In August 2008 we received a call from the police that they had found a small boy wandering the streets of Thabong and they needed a place to care for him until they were able to sort things out. Since we had an opening for a little boy we agreed to accept this child. Strangely enough, when the police arrived, they brought with them a little girl. Apparently they were not sure how to determine the gender of this child. If you’ve followed the sports news lately, you’ll know this is actually not unheard of in South Africa.
The police not only brought this little girl, Asandile (uh-SAND-ee-lay), with them, but they also had located her mother in the meantime and she also came with them to turn her daughter over to us. The police informed us that this is not her first offense, and that it appeared she would be serving a 15 year sentence for child endangerment and neglect. Asandile, according to Brian & Lois, arrived as the dirtiest child we have ever received. This photos was taken just after her first bath. If I remember correctly, it took more than one tub-full of water to feel comfortable that she was clean.
While she may have been the dirtiest, she was also the most cheerful, congenial little stinker that you will ever meet. Most children go through a day or two of adjustment, wondering what is going on, and learning that they can trust us and their housemothers. Not so with Asandile. From day one she always had a big smile, and a loud “Uncle Lou-eeee” whenever I would walk by. She loved to play, tickle, and snuggle, and she had a way of working her way into your heart.
As time passed, we learned that her mother had been released from prison for some unknown reason and had disappeared. Asandile’s file was put into the “lost” bin and it seemed as if she would be here permanently. When Lois would call to follow-up on the status of things, no one even knew this little girl existed. Which was fine by us, since she had quickly become an indispensable member of The Pines family.
Fast forward now to mid-August. Somehow Asandile’s mother turns back up and the social workers determine that she should go back to her mother. They contact Lois and tell her they are coming to pick up Asandile, to which Lois responded “No, you are not.” There had been no contact for at least 12 months, no investigation into the life of this mother, no study to determine if the mother wanted to or would care for her 4 year old daughter, and no training on the administration of ARV medication. Lois informed them that these things would need to be completed before we would consider releasing Asandile to them. Technically we don’t have official authority to do this, but at the same time Lois was correct in stating that all those things needed to be completed before they were allowed to place her back with the mother.
That same week the mother arrives at The Pines with a social worker to visit. She looked very sickly and malnourished, and it looked like she could be blown over by a light breeze. It was hard for us not to show any bitterness or frustration with someone who would abandon such a sweet and innocent little girl. She spent about an hour at The Pines with her child whom she had not seen for over a year, and then she left.
Four weeks passed, we heard or saw nothing of the mother, and then we received another call from the head of the social department. We were informed that they would be coming to take Asandile that day. Lois again began asking questions.
Lois: “Why hasn’t the mother come to visit?”
Social Dept: “She is afraid of your dogs.”
Lois: “She could call ahead and we would lock up the dogs.”
SD: “She doesn’t have money to make a phone call.”
Lois: “Then how could she have money to feed and care for a child.”
SD: “She lives with her boyfriend and he receives a disability pension (roughly $80 per month).”
Lois: “Does she want the child back?”
SD: “That is not your concern.”
Lois: “Does the boyfriend want the girl?”
SD: “They have been living together for 6 months and he is committed to her.”
Lois: “Have you completed training on administration of medication and clinic visits?”
SD: “That is part of our ongoing training once they are back together.”
Lois: “Since she needs medication twice a day, isn’t that something that should be done immediately.”
SD: “That is not your concern.”
Lois: “Have you investigated the home?”
SD: “That is not your concern. We have taken care of everything.”
When the mother arrived with the social worker later that day, she looked worse than she had 4 weeks prior. She appeared very sickly and weak, and one can only wonder how she will care for a child when she clearly struggles to care for herself.
Unfortunately, at that point there was nothing more we could do. There are two classifications of child care in South Africa. One is Foster Care, which is more or less permanent. This takes place when it is deemed there is no one else to care for the child. Foster Care can be assigned to anyone, but relatives take preference. Most of The Pines’ children are in Foster Care and therefore not in any significant danger of being removed. The second classification is Place of Safety. This is intended to be temporary, with a legal maximum of 6 months. However, this is often becomes longer due to lost, missing, or unknown files. This was Asandile’s case.
Whenever Lois would follow up to ensure the file was moving, no one could locate the file and no one knew about this little girl. However, when the mother materializes out of thin air, probably because she hopes to receive some sort of grant for Asandile, the file is located and they try to close it within a day.
As you might be able to tell by reading between the lines, this was a difficult situation for us. The hardest part of this ministry is knowing that there are still so many that need help, yet you are limited in your ability. Add to that the relationship and affection that has grown to the extent that you love a child as your own, then you see that child returned to an environment where love and care will be non-existent.
However, the same day brought some encouraging news as well. Over the past few weeks we have been working to locate land for the establishment of our new children’s home. We found out that same day that a piece of land we had identified appears very promising. While there is much work to be done before we can purchase this property, build flats, and accept children, it is exciting to know that soon we can begin to reach more children that the 30+ we have worked with at The Pines over the past 18 months.
And it is encouraging to see the reaction of the children at The Pines. While they have expressed some sadness at us leaving, they show great compassion, expressing their excitement that more children will be reached with the Gospel. It will be difficult for us to say goodbye, but as God allows we can maintain a strong relationship with these children while also reaching out to others. Already the kids from The Pines are planning to come to our new children’s home to share God’s Word with the new kids there.
We desperately covet your prayers for Asandile, as we will try to continue contact with her and hopefully get her enrolled at Morning Star, a Christian daycare with which we work closely here. Pray also for us, as we begin the fundraising process for our new ministry. And pray for The Pines, both the children and staff, that God will continue the work He has started.