Heaven’s Nest, a child care and recreation facility situated in Ottery, Cape Town, has served as an emergency foster care centre since January 2004. The centre was started by a group of 12 women and is a project of the Church of St Francis of Assisi in Strandfontein and the Fikelela Aids Project. The centre offers a secure, loving home for up to 15 children between the ages of six months and eight years who are infected or affected by HIV and AIDS as well as children who have been abandoned, abused or neglected. They are cared for until they can be placed back with family members, fostered or adopted.
According to Eleanor Bester, project manager of Heaven’s Nest, the 490 children the facility has cared for since inception is a drop in the ocean compared to the estimated three million that South Africa will have in 2015. “We are hoping to care for at least a few children who have fallen victim to HIV and AIDS, abandonment, abuse or neglect.” Bester adds, “At Heaven’s Nest we believe that if we reach one child, we have done something to contribute positively towards this harrowing problem.”
Heaven’s Nest strives to provide holistic care, so as well as providing love, good food, basic education and healthcare, they also provide counselling and play therapy to all the children. Many of the children have experienced neglect and abuse which have left deep scars so the counselling is there to help children work through their difficulties to ensure they can grow with confidence.
Other projects include the recently built classroom which houses an on-site pre-school for the younger children at the facility. Heaven’s Nest also coordinates a Community Soup Kitchen. As part of the community of St Francis of Assisi church, they feed around 180 adults and 70 children from the community every Friday.
Recently, Heaven’s Nest has embarked on a new ‘project’ to create a list of potential foster parents for the children at the centre. “In our quest to try and sustain the good quality care we strive towards at Heaven’s Nest, we would like to speak to people who are interested in fostering children” says Eleanor Bester. The regular movement of children through the organisation is important as Heaven’s Nest provides temporary safe care for the period between removal from biological parents to placement back under improved conditions, or placement with foster or adoptive parents.
The moment the child is deemed ready to be put into foster care by the statutory case worker, the search for suitable parents begins. This often takes a while, resulting in there being less room at Heaven’s Nest for another child in need to be taken in and looked after. Eleanor says, “we would like to create a ‘list’ of willing foster parents who we can go to so that when a child is ready to be fostered, the waiting period for that child to have a ‘mom and/or dad’, will be shortened and that child will get stability within a family sooner.”
Although Bester says that in an ideal world these children would not require a place such as Heaven’s Nest, the reality of the situation is somewhat different. “We are committed to providing our children with the best possible opportunities moving forward. By having a group of prospective foster parents available, we can provide the children with a stable, loving family environment sooner” says Bester.
Although Heaven’s Nest has been running successfully for nine years, the centre relies on sustainable donations from the community in which it operates as well as surrounding areas. “We do not need big donations,” says Bester. “Anybody can donate and the small donations are appreciated as much as the big donations.” The big challenge is sourcing funding and donations but people’s time is always valuable – it is a rewarding experience to spend some time playing with the children or helping the ladies out around the house.
“Children arrive here with nothing,” Bester says. “They are often dirty, hungry and scared because they do not understand what has happened to them. They have nothing with them whatsoever. We bathe them, feed them, clothe them, take them to the doctor, and provide them with everything we would provide our children with – including love and attention, which is actually all that they want.”
The Centre’s eight carers and two administrators are currently caring for 16 children, 24 hours a day. “It is a mammoth task and we are always in need of donations,” Eleanor says. “Items such as cleansing agents, perishable and non-perishable food, formula, nappies are always welcome. We also need track suits, long-sleeved vests and winter clothing for the children.”
The mission of Heaven’s Nest is to be a safe place of care and nurturing for some of the projected millions of orphans to emerge from the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other “children in need”. The numbers might be small, but the need is ever growing and Heaven’s Nest is servicing that to the best of their ability and to full capacity.
To view Heaven’s Nest in the Prodder NGO Directory, click here.