They opened their home – and hearts – to South Africa's abandoned babies
Christo and Lanie de Klerk have founded the Baby Moses sanctuary for abandoned babies in South Africa.
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"We don't know the reasons most of these mothers abandon their children," Lanie says. "Sometimes it's because of rape or poverty. But we never point fingers at the mothers."Skip to next paragraph
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They've personally experienced the growing number of cases.
"When we started, we got one referral a month, or even every two months," she says. "Now, sometimes we get three a day."
Van Der Watt has known the de Klerks for 15 years and says she believes what they are doing is invaluable.
"The [South African government] system is just not coping," she says. "In a small way, Baby Moses is making a difference. From there the children get placed with families; they are put into foster care, taken into private homes, and even adopted sometimes.
"It might seem like only a few children when you look at it on a daily basis, but over a year you can see how many they take care of – it's often 30 or 40 kids a year."
One aspect of the tragedy of abandoned babies does seem to be changing for the better, and it involves HIV.
"The number of children we get referred that are HIV positive is drastically reduced," Lanie says. "We only have three kids now who are HIV positive, but before it was many of them."
According to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa is supplying anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV to some 700,000 people, although, by his own admission, this is only half of those in need.
Still, an increasing number of adoptive parents are now willing to take on children who are HIV positive, Christo says.
"It's just not such a big issue in South Africa as it used to be. People are not so scared of it," he says. "It used to be almost impossible to get people to adopt HIV positive kids, but now people know there is treatment."
Christo and Lanie are modest about what they are doing. They speak self-effacingly about how much their work means to their own lives.
"For us, it's about sharing," Lanie says. "We get a small salary, but we share everything with the children. When we cook, we share our food with the children. We don't cook separately for them."
For a moment, she pauses, unable to speak. Then she looks over and smiles at her husband.
"I'm the emotional one," she says and laughs shyly. "He's the practical one."
In response, Christo stands up and walks across the small, crowded living room. He reaches up and takes a framed picture down off the top of a wardrobe.
There are seven children in the picture. He points to each one individually and explains who they are and how they came to live with the de Klerks. "This one came to us with HIV.This one had fetal alcohol syndrome; this one, too. This one has spina bifida...."
He looks up and continues quietly.
"They've all been adopted, and when I see now how they are normal little kids running around, I know they have a future now, a chance."
Lanie suddenly interrupts.
"I'm sorry," she says, "but I have to go. I have to take a child to the doctor."
Just before she leaves she shares a final thought.
"These kids are changing South Africa," she says. "They are changing people's hearts.
"We hope that our kids can go back to their communities like Moses did and make a difference to their people."
• To learn more, visit www.babymoses.co.za.
• The e-mail address for cofounder Lanie de Klerk is email@example.com.
• Johannesburg Child Welfare provides services to children in South Africa and assists community groups in providing for orphaned and vulnerable children, including adoption services, foster care, and child abuse treatment.
• Cotlands, a nonprofit that has been helping children for more than 70 years, is active in five South African provinces and serves more than 8,000 people with a wide range of services.
• The Princess Alice Adoption Home in Johannesburg cares for abandoned babies and pregnant girls needing shelter.
• Baby Safe, with locations around South Africa, was founded to fight “baby dumping.” It allows desperate mothers to safely and anonymously leave babies, who are then placed for adoption. It also counsels at-risk pregnant women.