Boks visit abandonded babies

Durban - Members of the Springbok rugby squad marked Youth Day with a visit to the Shepherd's Keep home for abandoned babies on the Bluff in Durban on Tuesday.

The home, which takes care of mostly HIV positive babies from birth to six months old, relies solely on the generosity of donors for funding as well as on the services of volunteers.

The Springbok delegation to Shepherd's Keep included coach Peter de Villiers, manager Arthob Petersen and players Schalk Burger, Odwa Ndungane, Jongi Nokwe, Ryan Kankowski, Wynand Olivier, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Earl Rose. They donated hampers to the home containing baby products such as blankets, nappies, bottles and soft toys.

The home first opened its doors as a registered facility for 20 babies in 1998. As the HIV infection rate increased in KwaZulu-Natal, so did the number of abandoned babies, and eventually the number of AIDS orphans. Since opening its doors, Shepherd's Keep has taken care of 560 babies. It currently has 13 infants in its care.

As a 24 hour facility, the name of Shepherd's Keep has become synonymous with excellence through hard work and dedication, and is favoured by most officials when seeking shelter for abandoned babies.

"It is heart-wrenching to see these frail little beings who have been abandoned with seemingly no hope of survival," said De Villiers.

"The work that Shepherd's Keep is doing to give abandoned babies a chance in life is a truly moving experience. As role models, the Springboks can use their influence and profile on Youth Day to highlight the plight of these babies and to raise awareness to the great work that is being done by Shepherd's Keep.

"Hopefully our small gesture, and a lot of blessings from God, will capture the hearts of potential donors and volunteers to ensure that the home can continue its noble work." The home's co-founder Cheryl Pratley added: "We are thrilled to have the Springboks visit our home on Youth Day, which shows that they truly care for the youth and for the future of our country. We are extremely grateful for their visit because any action, large or small, can assist us in making sure that we continue to serve the community and make a difference to other's lives."

The aims of Shepherd's Keep are:

* To provide abandoned babies with nourishment and care, and to work with social workers to find parents for all babies.

* To stamp out the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS.

* To provide loving, excellent care for abandoned babies to comfort and care for terminally ill babies and provide hospice care.

* To train caregivers from poverty stricken areas and impact HIV infection rate with education and counselling through its Hands of Mercy ministry.

Facts and Figures

* Three babies are abandoned every 48 hours in KwaZulu-Natal

* In 2001, 874 babies were abandoned - that figure trebled in 2002 when 2186 babies were abandoned in KZN.

* In 2003, 2000 abandoned babies per month went through the welfare society of Durban.

* Most babies are abandoned in municipal toilets, latrines and refuse bags. This is mainly due to AIDS, poverty and unemployment.

* 34% of the KZN population is infected with AIDS. KZN has the most welfare agencies in the country and yet cannot cope. Most of these babies die, as a place of safety cannot be found in time to save them.

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