You are not alone . . .

For the first years of his life Romeo lived with his mother in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape. His whole life changed at about 5 years old when his mother dropped him off in Graaff-Reinet at his estranged father’s house. What he thought was only a visit, turned out to be a permanent arrangement with a family, where he was not really welcomed.

Many years later Vuyani’s social worker, Hildegarde Brummer (now manager of Vuyani), took him to PE in search of his mother.  Romeo had no address, only a name and his vague recollection of his early days in Bethelsdorp.  He desperately needed her ID number to obtain his birth certificate and his own ID.  He never had a birth certificate and did not even know his correct age or date of birth.

They found his mother, but there was no connection, no joy and no desire to have a relationship with her child.

Romeo’s early life with his father was hard, with a stepmother who did not care for him and lots of alcohol abuse. Romeo remembers those days as days of endless freedom with his friends coming from similar homes – days without proper supervision or adequate care and lots of drunken abuse from grown-ups.  The children preferred the life on the street, sniffing glue and begging for food to the constant abuse and severe neglect at home.

At that stage Vuyani’s older boys were trained by a social worker to befriend children living on the street. They used soccer matches to draw the children in and persuaded Romeo and some of his friends to make Vuyani their home. Romeo never looked back to his life on the street but embraced fully what he received at Vuyani.

The years of lost schooling exacted a toll – Romeo could never really make progress academically.  However, he loved the routine and responsibility of work.  Moira Strauss, the “Ma’am of Vuyani” found work for him. Soon he was up every morning at 5:00 to deliver newspapers and even on a Sunday he would faithfully deliver the Sunday papers before going to church. Romeo attended adult education classes to assist him to read and write. Romeo was also very faithful in attending church and the youth group at church.

Romeo’s sharp sense of humour always stood out and helped him to cope with everything life has dealt him. He would be the one with a toy sword on the roof of the Safari vehicle in the group photo at the Christmas party at Samara or getting everyone to drop their poses in a photo with his best friends when they received amazing soccer tops from an overseas soccer team.   During the gumboots act at the first night of Vuyani’s Christmas play at the Rupert theatre in 2014  Romeo and a friend stunned everyone by doing a daring back summersault which they practised in secret. On the final night they pulled it off again and Romeo was grinning from ear to ear!

When Hildegarde at last could get a birth certificate and ID document for Romeo, they realised that he was already 18 years.  For the first time he knew the correct date of his birth. It took a while for Romeo to find his feet in the adult life and to live independently. He lived with friends for a while and did odd jobs. Romeo was always a handyman who loved painting and fixing and in demand with all the friends of Vuyani. In 2017 he started working permanently at BKB.

Romeo has a huge sense of right and wrong, which sometimes gets him in trouble, until people get to know him for his intrinsic good personality. Romeo’s boss and co-workers describe him as a very agreeable person, with a good sense of humour, dependable, trustworthy, punctual and hardworking.  Romeo’s main responsibility is the fuel depot. His boss is amazed that since Romeo started working there, the amounts of fuel always count up.

Romeo has a small house at the back of his grandfather’s house. He is in a long-term relationship with a young woman and the father of their little girl.  Romeo still has contact with most of the old Vuyani boys and he sees them as family.

For a huge part of Romeo’s childhood years Vuyani truly was a Safe Haven for a lost boy. He received nurturing care and acceptance as in a close-knit family. The range of developmental opportunities at Vuyani laid a foundation of resilience for this amazing young man to become a responsible and contributing adult.