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.