South Africa is often viewed by outsiders as a writhing mess of politics and violence, splashed across the international news networks for its infamous growing pains since its democracy was born in 1994.
My heart breaks to know that there are millions around the world who will never appreciate or understand the beauty of this place, the brilliant hues of social change repainting the Rainbow Nation with fresh ideas and changing people who are starting to see the world differently.
Here are three of my local heroes who have bravely stepped up to the often grueling call to love those around them.
Greensleeves Place of Safety for Children
One of these agents (or angels?) of change is a special lady called Dianne Lehy. Through years of service, she and her family, with a growing team of helpers and supporters, have transformed a community with love and purpose.
It started small. Di took in a lady who looked after several children (most not her own), whom Di had often seen sitting by the side of the farm road. Di and her husband, Ian, built this lady a small house on their own property and cultivated a vegetable garden; and then continued to support her out of their own salaries as the years went by.
This lady, who opened her heart to serve and love anyone in need around her, continued to take in orphaned children and babies as they came across her path. Many years down the line, this unconditional love led to the establishment of Greensleeves Place of Safety for Children in East London – a haven for orphans from all over East London that is close to this writer’s heart.
Building a ‘baby box’ in Mdantsane, South Africa’s second-largest township after Soweto, was a big step towards protecting little ones from being thrown away or left in dire situations – by mothers that are often young, destitute and desperate. The babies that come to Greensleeves and places like it, are in the in between phase of the social system (before being taken to loving homes or fully-equipped orphanages for long-term placement).
Although Di and Ian give all they have – time, money, love and energy – it would be a mistake to think that their sacrifice was only a small one, or that they are not as humble as the Savior they both believe in. Beautiful people do beautiful things. Adopting Jeremiah as their own a few years ago is just one of the things that reveal the depths of their hearts. They are fully committed to making their South Africa a better place for those who have no voice.
Read more about Greensleeves Place of Safety for Children here – donations of both money and goods are always appreciated by the team. They have recently started their very own school, too!
I Have a Name
Another inspirational character I have discovered is simply a Facebook page owner, based in Johannesburg. She showcases poor or marginalized people in her city through the Facebook page, I Have A Name, calling on local Facebookers to help in various ways.
Sometimes it is a request for a job, a cellphone, a bursary or a bicycle – but it is always a chance to build up, encourage, empower and serve another human being. The calls are often answered immediately, with the feed filling up with posts of encouragement, questions from those wanting to assist and cheers from supporters as the story ends happily. It does not always end happily. That’s humanity. That’s life. I Have A Name still serves the community and perseveres in uplifting people around it.
This last one happens to be family, but it is no less inspirational or worthy of recognition. We Care is a small business aimed at uplifting the poor in the townships close to home. It started as t-shirts, beanies and hoodies being printed – with 25:40 (inspired by Matthew 25:40 where Jesus encourages us to love “even the least of these”). The t-shirts have “(Your name) cares about (a cause)”, – for example, Travelinds cares about orphans.
The proceeds of these sales are then used to complete small projects in the nearby townships (like Sobantu in Pietermartizburg), as needed. This has so far included projects to build gardens, buy water tanks, fix roofs or help a needy family. You can help by ordering some apparel from the founder, Duncan, on the We Care Facebook page.
We consider all three of these amazing people Travelinds’ heroes and they inspire me to reach out, not counting the cost. That’s how change starts, with baby steps and an open heart that loves others the best that we can.
Be a voice for the silent.