies” (containers) of all shapes and sizes. There are two huge containers of soup and other containers full of rice and mince. Their bowls are filled to the brim and each one is so grateful as we dish it up for them. A few don’t have containers but they are hungry and would dearly love something to eat. Maria or her husband, Alec, goes off inside and finds some sort of container for them to take some food away in.  Once again, before I know it, the food is gone and the crowd has died down.   Much later, as I sit outside and talk to the children an elderly lady comes up with her container. All the food is gone. Maria later tells me how it breaks her heart to turn them away. As this lady is elderly and can’t get up early for reasons she explained to us, Maria simply said, “bring your bakkies to me on a Thursday and I’ll fill them up on Friday and keep them aside for you for until you are able to collect them.” Then Maria tells her to hold on and she turns to walks to the kitchen. She comes back with a few slices of bread and two packets of soup and hands it to the lady. It’s not much but it’s something she can make for now. Maria just can’t send her away hungry.

To the side, a 15-year-old girl who lives at Solomon’s Haven is peeling potatoes for dinner. I go over and help her.  She’s a quiet, shy girl but soon she’s opening up and chatting. She’s been at the Haven for about three months and she’s happy here. She tells me she desperately wants to go to school but she is still waiting for her school uniform to arrive.  She misses her family but it’s better for her here she tells me.

Maria and her husband work tirelessly to ensure that the children in their care are given the highest quality care, love and attention at all times. The garage has been converted into a recreation area for the children and the upstairs of her modest house has been converted into rooms for the children to share according to their age. The six-year-old and the three year old who haven’t left my side take me by the hand after they have had their lunch and lead me upstairs to show me their rooms. The house is immaculately clean and all the bedrooms are sparkling. The kids each make their own bed each morning and the older kids help prepare the lunches and breakfast and Maria tells me they even do some cleaning of the house before they leave for school .There is a communal lounge/study area upstairs where the children work on their school homework and projects. This is also an area where they can relax while reading a book or watch TV.

A few quotes line the wall in the upstairs area where the kids hang out.

A few quotes line the wall in the upstairs area where the kids hang out.

Later, Maria and I are standing in the kitchen chatting as she starts preparing dinner for the kids. The three-year old is wrapped around my legs. The stories are harrowing but this woman, whose soul just shines when she speaks of these kids that call her ‘Ma’. She tells me how every morning she is up at 4am and she says sometimes it’s not easy and she doesn’t want to do the chores she has to do. She says she gets tired and sometimes she finds it hard to face the day. She says on those days all she does is pray to God before she gets up that He will give her grace and strength to get through the day. I can’t imagine Maria with anything but grace and strength. She is probably one of the most giving woman I have ever had the privilege of meeting. She has so little but yet she still gives to so many others. She currently has 20 children staying with them, the youngest 1 and the oldest is 20. She ensures all the kids go to school and she’s even supporting some of the older kids through college. She doesn’t get funding from the government as the process to get the funding takes her away from the kids and she can’t afford to do that.  She relies on her husband’s salary and on support and donations from others.  It’s humbling to see someone who doesn’t have much herself, give it all away for the wellbeing of someone else. Maria, Alec and her children are incredibly special souls.

As the older kids start arriving from school, they don’t just break out into a smile at seeing me and say hello, they practically run up to me and throw their arms around me and hug me tight as they say hello. There are no words to describe these moments. I hug them back and tell them how awesome it is to meet them as they look up at me and I ask each child as they hug me tight what their name is and I tell them what mine is.

This weekend is an exciting weekend at the Haven for two of the kids as they get to go home and spend the weekend with their family. Most of the families are not involved with the kids at the Haven and have just disappeared. Most are so deeply under the spell of drugs that they can’t or won’t go for counselling to get their kids back and they know that they are being taken care of at the Haven. In these cases Maria raises them as her own. In fact, she does that with all the kids whether they stay 6 months or 15 years. No task is too big for this woman. She’s excited for the two children who are going home this weekend. She says that the parents have been going to counselling and have been working hard on getting their kids back. She says this makes her happy but it’s hard when the kids leave permanently to go back to their families as it is like she is losing one of her own.

Just two of the kids of Solomon's Haven.

Two of the precious kids of Solomon’s Haven.

Slowly, as the hours pass, the stories from the kids began to unfold. The older ones begin to open up to me. Each one beautiful beyond words and Maria is doing the most wonderful job bringing up polite, incredible children who have so much respect for others. Their lives have not been easy ones.

The morning has gone and it’s time for me to head back to the office. I lost count of the hugs from kids running up to me to say goodbye. I tell the 15-year-old girl that when I return next week I hope I don’t see her when I arrive as that means she got her school uniform and is at school! It is her biggest wish. As I walk out the kids shout and wave goodbye with Maria standing by their side, my heart and soul overflows with love, gratitude and purpose.

As I drive away and turn the corner I came face-to-face with the stark reality of where I have just spent the morning. Something was happening, people were running in every direction and then I saw it. A group of guys were beating someone up. Some were trying to stop them and others just kept throwing the punches and kicking the man who was falling down to the ground.  It was a stark reality of life in this community. I drove away slowly as I watched in my rear-view mirror as some continued to try and pull those doing the beating off. I could only hope it would be over soon.

As I drove out onto the highway again, the clouds began to part and the sun’s rays filtered down to earth. It was a beautiful sight and I wish I could have captured the moment on my camera but as I was driving it was not possible. It was as if our higher power was reminding me there is always hope, even in the darkest hours.

It is hard to put into words what drives me and what fills me with passion. It is something I have known I have wanted to do since I was a young teenager. Often people, upon hearing of the work I want to do with children have told me they could never do it. But they say healers are spiritual warriors who have found the courage to defeat the darkness of their own souls. Awakening and rising from the depths of their deepest fears, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. They are reborn with a wisdom and strength that creates a light that shines bright enough to help, encourage, and inspire others out of their own darkness. If there was ever a way to describe my passion which comes from the depths of my soul, that it is.

My journey began a long time ago but it is now I am seeing the fruits of my hard work, driven by my passion and now it is as if all the parts inside of me that have been on hold, start to open up and start beating. It really is one of life’s beautiful blessings, people taking care of each other, for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do.

These children’s hearts are so full of grace. They learn it from their ‘Ma’.

So much love flows there.

Yes, you see even broken crayons still colour and what they draw is so beautiful!

As I start living my purpose.

Embracing all that I am meant to be.

Sharing it with the world.

My soul absolutely sings.

~ All Photos By Me ~

If you would like more information on Solomon’s Haven or if you would like to donate in any way, please visit their website here.

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