Anna had no idea what to expect the day she took in her two grandchildren, David and Steven.
David had always been quiet and reserved. He was old enough now to understand what had happened to his parents, though Anna wished he wasn’t.
She wished she could take away the pain of his father’s passing and his mother’s abandonment.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t. The most she could do was care for the two boys. She wanted to give them love and a good education, something she never had in her youth.
Her three other grandchildren followed soon after. Their story was no different. Once again, Anna had lost a son. His wife’s addiction to alcohol took priority over the children. She abandoned them.
These children were younger than David and Steve, but she saw the same pain in their eyes the day they came to live with her. She knew the conditions of their lives with her were no different than with their own parents, yet she still felt ashamed of her small house.
She wished she could take them all out of the slums, put them into private school and provide them with clean water. Give them a real chance. Anna had been around long enough, she believed nothing would change for her or the children.
She knew her love was important, but it would not fill their bellies, educate them or keep them warm and dry during the rainy season.
As time passed, Anna’s age began to wear on her. She began to feel tired after days spent with four-year-old George. Her mind began to slowly fade and she would catch herself forgetting things, but she continued to push on.
She knew that no one else could care for the children. They depended on her for their very survival. Anna had spent 73 long years on this Earth, but for the children, she would push on.
I met Anna after profiling several single-mother families in Soweto, the slum area of South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg. The slum is located roughly 20 minutes from Donholm.
Once we entered Soweto, we entered another world. The smell hits you like a brick wall. The unpaved, treacherous streets are a mixture of mud and filth.
People urinate in the road. Homes are made of tin. Windows are a luxury. Yards or even small areas where children could play do not exist.
Anna welcomed me into her home, essentially a small box. There was a curtain hiding a bed. I saw one worn-out couch where two of the children slept and a small table in the centre of the room. This box houses five children and one adult.
Logic would tell you they slept each night in cramped conditions or on the hard floor.
This amazing woman showed me around her home with pride. It was a step up from typical houses. It had a tin roof and clay walls.
She worked hard for it, carrying water each day to sell to her neighbours. She bore this burden for her grandchildren. She wanted them to feel pride despite their living conditions.
I met Marie, George, Richard, David and Steve. I heard their stories, saw the pain they tried to hide and admired them for their dedication to their education.
I told Anna I wanted to take in the children and I saw a sparkle of hope dance in her eyes.
Of course, she had some hesitation. I was, after all, a complete stranger. Through our translator, her limited English and my limited Swahilli, I was able to reassure Anna we were about to become a growing family.
I told her that she was not losing her grandchildren. She would be welcome to visit Zawadi la Tumaini Children’s Home any time. I want the children to know about their heritage. I want to hear the stories of their childhood.
They have lost their parents, but they will never lose a sense of personal identity. Zawadi la Tumaini Children’s Home is, and will always be, a place to remember the past, but welcome a brighter future.
Since her late teens, Hanmer resident Jacqueline Villeneuve has been working to establish the Zawadi la Tumaini Children’s Home, a refuge for HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya. Zawadi la Tumaini translates in English to “gift of hope.”