What happens to them when they turn 18?

Every now and then we read of the marvellous rescue of a newborn whose body was stuffed into a toilet, wrapped in garbage bags, left in a blanket on the roadside or on at a person’s front doorstep. Usually, the child has been abandoned by a very young mother, maybe only just into her teens, who is overwhelmed with the responsibility of raising a child. There are many possible reasons that she has had to take such a drastic step – she has no form of income or other support; her family may have thrown her out and she is bereft; she can see no happy future; she is already an addict. I find it hard to believe that so many girls and women truly wish for their baby to die, usually suffering pain from cold, hunger & thirst or a mother’s gentle touch.

This was brought home to me even more strongly about 6 months ago when my domestic worker, Lungi Machi, told me the sad story of Mpume. Lungi’s daughter, Delisele, is a House Mother at a Children’s Home in Durban. This was no small task taken on by this unmarried woman who was just 28 when she first became a House Mother. There were 12 children in her ‘home’ and ranged in age from birth to 16 at the time. Yes, 12 children for a woman to mother!  all from different backgrounds and all with different needs. Some had come from violent homes, others from homes where the children were neglected and others whose parents and/or extended family did not want them. Then there was Mpume – no idea who any family might be.

Two years later and Mpume, is being prepared to leave the home as she would soon turn 18. This is the rule in all government children’s homes. For those who have family and/or friends they at least had somewhere to start but what was to happen to Mpume. She would have been completely alone in the world had it not been for the loving and willing nature of Justice and Lungi Machi. In fact, this means that she has actually come into a family which has chosen her rather than having to return to a home from which she had been removed due to other circumstances. She has shown one great talent, athletics and was privileged to have been sponsored to compete in a schools event in Pretoria this past December. Fortunately, Mpume now has a place she can call home and where she will be loved and encouraged to be a beautiful woman. I can say that with confidence because I know how wonderfully Lungi and Justice have raised all their other children.

When Lungi told me that she and her husband had agreed to take Mpume into their home as one of their own grandchildren, my immediate response was, “But how can you afford that, Lungi?” (She already has her own 4 children, one of whom had a major stroke at the age of 2 and, now over 30, is both deaf and dumb and has the intellect of a 2 year old; plus 2 others whom they took in after their mother did want them.) “Lungi, how are you going to be able to support all this family?”  Her gentle response was to touch her heart and say that it was from there one gets riches. Trust in God and he will provide.

The question is, what happens to all the others who turn 18 and are simply told it is time to leave? ‘You have been cared for and now you must care for yourself.’ Those of us who have our own children know how vulnerable young people are at this age. How many will turn to drugs and/or alcohol, crime or prostitution in desperation. In South Africa we already have an unemployment rate of 25% with more than half under the age of 25.  It is hard enough to obtain employment with some tertiary education but for these young people, who have only finished high school at the most, employment is that much more difficult to find. Most of us live in our comfortable cocoons and don’t want to get involved. Thank goodness, for people such as Justice and Lungi Machi. We need so many more.

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