On Saturday afternoon a group of friends and I spent the afternoon with Mirriam House in Paarl.
Mirriam has spent the past fifteen years providing a refuge for orphaned and abandoned children in the community – and besides providing shelter for them she she helps to educate them, feed them and clothe them – and she is the legal guardian of most of them.
On 17 July this year, the house that Mirriam and her children lived in burnt down – apparently after a neighbour’s paraffeine lamp was knocked over. They lost everything – and one of their toddlers, an 18-month-old boy, was killed after trying to return to the house. One of our friends, who works with Greater Capital, alerted us to the situation and the appeal for donations – and so we organised to cook up some lunch (and whip up a batch of cupcakes) and take them through to their temporary shelter in Paarl.
Friday night saw us industriously peeling potatoes and carrots, chopping up onions and garlic, and grating ginger. The resident chef among us managed to whip up a 12-litre pot full of curried mince (I would never, ever have attempted to cook en masse like that – I stand to be corrected but I think there may have been about 5kg of mince involved). Saturday morning and fifty-four rolls later (did you know that unsliced bread is really, really difficult to come by on a Saturday morning…!) and we were on our way to Paarl… with three big trays of cupcakes on our laps.
The temporary house is attached to a coffee shop in Paarl, and we discovered that not all of the kids had been relocated there. Mirriam herself was staying somewhere else – but by the time we arrived five days after the fire the cupboards were simply bursting with food, new toys and clothes for the little ones. It’s amazing to see how a community can rally around a cause… Working in media and being witness to all the negative things that happen in the world on a daily basis means that we often forget the power of community.
After dishing up for the house’s inhabitants – who range in age from about six months to their early twenties, and of course, for Mirriam and her family – we spent the afternoon playing with a group of the little ones outside, with some of our group pitching in to help with the masses of laundry.
Despite the massive tragedy that had just occurred and their unusual living situation, these kids were so, so well adjusted and so happy – I was blown away. We kicked a ball around, blew bubbles and the teacher among us brought paper, crayons and stickers. We even got involved in a pretty intense water pistol-fight… Which saw me on the ground while the most enterprising of the young girls took advantage of the situation and emptied her entire barrel over me, Geneva Convention be damned…
Now if you know me, you know that I’m pretty much allergic to kids. They’re terrifying – I have no idea what to do with the little buggers. Sure, there have been one or two that have managed to worm their way into my heart but they are very much in the minority. But after spending a day with these kids, well, I can sort of see the appeal in children. (Okay, fine, so I was a little broody. Whatever. No big deal. Jeez, like, get of my case already.)
In all seriousness, I was so taken aback by the amount of love in that household. Honestly, they were a family. These children all come from broken or bad homes and into an environment where along with the basic necessities, they were loved without exception or condition. And these children are smart, engaging, well-behaved and so full of joy that it was a wonder to behold. It goes to show what a proper home can do – I have no doubt that with Mirriam’s careful guidance these children will go on to be amazing individuals.
I was awed and humbled. We live in a remarkable world – which, through our daily hassles and individual dramas, we so often forget.
Read more about Mirriam House and the work they do – and find out how you can contribute – here.