Please tell us a little more about yourself and your journey thus far.
I was born in England and during my late teens I used to volunteer at Nazareth House Children’s Home in Bristol, where I developed a great love for the babies and children at the Home. I was also inspired by the love and dedication of so many of the nuns living and working there. I gradually felt a strong call to “leave all and follow Him”, so that I could give myself wholeheartedly to the care of the most vulnerable and needy children who had been deprived of a normal and happy family life. I say “gradually”, as I had always dreamed of marrying and having my own children one day, and I never intended leaving the West Country village which I loved and where I had grown up.
Eventually after much inner struggle, I found myself answering this “call” and joined the Sisters of Nazareth in London in 1971. Then in 1976 I was suddenly transferred to Nazareth House in Pretoria. I gained my BA in social work at UNISA in 1985, and after a couple of years caring for the children in Durban Nazareth House, I was moved to Cape Town Nazareth House in 1986 to be a social worker and principal of the children’s home. Here I found a great sense of joy and fulfillment, as well as many challenges. The ages of the children ranged from pre-school to 18, and many had already experienced much trauma, rejection and lack of security in their short lives.
In 1991, our first baby with HIV was admitted to the Home, and we were suddenly inundated with applications for HIV positive abandoned, sick and orphaned babies and young children from as far away as Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. This was several years before ARV treatment was available in SA and there was so much fear and stigma around the virus. Babies with other conditions such as genetic deformities and profound disabilities were also admitted, mostly for palliative and end of life care. Sadly, over the following years we lost more than 100 babies and children, mostly to AIDS. In 2002 our children were the first group in SA to begin ARV treatment at Groote Schuur Hospital, through the One-to-One Trust Fund. All the children gradually became stronger and healthier, and it was so good to hear them talk about their ideas and dreams for the future. Instead of saying “If I grow up…” they would say “When I grow up…”.
In 2013 I found myself in a totally different role when I was appointed superior of our Nazareth House in Johannesburg for 3 years. I really missed the hands-on involvement with the children, but I gradually settled in and discovered new challenges, new friends and new ways of doing things!
Since then I have been appointed Regional Superior of the African Region of the Sisters of Nazareth, which has been an even more challenging role for me. The Regional Offices are centred in Cape Town, so I was delighted to be coming back to my “old home”. There is a great deal of administration involved, and I am so blessed to have a really experienced, professional and dedicated Regional Support Team, headed by our CEO Mr Wayne Devy. I have never been one to sit behind a desk all day, so the part of my job which I find most rewarding and enriching entails visiting our Houses and Outreach projects throughout the Region. In this way I get to know and understand more about our different ministries, meeting the elderly residents, children and staff in each facility, and of course catching up with the other Sisters, offering support and encouragement wherever I can.
How did Nazareth Care come about?
More than 160 years ago, our founder Victoire Larmenier began, what was to become a global legacy of service, when she opened the very first Nazareth House in Hammersmith, UK. Her ambitions to provide care for the poor, desolate, and abandoned soon expanded to Africa.
Our first Nazareth House opened its doors in 1882 in the Western Cape of South Africa. So unfolded the tenacious passion for caring for the starving, ill, and suffering people of Southern Africa. At a time enrobed with uncertainty, The Sisters of Nazareth represented hope, healing, and a chance at life for so many.
To this day, more than 130 years later, Nazareth Care remains a beacon of strength to many lives across the African region.
This unstoppable purpose has paved a movement of compassion and humanity – one that continues to build through the work of all who strive to make the world a better place.
For over a century, we’ve helped to significantly improve the lives of thousands of impoverished communities and suffering individuals. In a world where millions of children continue to die from preventable causes, are neglected due to disabilities, miss out on education, and are subjected to violence and abuse, we realise that our journey is only beginning.
Our Ambition for Change defines what we want to achieve for deprived children, impoverished communities, and vulnerable elderly. The objective is simple: To close the gap between the funding we receive and the funding we need. For over 13 decades, Nazareth House has provided a safe space for vulnerable children and the ageing elderly to thrive against the odds. Our children’s homes offer specialised care for youth who have been abandoned, neglected, or living with physical and intellectual disabilities. Our care homes for the aged are focused on the quality of life and offer residents an opportunity to live with dignity and respect in an active community.
