Giving abandoned children a home is what makes life sweeter for Shirley Bezuidenhout. By Ncumisa Makhonjwa
It is a sad fact of life that more and more young SA women are having babies and are unable to take care of them. There is hardly a day that passes without a report of a newborn being dumped or a mother in a tight spot resorting to desperate measures because she feels isolated and without resources.
It’s very fortunate, then, that there are women like Shirley Bezuidenhout in the world, whose life’s mission is to help deserted babies and destitute mothers. So triumphant are her efforts, Shirley won the 2014 BWA (Businesswomen’s Association) regional achiever award in the social-entrepreneur category, an award she appreciated, but not one that defines her reasons for choosing to help others.
Establishing a purpose
East London’s Breath of Life offers just that; a new start for abandoned babies up to six months old by providing a safe environment where they can be cared for. Since its establishment in 2009, the centre has been working to get little ones fostered into loving families.
Unfortunately, they can only help six babies at a time, which is why they work with another organisation supporting orphaned and vulnerable children with the help of accredited social workers.
The organisation also runs two crisis pregnancy centres at Frere and Cecilia Makiwane hospitals. Women who come to these centres are given invaluable support, as well as information about termination alternatives, government grants, and South Africa’s fostering and adoption services.
The kids are all right
For Shirley, working as a co-ordinator for Breath of Life comes naturally. ‘I have always had a passion to make a difference in people’s lives and working for Breath of Life enables me to do that,’ she says.
Being a mother herself, she simply couldn’t ignore the fact that hundreds of infants are abandoned every year. Something had to be done, she says, and she now runs the programme with the assistance of Elaine Brenkman and Heather Muller, the house mother and senior counsellor, respectively.
Together, they ensure that Breath of Life runs smoothly and meets its main objective: to help those in need.
Where is the love?
‘Social development has always been important to me. I firmly believe that all people deserve to be loved and cared for, without us passing judgement on their behaviour,’ explains Shirley. Her faith also influenced her to establish this organisation and is seen through her affiliation with the Restore Trust, a public benefit organisation started by the Stirling Baptist Church.
Even though her organisation is constantly faced with trying to meet demands with limited resources, the joy and satisfaction when the babies under her care find homes make it all worth it. ‘We stay in contact with most parents who adopt our babies, sending them birthday cards and sometimes even going to their birthday parties. It is just such a blessing to see them growing up into beautiful, healthy and strong children.’
Breath of Life also maintains contact with some of the women they counsel by conducting follow-up appointments. ‘Some of these women walk a long road until they are fully restored and that’s why we’re here for them.’
The support Shirley receives from her community is something she’s always appreciated – and the love has been pouring in ever since her nomination for a BWA award last year. She hopes that all the attention her organisation has received will translate into practical support, such as donations of formula, nappies and other baby products.
‘Another way people can help us is by becoming guardians,’ she says. ‘To become a guardian, you have to pledge anything from R100 a month. We also run a charity shop called iThemba in Vincent, East London where we sell pre-owned baby clothes and various baby accessories.’
Shirley has much more planned for Breath of Life, such as increasing their presence at abortion clinics and increasing their capacity to house more babies. But for now, what she’s doing is more than anyone can ask for.