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Khanysile Motsa

Khanysile Motsa tells Lana Jacobson about her life as house- mother of a shelter.  

“I saw these children, very young girls of about ten years old standing around near traffic lights and bus stops in Berea in the cold with hardly anything decent to cover their bodies.

Whose kids are these? Where are their parents? I wondered as I passed the shivering girls. 

I felt compelled to speak to them. They were rude and unfriendly.  But I praised them.  I told them they looked lovely.  I did this many times before inviting them to my flat for coffee. 

Soon I discovered that the children were Mahotsha (prostitutes) forced into the streets by drug lords and pimps, or victims of child labour. Some were children of prostitutes. Others, victims of abuse had escaped from home.  

Something had stirred in me.  God showed me my duty and I knew I would not sleep at night if I ignored a silent scream from these helpless children.

After many invitations, one evening three girls arrived at my flat in Berea Towers for a cup of hot coffee.

This pattern continued for several days.

They started visiting, a few at a time.

Late one afternoon I was warming some soup on the stove for four young women. When I brought the hot food into my lounge, all were fast asleep. I covered them with a blanket.

The kids awoke, and panicked frantic with fear. .  “We must run. We will be late.  We will get into trouble,” they cried.

I calmed the girls and asked what was bothering them and where were they rushing.

They confided that they had no homes; that pimps and syndicates owned them.

A couple of them were drug peddlers and some were taking medicine for sexually transmitted diseases.  They were desperate. 

Invariably, if they hadn’t been kidnapped, they came from impoverished homes.  Family friends and relations had falsely promised their parents to find jobs for the girls or to send them to school

But ‘runners’ see the girls as an income, and instead of helping the family they force their daughters into commercial exploitation. 

The next day those four girls moved in with me. 

At the time, I owned my own import-export company in Johannesburg city. I abruptly left my cousin to run the business, and a while later closed its doors.  Without forethought, I started walking the streets talking to homeless kids.

‘How are you feeling?’ I would ask.  ‘Would you like to come to 161 Berea Towers for a hot drink?’

I kept walking, taking in ‘lost’ kids, spreading the word. Together with volunteers we even found one 14 year-old girl working forcibly in an Mpumalanga tavern.

I lost the apartment I owned when 16 children lived in my lounge. The body corporate of my building evicted me. 

I didn’t know where next to go with the young girls.

But, mercifully, the social services stepped in. That was eight years back, in 2000.  We rented five flats and later bought a one-bedroom apartment in Berea’s Catalina Gardens. The Berea Home of Hope was born, becoming a registered NGO.

Our reputation has spread like wildfire.

I learnt early on that one can’t force victims to change their lives.  It involves a long process of rehabilitation and this must be voluntary.

 Girls arrive at our doorstep voluntarily begging for accommodation, wanting to be part of a functional society, to have an education, to belong to a normal family.

We never pressure them to discuss their trauma.  We never label anybody.  But, within a few weeks’, feeling secure at last, they knock on the door and one by one the tragic stories unfold as they come for counselling. Each week a new girl enters these doors.

I try not to let it affect me. But it still does.

We are taking business away from drug lords.  They know we are saving girls. They want to kill us. They are not stupid.

We constantly have to get security for these children.  The community protects us and when new volunteers are hired, we take extreme care by interviewing them thoroughly and get police clearance to know they are honest, reliable, and caring

At least ±3 000 young girls have passed through my hands and been rehabilitated now working in mainstream jobs.

There are so many intakes on an ongoing basis that children sleep crammed in adjoining bunks in a 4 bedroom flat on the 12th floor. Running the home means going without rest for 20 hours every day.

They start washing, using basin or bath from 4.30 pm until 6.30 pm and again early the next morning from 4.00am- 6.30am before leaving for school or work.

Our kitchen is the size of a postage stamp, but we manage to keep it spotless. There is no counter space on which to work.

We are in desperate need of a proper home with accessible premises. We keep praying it will come somehow.  We use the original fourth floor apartment for homework and meals, and they trek up to the 12th floor to sleep. When there is no electricity, it’s a miracle there are no accidents walking upstairs.

We are like one big family, caring for each other.

Afternoons 30 kids squash together, silently doing homework. They are so hungry for knowledge.

We struggle for every cent. At times, we even scramble for food. Fortunately, Nazareth House saved my soul when they saw some kids were dying and they came forward with ARV’S. 

Babies sleep with mums in the double bunk beds.

Children are freely equipped with uniforms and educated at New Nation School for street kids.

After matriculating, the TECL / ILO provides skills training, such as working as waiters, call  centre operators, peer educators or whatever trade they can master. When girls finally get work, three or four of them move into a flat of their own. 

They don’t leave here in many instances until they are 23 years old. 

Outreach volunteers check on them continually to see they remain employed and rehabilitated.

Caregivers are so devoted. It’s terribly sad that because we lack funding they often go without any payment whatsoever, struggling to survive. 

For us, looking into the faces of children or young women, money or not, we see we are saving their lives. They can finally go out into the world with pride.

God gives us a message and assists us to carry on.

I want to one day know I left a legacy to these women. 

My final wish is to see responsible citizens and parents.

Written by Lana Jacobson for True Love Magazine


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