Puseletso Maria (meaning “Replacement for one who is dying” in Sesotho) came to us in November 2006. Prior to that she had been living in a small tin shack with her granny, cousins, and occasionally an aunt. The granny was HIV+ and in no physical condition to care for the 6 children. All six were orphans, as their mothers had died and their fathers were either dead, unable to be located, or unknown.
We found out about their situation through a sister organization, Morningstar. Morningstar is a daycare for poverty stricken, HIV+ children. They had been caring for two of Maria’s cousins. When we initially discovered what was happening we were unable to take the children, as the government had not yet approved our license as a children’s home.
While we couldn’t take them full time, the missionaries at The Pines still wanted to do everything they could to help. Each Saturday and Sunday morning they would pick up the children to spend the day here, returning them at night to sleep with their granny. This went on for a couple months as we worked to obtain the necessary approval to properly care for these kids.
In early November the situation began to get desperate. The granny was unable to even get out of bed, so Maria and her cousins were forced to fend for themselves. At this point she was only 5 years old. One Wednesday evening it rained heavily, causing some minor flooding in the area. We wanted to be sure the children were ok, so on Thursday morning we drove out to their township to check.
When we arrived we discovered they hadn’t eaten since we had left them on Sunday. They had run out of electricity and couldn’t cook anything. Even if they had been able to cook, there was only about 2 cups of corn meal in the bottom of a coffee can, so it wouldn’t have gone far. We took them into town and bought a couple months worth of electricity. Then we purchased some food-bread, potatoes, peanut butter, etc… so they would have proper nourishment.
On Saturday morning we returned to pick them up and found out they again hadn’t eaten since we left on Thursday. This time it was a different reason. Their aunt, who is a prostitute, had returned back to the shack due to the weather. When she discovered there was food in the house she told the children that if she caught any of them eating it, she would poison them. Of course, coming from the environment and background they were in, they had to believe she was telling the truth.
After we found out some of these issues, the process of legally obtaining rights to care for the children was kicked into high gear. Several alternative methods were discussed to expedite removal of the children from that home. Finally, about 10 days later the government took the children out and placed them with The Pines on a temporary basis. Here in South Africa they call it Place of Safety. This is when they determine living conditions are hazardous or threatening to the welfare of the child.
Maria and the other 5 children in her family have all been transferred from Place of Safety status to Foster Care status. In South Africa, the Foster Care status is typically permanent, unless the parents are alive and are later deemed able to again care for the children. You can imagine how often this happens.
When she came to live here she was behind what would be considered a normal level for a 5 year old. Since she has been here she has proven herself to be intelligent and quite resourceful. She still struggles with motivation to work hard in school, and she carries a mischievous streak. Her teachers tell us that sometimes she will tell them the correct answer, but then write the incorrect one just to see how they respond.
She definitely presents some unique challenges to us here at The Pines. According to her housemother, Mama Aggie, while their 4 mothers were still alive all 6 children lived together with them in one house. Apparently Maria was orphaned first, and because of that didn’t receive the same love and attention that her cousins had, even in those difficult conditions. It is obvious now that she craves individual attention and care, sometimes causing problems so that she can receive it.
Like all the kids here at The Pines, Maria has heard the message of Jesus Christ. Pray that she will understand that she personally must put her faith in Him and ask forgiveness for her sins. We trust that as she continues to be nurtured here at The Pines that the Holy Spirit will do a mighty work in and through her life.