Heartlands Baby Sanctuary is a haven for babies, as they provide care, support and development until they can be reunited with their families, placed in foster care or adopted by loving families. Their services are based on passion, respect and integrity and include health and psychological care, opportunities for these growing minds to reach their developmental milestones, nutrition, education and social services.

The Heartlands team is committed to giving little children their birthright to belong. Monica Buitendag, CEO of Heartlands Baby Sanctuary, tells us more about how Heartlands began and the invaluable care they provide vulnerable babies who are removed from a familial environment.

Monica started helping our communities early in her life, and by 1996 she joined a well known Childcare organisation in Gauteng before relocating to the Western Cape. She opened an office for that organisation in Kuils River in 2000, where they focused on incorporating policies on HIV and AIDS. As requests for placement of children were streaming in, Monica realised that the need for a physical home in the Cape was huge. That’s when the sanctuary, under the wing of this organisation in the Western Cape, was born from an old building and the contributions of a few dedicated staff members.

Monica resigned in 2014, as her vision and that of the growing organisation didn’t align any longer. By 2015, she and three of the previous staff members initiated Heartlands Baby Sanctuary at the request of the Department of Social Development due to the fact that there is, within this segment of care in the Western Cape, a specific shortage of residential facilities catering for children under six who are suffering at the hands of abuse, neglect or abandonment and or of some medical condition. This time, their clear ethos of providing children with a sense of belonging rooted the organisation in its purpose.

Restarting an organisation like a baby sanctuary takes more than time and determination.

“After being in the field for more than 20 years, it was still a very challenging journey to start an organisation all over again. By the time we closed the office in Kuils River, 11 years down the road, it was one of three accredited paediatric hospices in South Africa, so it was a well-run organisation. It was challenging to go from a well-established organisation to one with a null balance and no name – we didn’t even have cutlery or crockery. I would ask myself ‘is there a greater plan for this?’.

After much toil, we’re celebrating our fifth year this year (2020) as well as giving 266 children back “their birthright to belong”. As an establishment, we’ve grown from having nothing to reaching children in need. I hope that for many more years we will be able to answer these little children’s cry for help. Each child is different, and they have to cope with their own problems. Some have lost or were removed from their parents, and others may be ill.

And I think for all of us, when we were young, our biggest fear was losing our parents and here we have young children who have lost their parents, are on the receiving end of abuse or was maybe an unwanted presence not really loved by their parents. Now they’re here all by themselves with other children that they don’t know.”

As a small NGO, Heartlands faces many difficulties as it provides a home for vulnerable children in South Africa.

“It’s very tough for a small organisation like ours. But when people walk through our doors, they always walk straight into a positive environment. Our team is very diverse, we are all from different backgrounds, cultures, and educational levels, but we work in harmony as we create a happy home for children. Although we’re a small organisation that can’t change South Africa or the future, we can teach children to cope and handle challenges.

Matthew 17-20 is a verse I’ve experienced time and again. If you have faith without base, nothing is impossible. I’ve really witnessed it in these past five years, and I’ve been amazed at how we started with nothing and grew to where we are now.

Our biggest challenge is financial strain. But I made a promise to our staff – I will fight to keep our doors open. So I’ve had to figure out how we can keep on providing this service. I had to get creative. With the help of friends, we transformed one side of our building that we weren’t using into a secondhand shop, called Heartlands Chic Boutique, to raise funds. Then we began a coffee shop, which has a beautiful outside garden. We also registered a training centre which can be rented by individuals and corporates to host their workshops and our coffee shop provides their meals. And finally came our bookshop. These projects all form part of our sustainability programmes that brings in a percentage of Heartlands’ income.

To help to fund Heartlands, we’re planning a golf day in celebration of our fifth birthday. We also have an Adopt a Cot project. We have 25 beds and cots and caring for each child costs R13 800 per month, which includes everything they require. The department of social development covers 22% of the cost and our sustainability programmes contribute 24%. So, people who sponsor a cot help to cover our shortfall. Many people can’t afford to sponsor an entire cot, but even an R100 sponsorship is great, every bit helps.”

With Conviction and perseverance, dreams can come true.  

Through contributions, everyone can help to make children’s dreams come true. The Heartlands Baby Sanctuary serve babies in the hopes of repairing some part of these little beings’ shattered lives. With the help of others, volunteers and the greater community, more vulnerable young South Africans can be helped and led to live happy, healthy lives.

We do hope that for many more years, we will be able to reach out to a cry for help, to little children in distress in need of urgent care, protection and medical care.

It is a tremendous privileged to be allowed into the lives of children and contributing towards actively raising the quality of life for each child, giving them a second chance.

We also look forward to continuing fighting for what we believe in, which is that it’s every child’s birthright to belong, and we believe that with the continuing support of the community, donors, staff, volunteers and everyone who has been involved in the project, nothing is impossible for the coming years.

Find out more about the Heartlands Baby Sanctuary, donate or get involved via their website here: www.heartlandsbaby.org