As a believer in God and follower of Jesus, Nelly has sought to find and commit to her Creator’s plan and purpose for her life. She knows that her calling is to make a difference, starting with laying a good foundation for children in need; “not just feeding and clothing them but teaching them to become independent.” Nelly explains that what she does flows naturally and that’s how she knows that it is her calling.

“The sense of fulfilment in helping others is more rewarding than financial gain could ever be”.

Her mother’s love for education and her father’s passion for cooking eventually helped Nelly form the basis of 7th Heaven Children’s Haven. Here, volunteers work hard to restore the dignity and self-worth of abused, neglected or abandoned kids. At the centre, Nelly and her team start the process of integrating youths back into schools, to ensure that they have the chance to be independent, contributing members of society.

While waiting for the call to go, Nelly took to Jeffrey’s Bay as a counsellor. It wasn’t long before she could follow her calling and help build a future for children who need it most.

Being grounded in God, in touch with herself and reflective through meditation, Nelly sees that we have to face numerous challenges before South Africa can be harmonious.

“We face many issues in South Africa: crime, neglect of children, lack of proper schooling, teen pregnancy, HIV and Aids. Regarding the latter, there is still a lack of knowledge – it’s a taboo subject or it’s seen as witchcraft – and patients don’t take their medication correctly.

A lack of self-worth paired with hopelessness also worsen the state of South Africa. Sadly having hope or self-respect without a holistic upbringing is unlikely. Perpetuating the problems in South Africa further still is the dysfunctional social and familial relationships, e.g. divorce, and drug or alcohol abuse.

Poverty also plays an enormous role in the current state of our country. The majority of people are poor and unemployed. They are not interested in politics, they just want money to spend now without thinking of tomorrow. This driving need leads to crime.”

Even in a protected space like the children’s haven, challenges arise but they can be solved – together.

“Raising funds to care for children with individual schooling needs, medical, emotional and sometimes psychological issues is a challenge. Another challenge is providing education for children who have had a tough childhood. Dealing with their medical and behavioural problems is exceptionally difficult.

Working as a team helps – with the board, volunteers, and occasional experts such as dieticians. We all pray together and trust in the Lord. My training has also helped.

We can move from a place of disharmony to harmony through prayer and meditation to grow closer to God and learn about His will. Working together cross-culturally is vital. God has given each of us different gifts so that we can hold hands and work together.”

Nelly discusses how she and 7th Heaven Children’s Haven make a difference in the community.      

“We mix cultures at the children’s haven, showing that we can work together to improve the lives of underprivileged children, giving hope and cultivating hope into the next generation. We need cross-cultural knowledge to build relationships, to celebrate our differences and to move away from prejudice.

We provide a home and make a difference in individual lives. We also host child aftercare, where we assist them with clothing, and teach children about hygiene and self-care to build their self-worth. Play and therapy are used to help children who are traumatised or have trauma in their history. At the haven, we offer several developmental activities such as art, sewing, gymnastics to help children grow in confidence and widen horizons.

To build a better future, we teach young mothers proper baby care and assist them in building their lives and caring for their child. We try to rectify dysfunctional family structures with our life skills sessions and by leading by example. In these talks, we teach God’s plan for the family: how to be a good father, a good mother, a good child.

Unfortunately, the youth of South Africa don’t have role models. That’s why we aim to foster a sense of self-worth to give these children hope. But to get there, we need to provide holistic care.”

Nelly and her team take a holistic approach to solving the crisis of neglect, abuse and crime among children.

“Rather than ignoring the family of a child taken into care, we work with them, talking to them, counselling and giving advice. We encourage single and teenage mums to go back to school or seek a job so that they can become independent and not dependent on a lousy relationship, new boyfriends or prostitution.

We discourage schooling in all subjects in the vernacular, as children are then not exposed to other languages and cultures. We teach them some English, introducing the basics so that they can understand instructions from teachers and others. They will have better and more varied job opportunities with English and their added confidence.”

We need leaders who can guide South Africa forward, where do we find them?

“Leaders are made not born. South Africa is for us all. Pointing fingers or running our own show doesn’t help. If the ruling party thinks they are better than the one before, it just divides us more. We might think or look differently, but deep down we all have the same needs – emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally. We desire that these be met for those of us who have lost hope.

There is still good in the country, Nelly explains.

There are a lot of negative things happening, and we can’t turn a blind eye to them, but positive things are happening too. In Jeffreys Bay there is a delay in the housing project, and lots of crime, but also a new first in the country – a road built from recycled plastic and the first section is beautiful. This is one of the many positive things to focus on and inspire us.

Read more about 7th Heaven Children’s Haven here.