Home is Where the Heart is

Marlene’s life changed in 2009, when she became part of a donor sponsored programme in Soweto. Since then we’ve known her as a happy, loving girl whose smile brings joy to those who know and cherish her. *Marlene Mashego (pseudonym) (17) and her younger brother *Lesego Mashego (pseudonym) (12) were born HIV positive. Her status doesn’t keep her from being the shining star that she is. She is a role model and has a positive impact on the children around her. In this article, Marlene shares her story and experience of being a part of the Extended Family programme in Soweto.

I was born and raised in Soweto, in a household of 10 family members. My gogo (grandmother) played the role of mother and father to me and my brother. She struggled to make ends meet. Our only source of income was gogo’s monthly pension grant as nobody else was working. In 2009 God sent an angel to lift the burden off gogo’s shoulders. He promised that He will never forsake His children and that is a promise He has kept.

I was in Grade 4 when I was welcomed at my second home. A home is a place filled with love, hope, joy, peace and all that a child needs to be happy. The Extended Family Programme is exactly that; a home where I got to experience the love of having a caring mother and father given by the caregivers and donors (some of whom we’ve never met), who made sure that I never go to sleep on an empty stomach nor start my lessons in the morning hungry. We had a meal prepared for us every day.

Just like our peers, we had proper school stationery, school uniforms and our caregivers made sure they attended our school meetings, followed up on our academic progress with our teachers and made sure our grades are up to standard. They made sure we took our medication and just like our caregivers, donors made sure we were sorted when it came to things like toiletries and warm winter clothing and blankets when winter came around.

My favourite and most memorable times are during the holiday seasons, when we’re truly made to feel like we belong to a family. During Easter and Christmas we would have events where we all come together as brothers and sisters (all the beneficiaries on the programme) and have fun. We’d get presents, meet some of the donors and at times have celebrities visit and give motivational talks. And that’s what unconditional love feels like to me.

Through the unending love and support I got from the family programme, I managed to overcome the negative obstacles I was facing in my journey. I made sure that I got good grades throughout my years of schooling. We always had academic awards during the holidays as part of the Holiday Programme, which actually motivated me to be where I am today – a first year student at a university of my dreams (Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University formally known as MEDUNSA) and studying towards a BSc degree. I will definitely make sure that I acquire a PhD.

By the grace of God, the Extended Family Programme surely shall receive a cup of blessings fully measured, pressed down, shaken down and running for the glorious work they do in the community. I pray to God that we will find more sponsors to give a helping hand with funds in making this programme more of a success so that more children who are in need of a loving family can receive the same as I did. I make a pledge to myself that tomorrow I will also put a smile on the faces of those longing for a love and a caring family.

Die huis van my hart

Marlene se lewe het in 2009 verander, toe sy opgeneem is in ons program in Soweto wat deur ‘n donateur geborg is. Sedertdien ken ons haar as ‘n gelukkige en liefdevolle jong meisie met ‘n glimlag wat vreugde bring aan almal vir wie sy kosbaar is. *Marlene Mashego (skuilnaam) (17) en haar jonger boetie, *Lesego Mashego (skuilnaam) (12) is albei MIV positief, maar die status verhoed haar nie om ‘n ster te wees nie. Sy is ‘n goeie rolmodel en het ‘n positiewe impak op die kinders om haar. In die artikel deel Marlene haar storie en haar ervaring om deel te wees van die  “Extended Family” program in Soweto.

Ek is gebore in Soweto en het grootgeword in ‘n huishouding van tien gesinslede. My gogo (ouma) moes ma en pa wees vir my en my boetie. Sy het gesukkel om reg te kom met net haar pensioen, siende dat niemand anders werk gehad het nie. In 2009 het die Here ‘n engel gestuur om die las van my gogo se skouers te lig. Hy het belowe dat Hy nooit Sy kinders sal verlaat nie en dit is ‘n belofte wat Hy gehou het!

Ek was in Graad 4 toe ek in dié tweede tuiste verwelkom is. ‘n Tuiste is ‘n plek vol van liefde, hoop, vreugde en vrede en dit is al wat ‘n kind nodig het om gelukkig te kan wees. Die “Extended Family Program” is juis dit. Liefdevolle versorgers en donateurs het die rol van ma en pa ingeneem, al het ek van hulle nooit ontmoet nie. Hulle het seker gemaak dat ek nooit honger gaan slaap het nie of honger skooltoe moes gaan nie. Ons het elke dag ‘n maaltyd gehad.

Net soos die ander kinders het ons behoorlike skoolskryfbehoeftes en skooluniforms gehad. Ons versorgers het skoolbyeenkomste bygewoon en ons akademiese vordering dopgehou sodat ons op standaard presteer het. Hulle het seker gemaak ons neem ons medikasie. So ook het donateurs seker gemaak dat ons die nodige toiletware en warm klere en komberse in die winter gehad het.

Die lekkerste tye was tydens skoolvakansies, toe ons regtig kon voel ons behoort aan ‘n groter familie. Ons het bymekaar gekom as broers en susters oor Kersfees en Paasfees. Dit was groot pret. Ons het persente gekry en sommige donateurs ontmoet en partykeer het bekendes vir ons kom motiveringspraatjies gee. Dit het vir my gevoel soos onvoorwaardelike liefde.

Met die oneindelige liefde en ondersteuning wat ek by die gesinsprogram gekry het, kon ek al die negatiewe struikelblokke in my lewensreis sover oorkom. Ek het seker gemaak dat ek goeie resultate kry op skool. Ons het altyd akademiese toekennings gekry as deel van die vakansieprogram, wat my baie gemotiveer het. Vandag is ek ‘n eerstejaar student by die universiteit van my drome (Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University voorheen bekend as MEDUNSA). Ek studeer vir ‘n BSC graad en mik vir ‘n doktoraal.

Deur die Genade van God sal die “Extended Family Program” sekerlik ‘n beker van seëninge ontvang wat tot barstens toe vol is en oorloop vir die wonderlike werk wat in die gemeenskap gedoen word. Ek bid dat God nog borge sal gee wat ‘n helpende hand kan gee om meer sukses te bring vir meer kinders wat ‘n liefdevolle familie nodig het, net soos ek hulle nodig gehad het. Ek belowe ook dat ek ook in die toekoms ‘n glimlag sal bring vir kinders wat smag na ‘n liefdevolle gesin.