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“You just look back on your life and think…I don’t know…” said Lisa (name has been changed) in a smooth, South African accent, pushing her bangs back under her bright red hat and shrugging.
She moved her eyes from the table and looked right at me.
“You think, ‘Where would I be without this place?’”
Where would Lisa, a 17-year-old young woman of poise, intelligence and humility, be without the Makaphutu Children’s Village? What would happen to an orphaned girl in an area where struggling families and children are a dime a dozen?
We’ll never know.
Because ten years ago, Lisa was plucked from that road of uncertainty and brought here, to Makaphutu.
Lisa was born in a nearby township in the province of Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. When Lisa was seven years old, her mother became very sick and checked into a clinic. Her mother planned to care for her and her brother when she returned to good health.
Their mother’s employer, knowing about her serious condition, went to Lisa’s home to see the children.
“When she saw us and where we were living, she just started crying,” said Lisa. “I didn’t know why. I didn’t understand anything she was saying.”
The woman spoke with Lisa’s mother, and they decided to move Lisa and her brother to Makaphutu until their mother recovered.
“Were you scared?” I asked, imaging what a seven-year-old must feel like being pulled from her home.
“Yes, I was scared,” said Lisa. She took a cautious look at me before continuing, then let out a giggle and added, “I’d never seen a white person!”
Shortly after Lisa and her brother came to Makaphutu, their mother passed away. Makaphutu changed from “the place they would stay for a while” to their new home. In the ten years since, Lisa has flourished.
As a child at Makaphutu, Lisa grew up with house “siblings” and an auntie who helped nurture her. She learned to share, do chores, pray, cook and was enriched by recreational activities like sports and outings.
“They treat us like we’re their own children,” Lisa said.
She also received educational support, which is paying off big time. This year, Lisa will graduate high school. She wants to continue studying—either fashion design or social work.
“Why social work?” I asked.
“I like to help people. And I have a big heart,” she told me, fully self-aware and confident about her gifts.
Again, we’ll never know what Lisa’s life would have looked like in the absence of the safety, stability and support of Makaphutu. But knowing the area and the circumstances, we can guess.
A child without a family may take on responsibilities far beyond her years. Even if she is able to go to school, she may not have time to study at home because she must work. She may be vulnerable to abuse and rape because she lacks a protector and advocate.
Schools in this area receive scarce resources. Without help at home on her schoolwork, she may fall behind and drop out early. Or, without the guidance and love of an adult role model, she may seek love and affirmation from boyfriends.
She may be among the many girls to get pregnant at an early age, or she may be one of the girls who contracts HIV without knowing it because she didn’t know the risks. She may be unemployable and unsupported, left with a child to raise alone.
Even though these things happen often here, we don’t know for certain if any of them would have happened to Lisa.
That’s not her story.
Lisa is living up to her potential, to her divinely crafted purpose on earth. She’s not fending for herself. She’s not blind to her own value and importance.
As powerful as her story is, I’m equally compelled by what her story is not.
Looking around the faces of Makaphutu, I’m more aware than ever of the 38 stories that were never written—the stories of struggle, exploitation and brokenness that are the stories of too many children outside of these gates.
Jesus called orphans to our attention, charging communities to protect our most vulnerable neighbors. Here at Makaphutu, a network of social workers, leaders, volunteers and local and international supporters have come forward to make this feat possible for 38.
Thirty-eight may sound like a drop in the bucket, but to know these 38 unfolding stories is enough to remind us how important Jesus’ instructions were—instructions to rescue, to love, to nurture.
The people at Makaphutu are listening. Because of that, the stories we have are a glimpse of the Kingdom here on earth.
(*name has been changed)
- Learn more about Makaphutu, one of the partner ministries of Loving South Africa working in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.
- Think about the importance of a parent or guardian in the life of a child. How has a parent or guardian affected your story or life direction?
- Consider donating to Loving South Africa. Your donation will help empower Makaphutu and other ministries caring for those who most need it in Kwazulu Natal.
- Pray for the unfolding stories of Lisa and all of the children here at Makaphutu. May they continue to flourish and live up to their God-given potential.
About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.