It started with a group of eager first time, and old –time, volunteers to Africa, one trusty, rusty blue Passat, and a determined search for a place that could be developed into a safe and healthy home for orphans and vulnerable kids.
The volunteers were from United States, working under the collaboration of two newly organized NGOs in South Africa, Ubuntu Partners and Agathos Foundation, both of whose mission was to provide residential care for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). The year was 2004 and the approaching HIV/AIDS pandemic had captured the top of the news.
The ‘find’ was a derelict cement block factory on a large riverside property in Amangwe tribal lands, close to the Injesuthi Clinic and the crossroads of Gourton. The nearest large town was Estcourt, Kwa Zulu Natal. Most of the buildings were unusable, with corners of the property holding goodness only knows what. Trash, remnants of ablution blocks, doors swinging on hinges, windowframes but no glass, a handful of tenants renting dusty rooms, tangles of weeds.
A decision was made by experienced community workers: the place had potential to be home to kids and caretakers. It was situated in the middle of the community from which the children would come and close to the supportive community of Winterton and Champagne Valley. The US funded team got to work cleaning, building walls, repairing rooms, furnishing a basic kitchen, stringing up electric lights where needed. The long hard work of building a safe home was begun.
In the course of the next 3 years, word spread that The Cottages, as this private facility came to be called, could take in orphaned children. The first children came on recommendation of a local teacher who knew of a family group in which all the parents of 13 children had died, leaving the children with the last unmarried daughter and her mother. As there was no relief to their desperate plight from official sources, the home’s leaders immediately responded and moved 8 of the children and their single caregiver to the Cottages, their new home.
The ‘baby-step’ start of this compassionate vision took 4 years to stabilize into a welcoming home the community was proud to support. Local women were hired as caregivers, the tally of children gradually rose to 24, then 28. Volunteers from overseas continued to come regularly to help with construction, education, and medical support. All worked together to build an ethos of love, respect and tenderness. While the first series of directors were from overseas, in 2008 a Zulu pastor and his wife were appointed as managers.