From Apartheid Activist to “Mother” of Vuyani Safe Haven’s children

It was at the height of the Apartheid era in South Africa when Lena Adams finished school and started working. Lena joined a worker’s union after hearing the plight of women receiving far below what we now know as minimum wage. She was consequently arrested and imprisoned for 6 months for attending worker’s meetings during the State of Emergency. Fortunately, Lena came from an incredibly supportive family who carried her through these trying times. She continued as activist for worker’s rights even after Nelson Mandela and the ANC came to power in 1994.

When Lena heard in 2000 that Vuyani Safe Haven would be established as a shelter for street children, she immediately decided to lay down her role as activist, to become a “mother” for Vuyani’s children.  Lena’s family home where she grew up, always had space for more children who needed a place to stay to continue their schooling, which caused Lena to grow a heart big enough for all vulnerable children. In August of 2000 Lena was tasked by a committee of concerned Graaff-Reinet stakeholders to start with a soup kitchen to identify children in need of care and protection. In September, the first of these children were admitted to Vuyani.

Radical changes and Kairos time

A few weeks after the opening of Vuyani, Lena’s only child was killed in a mindless stabbing. Even though she wanted to give up on Vuyani to mourn her child, she was needed by the children and stayed on. Not long afterwards, a little baby boy was placed at Vuyani and in the struggle to keep him safe from harm, Lena’s resilience took over and she could start healing. Little Daniel (who now is a handsome young man), was placed in Lena’s foster care and her own family adopted him into their hearts and home.

The walls which apartheid erected, started crumbling as people took hands to support Lena during this time. The first board of Vuyani and the AFS church, Kairos, as well as individuals, schools and businesses embraced the children’s shelter and Lena as the main caregiver. Volunteers from all races were willing to do whatever was needed to feed and clothe the children and took turns to look after the children to give Lena some time with her own family.

One of the moving stories of this time is of the hardened policeman who arrested Lena during Apartheid. Not long after Vuyani opened, he started bringing meat confiscated from poachers for Lena to cook for the children. He acknowledged Lena’s deep convictions to stand up for the marginalised.

Lena received a lot of teaching on the changing love of Jesus Christ and on forgiveness from the Kairos church who also welcomed Vuyani’s children with open arms. She incorporated this in her own life to change from activist to disciple of Jesus Christ. One of the lessons which Lena learned was to metaphorically stop using a huge pruning saw when disciplining the children and rather use a small secateur to softly prune away unacceptable behaviour.

Thanduxolo – when brothers live together in peace

In 2007 Lena moved into the second house of Vuyani, which was mostly a shelter for boys. Many boys were saved from the streets and Lena played a huge role in their lives. However, this was also heart-breaking when some decided to return to their old ways.

During 2014 Vuyani registered as a Child and Youth Care Centre under the new Children’s Act. Many of the boys were placed in a specialised boy’s home in Port Elizabeth.  Lena continued her work caring as a mother for the older children placed at Vuyani by court order.

When Lena retired in 2015, she was immediately co-opted onto Vuyani’s Management Board where she still plays a vital role in understanding the enormous daily task of being a caregiver at Vuyani. Lena turns 70 in October 2020. We salute her for being so passionate that she is still willing to stand in at short notice, whether as a relief worker or to represent Vuyani at an event or meeting.

Highlights in picture of Lena’s 20 years at Vuyani

Vuyani loves to write inspiring stories like Lena’s. If you would like to help us support the vulnerable children in our care or the dedicated staff of our homes, please contact us: info@vuyanisafehaven.co.za or if you would like to make a donation: https://vuyanisafehaven.co.za/become-involved/donations/