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The family born out of need | Teagan Cloete

“If there is one word that could describe my life, it would be ‘children’.”

Christine “Chris” Harding and her husband, Mark, took in their first foster care child in 1983, when their biological youngest was four years old. “Even before we were married, we used to go to a children’s home and take children out. So our whole lives, basically, revolved around children.”

“It was right at the beginning of the HIV/Aids epidemic, and we had taken a break from foster care when our first grandchild arrived. But then, as the HIV/Aids epidemic grew there was becoming a tremendous need for foster parents again,” explains Chris.

According to Chis, one of the reasons for this sudden great need was because people were scared of HIV, so they didn’t want to take in HIV-positive babies. But, having worked in this area for some time, Chris and her husband understood that there was no risk of “catching” HIV, and were therefore not fazed by this disease.

However, taking in HIV-positive babies posed many challenges.

“You spent a lot of time going to and from hospitals… because the children were always sick.” And at that stage the children rarely lived beyond the age of three or four due to the minimal amounts of medicine available. “So, if you had more than one, you needed a back-up person to look after the other ones while you were at hospital.”

Finally, in 2003, Tshepo Ya Bana (“Hope for Children” in the Setswana language), was established in Hammanskraal. At Tshepo Ya Bana, the goal was never to grow too big. Their aim was to create a family.

“While we were all in the main house with the kids, they all called us ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’, and it worked. You know, people would say that because the kids had had a stable beginning with a proper mother and father figure, they were well adjusted to move to their ‘forever families’.”

The problem that Chris saw with the “normal” type of baby home, was the tremendous lack of permanence. The children are taken care of by a constantly changing group of staff, and when they reach 18, they are sent away. There is no sense of permanence or belonging for these children.

After her husband’s sudden death, Chris continued her work at Tshepo Ya Bana, until the beginning of 2022. In a Facebook post, Chris thanked all her followers for their years of support. “Many of you will have heard by now that, after almost 20 amazing years, we will be closing Tshepo ya Bana at the end of the month. I have reached an age where I need to slow down, and since we have operated it not as a children’s home but as a “family” set up, with children placed in the personal care of Mama Joye and myself, it can no longer continue. The farm is sold and I am moving to Pretoria to be nearer to my church and family. I want to thank all those of you who have supported us over the years, by giving so generously, by praying, by volunteering, and showing your support in so many ways. May the Lord bless you all!”

But Chris’s work does not end here. She and Mark had paved the way for other families to begin a similar mission in the same area, and these families are making great progress in helping many children find their “forever home”.

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