Okuhle (meaning “Beautiful” in Xhosa”) came to us initially in March 2007. She had been living with her mother, brother Mthokozisi, and sister Cebisile in Hani Park. Her mother was severely ill and unable to care for the children, so Okuhle had been functioning as the surrogate mother, even though she was only 12 at the time.
Originally from the Eastern Cape province, her mother determined she wanted to return there to die. Through Morningstar, a sister organization that we work closely with, the children came to The Pines while the mother returned to her family. Within a few weeks of returning, the mother passed away.
Initially, we had problems separating Okuhle from Cebisile, as she was the only mother the 2-year-old had ever known. Cebisile was deathly ill, and doctors only gave her a couple months to live at most. We had to force Okuhle to leave her with us for care while she went to school and returned to living as a normal 12-year-old should.
After the mother died, her family wanted to bring Okuhle and her siblings to the Eastern Cape for the funeral. It was determined that Cebisile was too ill to survive the trip so she remained at The Pines while the two older children went to the funeral. They were accompanied by Aggie, one of our housemothers here at The Pines.
Once they arrived in the Eastern Cape, it became evident that the family intended to keep them. In South Africa, if you foster a child you are eligible for a small government stipend. Unfortunately, many times people want to foster children so they can get money to spend on alcohol and other such vices. We can’t say whether this was the case in Okuhle’s situation.
After a several months of working with the various government agencies involved, it became apparent that Okuhle and Mthokozisi would stay in the Eastern Cape, while Cebisile would remain at The Pines for direct medical care from the Niehoff’s. In fact, she lived with the Niehoffs for nearly a year while recovering from her various illnesses.
In March 2008, Okuhle decided to run away from her family and return to The Pines. They sent her into town one day to purchase food and she used that money to make the day+ trip back here. She tells us that life was difficult there, as the Eastern Cape is much more rural than even here in the Free State. According to what she has said, she and her brother had to work quite hard to help the family live. While we didn’t condone her running away from her family, we did begin again to work with the social workers to determine what was in the best interest of the family.
It has been decided that it would be best for her to remain here at The Pines. When she was making plans to run away she wanted her brother to come with her, and while he wanted to leave, he was afraid she would get lost on her way back, so he refused to come along. Okuhle misses her brother more than she lets on, and we are working with the government to determine if it would be best for him to return here as well. One of the reasons Okuhle returned is because of Cebisile, and we suspect it was a bigger reason than she even realizes herself. Remember that she was the de facto head of the family for quite some time. It is our desire to keep the family together as much as possible, but the process is quite tedious, as there seems to be little motivation on the part of the social worker from the Eastern Cape.
Since coming back to The Pines, Okuhle has become one of our biggest assets. Originally she struggled with selfishness, and was always looking out for only herself – understandable since she has had to do that for years just to survive. We have seen her mature to the point where the mothers now count on her as almost an assistant mama. She is the oldest in a flat with several toddlers, and has done a great job taking on responsibility and caring for their needs before her own.
Okuhle has also blossomed in school. When she first came her motivation was non-existent, and at the end of the term she was in danger of being the only older girl here to miss honor roll. It was then that her competitiveness kicked in, and with the help of a couple that was visiting here at the time she worked non-stop the last few days of the term and received honor roll right at the end. It is encouraging that she learned from that experience and now is one of our most self-motivated children. Last term she worked so hard she had made honor roll by mid-term.
Like all the children here, Okuhle is learning about God and his gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. She understands that she is a sinner and that He died to pay for those sins. She has professed faith in Him, and as she continues to grow and learn we pray that the Holy Spirit would do a mighty work in and through her life.