Zoom zoom babies
Thursday, August 23, was a special day for the Salvation Army Ethembeni Babies Home in Johannesburg – the FOCUS team arrived to present the home with a brand new set of wheels, thanks to the generosity of the caring members of the transport industry. CLAIRE RENCKEN reports
The excitement was palpable when we arrived at Ethembeni. We were there to hand over the keys of a brand new Mazda5 to the home’s administrator, Captain Heather Rossouw. This haven for abandoned babies, some of whom are HIV/Aids-infected, was in dire need of a vehicle to ferry babies and toddlers, particularly those who need antiretrovirals (ARVs), to hospital.
When FOCUS publisher Tina Monteiro and editor Charleen Clarke became aware of this, the next step was obvious. “These innocent children have had a harsh start in life,” says Clarke. “But thanks to the Caring Truckers Aids Drive, our very own CSI initiative, we have been able to make a small contribution to their futures.”
The Caring Truckers Aids Drive was initiated in 2000 by FOCUS in conjunction with Bridgestone. Since then, thanks to the generosity of the caring members of the transport industry, it has touched and changed countless lives.
This year, the team was privileged to donate a brand new car to Ethembeni – doing so with confidence thanks to the Mazda5’s reliable safety features. The vehicle has anti-lock braking with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist, dual front airbags, curtain and side airbags. In addition, sliding doors on either side allow for easy access when loading or unloading precious cargo. Engen also came to the party, generously donating fuel to the value of R3 000.
The first thing that struck me was how neat, clean and well-run Ethembeni (a Xhosa word meaning Place of Hope) is. Rossouw and her husband Neil live on site and keep everything running smoothly. Ethembeni currently provides residential care for 64 babies and toddlers from birth to about three or four years of age. Children who have been abandoned, or removed from abusive situations or carers who aren’t able to adequately meet the needs of the child, are placed at Ethembeni. All children in need of care are admitted, irrespective of their health status. Strictly speaking, the home is only supposed to house 60 infants, but in Rossouw’s own words, she has a heart like a taxi – there’s always room for one more!
The home is divided into five sections, according to age. The bathrooms and kitchens are spotless, and there’s a state-of-the-art outdoor toddler playground complete with astro-turf and bike track for little scooters. The children, who know hugs are freely available from their carers, are all well dressed and happy. Most importantly, they look so healthy!
HIV testing is done every six weeks to monitor the status of all the children. Immunisations are up to date and recorded, and above each cot is the inhabitant’s name and date of birth. No mean feat, since some of the children are brought to Ethembeni after being found abandoned. They are given a name, a paediatrician estimates their age, and the Rossouws take them to their church for a dedication ceremony.
I got a lump in my throat when we passed the memorial quilt. A square is dedicated to each little resident who dies, or as the Salvation Army prefers to put it “is promoted to glory”. On such occasions, the child is given a proper, dignified funeral and a gravesite.
Thankfully, for most of these precious little people, there is a happy ending. They get adopted, often by loving parents from Finland. Rossouw jokes “the African population of Finland is from Ethembeni”. Others are fostered, and on rare occasions, if social workers decide it’s feasible, children are returned to their families.
Public relations secretary for the Salvation Army, Major Carin Holmes, summed it up perfectly: “At the end of the road, you’ll always find the Salvation Army. Our motto is: ‘Heart to God, hand to mankind’. But we rely on the resources we receive in order to make a difference in people’s lives.”
So if you’re looking for somewhere to make a difference in the lives of innocent children, Ethembeni is an excellent choice. After all, nothing you do for a child is ever wasted.