Botshabelo: Building a Place of Refuge for Children

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Bill Blacquiere discusses the services Bethany provides to families in Botshabelo to help it become a place of refuge.

I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I was sitting in a humble home in Botshabelo—a township in South Africa devastated by poverty—listening to a father describe the conditions he and his family endured every day. The house was packed with dozens of his neighbors. They heard we were coming and hoped we would listen. They told us no one seemed to be interested in their problems. Botshabelo is the second largest township in South Africa, the more familiar Soweto being the largest.

Traveling with me was my wife, our global services director, and one of Bethany’s board members. Speaking almost nonchalantly, this soft-spoken man pointed to a small girl—she couldn’t have been 12 years old—and told us that she had been raped repeatedly by gang members that prowl the streets of Botshabelo. It was a regular occurrence as she walked to school. What struck me most was that this poor child just stared at me with a blank look on her face as I listened to the horror that she lived. It was almost as if she was resigned to the life she had been given.

No child should have to endure that kind of treatment, which is why we were there. In 2011, a church in Michigan asked if we could help them with their mission project in Botshabelo. With the help of another small, indigenous Christian agency, we conducted a community needs assessment that literally broke our hearts. Many children live entirely on their own. Others have to care for parents dying from HIV/AIDS complications. Children and youth are being killed every day. It is not a safe place to be a child.

We also met with the government. They knew about Bethany and encouraged us to take steps to become an official agency that can legally provide child protection services. Botshabelo didn’t have a single child protection agency certified to work with the courts. We are the first—and only—for a township of 181,000 mostly poor, disadvantaged people.

We created a strategic plan to provide a range of services for children and families in there, including our foster-to-adopt program. In this township alone there are a few thousand children who are waiting for families. We hired staff there who have already recruited families and are training them to become foster parents.

Ironically, Botshabelo means “place of refuge” in the local language. It is anything but that, but with our friends at the church in Michigan and other partners—and as much prayer and support as we can find—we hope to help this township live up to its name.

Written by By Bill Blacquiere

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