When parents are gone

2007-11-22 00:00

“I believe that God gives us all gifts, and He gave me the gift of mercy. Children always were my passion and I wanted to be a school teacher, but my parents couldn't afford to send me to teachers' training college. There were no bursaries in those days so I never fulfilled my dream. Until now.”

Carol MacCallum talks matter-of-factly about the way her life has turned out. Born and bred in Pietermaritzburg, MacCullum spent seven years in Durban in the early years of her marriage with her husband Jock. When they came back to Pietermaritzburg MacCallum worked as a secretary for the City Health Department and was involved with work in the clinics. This work led her to study psychology through Unisa while her two daughters, Jean and Kim, were growing up.

Her love of industrial psychology drew her to work as a secretary for a number of psychologists in the city. Finally, when the psychologist she was working with at the time was transferred to Medilife, she joined him there. Then Medilife folded.

“I was unemployed for six months and felt like my life was going nowhere,” MacCallum recalls. “At that stage I realised that secretarial work was no longer for me. Then I saw an obscure advert in the paper. It said if one enjoyed people and wanted a challenge one should apply. It was certainly different, and so I applied.

“The advert was for SOS Children's Village and I knew right after the interview that this was the job I needed to do.”

MacCallum eventually became the corporate fund raiser for the SOS Children's Village where she worked for almost six years.

“I loved being involved in raising money to meet the needs of children,” she says. “And I loved being with the children.”

MacCallum's interests slowly moved away from being involved with the children in the village as she became more concerned with those children at risk in the community itself. At the end of 2003 she felt the need for a break and went to spend time with her daughter in England. She did home-based care for elderly people to support herself.

When she came back from the UK a friend of hers tried to find her a job as a corporate fund raiser in fields similar to that of the SOS Children's Village. The only jobs available were in Durban.

MacCallum decided that she couldn't face travelling that distance every day. So she decided to start her own organisation. As with all her decisions, she asked God to help her decide how best to use her gifts.

“I was with my daughter Jean on Christmas day watching a television programme about how people were spending this special day,” MacCallum says. “One excerpt showed a young boy near Willowton washing his plate under a tap. The narrator said that for the boy Christmas day was no different from any other day. He was the head a family that had been devastated by Aids and there was never anything special for him on any day. I told Jean that this was what I wanted to do. I was going to help children in child-headed households in the community.”

MacCallum embarked on what turned out to be a steep learning curve while she was setting up her fledgling company, Sinethemba: we have hope. After much work Sinethemba was registered with the National Department of Social Development.

Working alongside Hospice, MacCallum has been given 10 families to care for. “We try to work with the families Hospice is dealing with while the parents are still there so that the parents will have the assurance that we will take care of their children when they are gone,” she explains.

Her 10 families are the tip of an enormous iceberg. “Edendale Hospice has told me that there are more than 600 child-headed households in the greater Edendale area.”

MacCallum prayed for guidance for the right person to help her with her enormous task. “I've been waiting to find someone special and I asked God to lead me again,” she explains. “Then I watched a programme from the series Heartlines which I hoped to show the people I'm working with. One of the programmes was about a pastor who forgives a man who'd been in prison for being a drug dealer.

“The very next day I read in The Witness the article about Clement Ntuli whose experience closely mirrored the character in Heartlines. Within a day I'd spoken to him and I employed him immediately.

“I've had such peace about this decision. We've been working together for almost two months now and he is wonderful with the people in our care. He understands what they are going through better than anyone. At the moment we look after nine families, made up of about 49 people.

“With Clement's help, I am able to use my gift properly and to give people hope. At last I have fulfilled my passion.”

• Sinethemba needs donations of all sorts to help children in the greater Edendale community who are without parents. If you can help in any way, phone Carol MacCallum at 033 386 0180 or 082 879 0835.

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