What began as a humble dream for change has become a place where the most vulnerable in our society find sanctuary, love, and hope for a better tomorrow. We are proud and blessed to witness the joy and hope in the eyes of our residents, both young and old, every day.
Nazareth Care is currently busy with an important initiative, please tell us a little more about it.
The 20K Campaign forms part of Nazareth Care’s individual fundraising and is a challenge to get 20 000 individuals to sign up and donate on either a monthly or annual recurring basis to Nazareth Care, committing their belief to the work we do through Nazareth House and our ministries.
Pledge your R50 to a cause that matters via our website: www.nazarethcare.co.za/20kcampaign/
What is it that you are passionate about?
I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of those who are most vulnerable and lonely. I think especially of the many children who have passed through my care, some never had names of their own, never knew their parents or who they really were. I am always so aware of the many babies and children who died of AIDS before treatment was available – many of these had been abandoned and died without us managing to trace family members or to find who they really were or belonged to. We have a memorial plaque in our Chapel in Cape Town where they are remembered. It is so important that they are not forgotten, because if those of us who cared for them and loved them at Nazareth House do not remember them, then no one will.
Who or What has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
I think there have been a few special people in my life who have really influenced me, but one that quickly comes to mind and I suppose is predictable, is the late Madiba – Nelson Mandela. I came to South Africa just after the Soweto riots, I worked for 2 years in Mamelodi in the early ‘80’s during my social work training, and experienced for myself the effects of the injustices, the brutality of so many army and police personnel, the struggles of so many, and the anxiety of being searched at gunpoint every time I went in and out. The forgiving spirit, the patience, and compassion of Madiba has always inspired me so much. I felt his compassion when meeting him at one of his Birthday parties and he took a small child from me who was blind and disabled, sat her on his lap and spoke so gently to her.
What is your personal “motto”?
Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.
What advice would you give our youth wanting to follow their dreams?
Always examine your dreams, make sure they are real and not just passing. Make sure they are realistic and achievable. Don’t be afraid to move forward, and believe in yourself. But also do not be too proud to ask for advice and guidance. Turn to your faith in times of difficulty and you will find your strength to get through anything.
Who or what is your inspiration and why?
Apart from Madiba and the reasons I gave, I have always been (and will remain so) inspired by so many of the children in my care who were terminally ill and who never lost their spirit of cheerful determination and love of life. They never stopped believing in themselves and tried so hard to keep up with the others and make the best of everything. They have really been a true inspiration to me and will always remain so.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Learn more languages, learn to play the flute (I am a bit old to start now!) and have more confidence in myself.
Your favourite daily affirmation (if you have one)?
Help me Lord to do my best and not to mess things up today – give me more patience.
Your favourite quote:
“Act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God…” (Micah 6:8)
Which book are you reading now (if any)?
“The Body – A Guide for Occupants” by Bill Bryson. Someone gave me the book for Christmas and only now am I having a chance to read it. I love Bill Bryson’s books – he writes in such a light-hearted and amusing way, yet is so full of knowledge, information and interesting facts. I really wonder how he can find time for so much research and then to put it all together in a very enjoyable read.
One piece of (general) advice that you’d like to share:
Don’t compare yourself with others or wish you were someone else. We are all unique pieces of a puzzle which forms the human race, with different shapes, sizes, colours, talents and abilities. When things go wrong, it is not the end of the world. Tomorrow will be better….
Is there anything that Xtraordinary Women can do to assist you on your journey?
As mentioned, we are in constant need of assistance with support for Nazareth Care. Pledging toward the 20K Campaign is our sole drive in order to remain doing the work we do.Pledge your R50 to the @NazarethCareAFR 20K Campaign via their website: www.nazarethcare.co.za/20kcampaign/ #Donate #BeA20KChampion #20KCampaign #NonProfit Click To Tweet
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