Donovan Buys – Rescued by Love

Donovan was the first child welcomed at Vuyani Safe Haven in 2000.  Moira Strauss, the owner of an African Souvenir shop in the small tourist town, Graaff-Reinet, found Donovan sleeping in front of the doorway of her shop.  He told her that he has no place to go. This plight of him, planted the seed in Moira’s heart to start a shelter for street children.

After speaking with other role players, like the Department of Social Development and Child Welfare Moira realised that Donovan was not alone – there were many more vulnerable children in Graaff-Reinet.  A small committee of concerned people was formed to find a house which could be used as a shelter for children living on the street.

Donovan came from a dysfunctional family – an absent father and an alcoholic mother. His mother was ostracised by the wider family, because of her alcohol problem. Donovan had to fend for himself and from the age of eight lived with friends on the street, sniffing glue and begging for food and money, until he was invited by Moira to live at Vuyani Safe Haven, the name of the new shelter.

He quickly adjusted to his new life. He and the other children chose the name, “Vuyani”, themselves. Vuyani is the Xhosa word for JOY.  It expressed something of their emotional experience of coming from the total darkness of what a child experiences on the street, to the light of people who care for you – a place where you feel safe, a plate of food three times a day, being able to bath, put on clean clothes and sleep in a warm bed and so much more. 

Donovan soon became the star of Vuyani. He was like a sponge willing to learn and very appreciative of what was done for him.  He excelled in the different skills they were taught.  He played the African drums with gusto and he was able to catch up at school. Like a true entrepreneur Donovan arranged to work in his school’s maths centre in exchange for free lessons. He also delivered newspapers and made beaded jewellery.

Moira nominated Donovan to be a torch bearer for the Olympic flame in 2004. His hard work and progress at school motivated this choice. He was chosen among thousands to fly to Cape Town for this epic event. Donovan said that he wanted to do this for the youth and for his town, Graaff-Reinet. It was a proud moment in his life when he ran 400 meters with the torch before handing it over to soccer hero, Lucas Radebe.

After all of this, Donovan remarked that he is not the real hero, it is Moira Strauss, because of everything she has done for him and the other children.

When Moira was asked to speak about Vuyani, she would always take Donovan with her to tell his story. He once remarked that he has heard about this word “love” when he was still on the street, but he never understood it until he experienced it at Vuyani.

Although Donovan had a late start in life, he passed all his grades, except matric. For a while after he left school, Donovan was adrift.  His mother died and he inherited a small house and lived there on his own.  With the help of several farmers he made amazing craftwork items from second-hand rusted wire, which he sold on the street to locals and tourists.

Donovan still helped out at Vuyani with the gumboots and drumming and other projects, but it was almost as if the light went out of his eyes when he realised that he is heading back to where he started.

One day, all of this changed. Dr Bernard Beukes, a local dentist, spotted Donovan on a street corner while making and selling his wire work. Bernard thought that Donovan could be helpful at the practice because of his talented handwork.  Donovan was asked to start working at Dentists@Health in July 2014.

Bernard trained Donovan to do various kinds of laboratory work, e.g. the pouring of models from impressions for dentures and the making of mouth guards and retainers. He has become Bernard’s right hand man in the laboratory. Not only does he work as a technician, but he is also the handy man of the practice where he does anything that is asked of him.

Bernard writes the following:

“From the day that Donovan started at this practice up until today, I can say that he has grown in his work and in person. Donovan is an extremely hardworking person, always willing to help where he can. He is a very friendly person with a kind heart. A smile is always to be seen on his face”.

At any event where locals sell their crafts, you will still see Donovan with his newest wire creations, the love of his life, and their dog, Stompie. However, on weekdays he faithfully dons his white coat for his work as technician and valuable member of the Graaff-Reinet Dentists@Health team.

Most weekends, Donovan is also a soccer trainer for children from the poorest areas of town. His vision is to keep children from going down the same road he once did before he was rescued by love.