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Changing lives

Cheerful. Grateful. Positive. Nothing-is-impossible. These are just a few words to describe the CEO of Louis Botha and Jakaranda Children’s Homes, Charlene Grobler. Not even the harsh reality she faces daily dampens her spirit.

For almost two decades Charlene Grobler has been involved with children’s homes as a social worker. First at Jakaranda and later at Louis Botha as well. Then two years ago she got the role of CEO of both the children’s homes, and she’s been acing every step. It’s evident that if you have passion, you can achieve anything.

“I love a challenge and gosh, quite a few curveballs have been thrown our way! Covid is a huge one. But I believe in what we do and how we do it. In the end, it is an honour to work with the children and to be able to journey with them and make a difference.

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“No one dreams of growing up in a children’s home. Children should be with their parents. But, due to either abuse, abandonment or neglect, they are placed in our care by court order. So we strive to be the best plan B there is to make sure we give them a different frame of reference and hope. This is our chance to prove to the children that there are adults whom they can trust.”

Charlene and her team provide therapy, medical care and a safe and loving home to 100 children – 41 girls and 59 boys – at Louis Botha. There are five homes for boys, four for girls, and each home can house up to a dozen children. Every home has its own house parent, relief house parent and an assistant who raises and takes care of the children.

Jakaranda provides the same care to 226 children including toddlers. All these operate just like a normal household – there are chores, homework, playtime, breakfast, lunch and dinner. All the children are dropped off at and fetched from their respective schools – in the Pretoria area daily.

However, as with any home, there are monthly costs that are simply unavoidable. Although they receive a bi-annually subsidy from the National Department of Social Development, this subsidy only covers about 54 per cent of their expenses. Not nearly enough to make ends meet. Just to put things in perspective, they use around 3000 loaves of bread and 350 litres of milk each month. Charlene and her team constantly come up with fundraising ideas that are out of the box … simply to survive.

“We know that so many people are taking strain financially. So going into a manic panic will simply not help or solve any problem. That’s why we’ve opened the Finders Keepers shop at Louis Botha with donations that we’ve received from the public, with their permission then to sell it. At this vintage thrift shop, you can find anything you can think of – books, toys, clothes, jewellery, homeware … and the list goes on. We’ve done our first Thrift Fair which turned out to be a huge success, so keep an eye out on our Facebook page for the next one! If you have anything at your home that you are not using anymore, give it a second life by donating it to us. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”

In July a classical music evening with a wine pairing is planned at the AfriForum theatre, and after two years the hugely popular lights festival will return in December.

Apart from this they also have a stall called Big Cause at the Pretoria Boeremark every Saturday. There they sell cake bombs, rusks, chilli sauce, T-shirts, brownie-mix-in-a-jar, movie night jars and clay earrings. Best of all? Everything is made by the children and house parents. How great is that?

“From an early age we try to upskill our children and make entrepreneurs out of them. We have various projects such as sewing groups, and we make clay earrings. We want to start with woodwork and welding soon. Ultimately, our goal is to send our children into the grown-up world with the necessary skills.

“We do have the Vision Independence trust fund for school leavers that offers opportunities for further studies; career counselling and financial advice; supports children with transport, groceries and accommodation; helps with personal needs; and provides emotional support and guidance .”     

Both the children’s homes have many stories of success and hope. A story that particularly tugs on Charlene’s heartstrings is about a street child who couldn’t swim. He is now a qualified scuba diving instructor with his own diving school, and he works as an IT consultant.

“There’s another about a very successful interior designer with his own business. There are many actually, proving that just because you come from a children’s home doesn’t make you less of a person. You can make a success if you work hard. My wish for all the children who leave us one day is to be proud to say they grew up in Jakaranda or Louis Botha Children’s Homes.”

The adage it takes a village to raise a child is still true, now more than ever. Especially when you see the incredible work Charlene and her team do daily. And they do it with so much cheerfulness, despite the underlying heartache they are surrounded by.

Pop in at Finders Keepers Monday to Thursday from 8am to 4pm, and Fridays from 8am to 3pm at 5 Briscoe Lane, Queenswood. Or visit their stall every Saturday at the Pretoria Boeremark from 5:30am to 9:30am at 665 Moreleta Street, Silverton.

Details: louisbothachildren.co.za, jacarandachildren.co.za, or follow  @jakarandakinderhuis, @louisbothakinderhuis, @finderskeeperspta and @BigCausePTA on Facebook.

WISHLIST FOR BOTH HOMES:

Cleaning needs:
• Handy Andy • Refuse bags • Toilet paper• Washing powder • Dishwashing liquid• Domestos • Pine gel • Jeyes Fluid • Bleach• Dettol/ Savlon • Hand wash

Food:
• Fresh fruit and veggies • Meat • Pasta/ rice • Soya products • Non-perishable tinned foods • Long-life milk • Cereals/ porridge • Cheese/ dairy products • Coffee/ tea • Sugar
• Spices

Medical:
• Elastoplast strips • Elastoplast strapping• Ankle guards • Knee guards • Medazine nausea tablets • Deep Heat • Zam-Buk • Vicks• Allergex tablets • Betadine mouthwash • Bandages 50mm and 100mm • Hyospasmol tablets • Wartner cryotherapy

Toiletries:
• Shampoo • Conditioner • Roll-on deodorant • Body spray deodorant • Sanitary pads• Disposable razors • Aqueous cream • Face cloths • Sponges • Toothpaste • Toothbrushes

Winter clothing (various sizes from four to 19 years):
• Tracksuits • Jackets • Pyjamas • Jerseys • Socks • Slippers

What else can you do to help?
Get involved with anything you can, whether it is money or time. Sharing your experience, skills and knowledge could mean that our children might find a skill or passion that they would love to explore and develop.

Support-a-Home – Become involved with a specific house and assist that house with improving its infrastructure and meeting day-to-day needs.

Become a volunteer or guest parent at the Jakaranda or Louis Botha Children’s Homes.

Text: Rialien Furstenberg
Photographer: Stephen Segal
Make-up & hair: Elaine Boshoff

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