During the day, the toddlers attend pre-school on site.
Mama Amelia is raising the future leaders of South Africa

As Mama Amelia tells it, "One day, when I was at the shop, I saw a child eating out of a rubbish bin. I followed him. He came from a very poor background. Both his parents were alcoholics. I thought to myself, 'I must do something, and I must start right now'."

Frequently, social workers and police bring children to Mama Amelia's instead of sending them to a traditional institution for homeless children because of the superior care, support and love that the children find there. Frequently, children are afraid to go back to homes where there is disease (AIDS, tuberculosis), alcoholism and abuse so they seek out refuge at Mama Amelia's. Many parents come to Mama Amelia and ask her for help because they do not have food or clothing for their children. Mama Amelia does not turn any child away.

Mama Amelia
There are many troubled homes in Mfuleni and the surrounding townships. Many residents came from the Transkei as migrant laborers and were accommodated in hostels. Later when influx-laws were scrapped, their families joined them in these hostels. Now, many of these families stay in shacks and houses with no water or toilets. These bad living conditions cause many cases of tuberculosis. No jobs and poverty make life difficult. Adding to the problems is the misuse of alcohol and a high rate of HIV/AIDS infection. Sometimes, mothers and fathers look for an escape from their difficulties in shebeens (township bars). Often, there is no money left for food. Domestic violence is a prevalent result of drinking. Frequently, the victims of this abuse are children. Many children who are facing these types of difficulties prefer to live in the streets. But Mama Amelia has given them another choice.

The circumstances by which many of the children have come to Mama Amelia's are heart-breaking. Some have been badly abused, assaulted, or simply left in a gutter to die. Some of the children have witnessed horrible things that no one should ever have to see. Sometimes children come to Mama Amelia's and are so sad they don't want to speak to anyone or be touched by anyone. Mama Amelia and her children heal that newcomer and, before you know it, that child is feeling loved, happy, and secure in his or her new home. It is not unusual for newborns to be left outside Mama Amelia's. There is always much excitement as the children hear cries from outside the gate. They run and find that there is a new brother or sister for them to welcome into their happy family.

Mama Amelia makes Sakhumzi a normal family home. The children sleep in triple-tiered bunk beds, frequently three to a bed. They are very proud that they do not sleep on the floor. They also share everything they have. They do not have specific clothes of their own. There is a laundry room where there are piles of different clothing grouped by size. Each child can choose their own clothes every day. The older boys and girls alternate cooking responsibilities each day to provide for everyone. The older children also look after the younger children, making sure they are bathed, fed and clothed each day.

One of Mama Amelia's biggest passions in life is education. She firmly believes that education is the key to success in life and she works very hard to make sure all her children have access to the best education available. Mama Amelia knows that jobs are difficult to come by in South Africa and that education is the best way to secure a bright future for the children. Schooling is not free in South Africa. Both school tuition and uniforms must be paid for every grade school child. Many families cannot afford to send one or two children to school. Can you imagine trying to send 100? No matter what, Mama Amelia always manages to scrape together enough money to pay school fees and uniform costs for her children so they can have the best education possible. She even arranges for some of the students to attend more prestigious schools that are farther away just so they can have every opportunity. Mama Amelia's children love school. They are active in sports teams (netball/volley ball and rugby are particular favorites), choirs, dancing, math, computer classes, and writing. Mama Amelia also stresses the children being fluent in 3 languages: Their native Xhosa, English, and Afrikaans.

It is vital that Mama Amelia be allowed to continue her important work. There are many challenges facing South Africa in the upcoming years, and the best possibility for positive change in the country is empowering the youth. Mama Amelia has not only nurtured her children but has helped shape them into capable, enthusiastic, motivated contributors to society. Mama Amelia is raising the future leaders of South Africa.

When we (Beth Bigler and Benjamin Schellpfeffer) were studying through New York University in Cape Town, South Africa, we were able to see many beautiful sights and take advantage of the many cultural opportunities South Africa has to offer. The highlight of the trip occurred when we went to the township of Mfuleni, where we met Mama Amelia. From the moment we stepped into Mama Amelia's home, we were struck by the children's willingness to work together and to help each other, by their hope and by their happiness. We knew we had to do something to help.

In 2002 we founded the Amelia Project to help sustain Mama Amelia and her children because they are deserving of such recognition and support. Please help us achieve our goal of getting Mama Amelia a farm so we can make her dreams come true.

To contribute to The Amelia Project today, please visit our How To Help page.

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All photos by Benjamin Schellpfeffer  |  © Copyright 2005 The Amelia Project