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On my birthday in October, I found myself in very distinguished company. I have never been in the presence of someone who not only looks like she is closely related to my hero, Nelson Mandela, but who met him several times and has been recognised for her work with the following awards: The Order of the Baobab 2004 – President Thabo Mbeki; Martin Luther King Peace Award - USA; Ethekwini Mayor’s Award – Mayor Obed Mlaba; Ethekwini Living Legends – Mayor James Nxumalo; Rotary Club – Paul Harris Award; Fairlady/Clarins Dynamasante – Woman of the Year 2004. Shoprite/Checkers – Finalist, Woman of the Year, and others.

Caroline Dassonville, from Vibrant Direct, the distribution company that makes sure that you get your copy of The Grapevine every month, took me to Gozololo Centre for Needy Children in Kwa Mashu, and as a result, I am honoured to introduce you to Mirriam Cele, who personifies Mr Mandela’s quote below…

"What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead." - Nelson Mandela

And boy, has this humble and gracious eighty four year old woman made a difference!!!

Gozololo means “stay a while” in isiZulu and in 1997 Mirriam established the creche because of community concerns regarding orphaned and abandoned children. It all started with 2 children but now Gozololo has 3 centres in KZN (Kwa Mashu – 110 children; Bhambayi – 80 children and Umgababa – 18 children) which assist orphaned and vulnerable children through community involvement. Because Mirriam does not believe that an institutionalised environment is ideal for children, these are day-care centres which provide kiddies from as young as 14 months up to Grade R with 2 nourishing meals a day, clothing if they need it, supervised care, stimulation, activities and education. Any children that do not have their own families to go home to after creche, Mirriam organises for them to be assimilated into suitable neighbourhood families so that that they can grow up in a normal home environment of their own culture. This is true UBUNTU (humanity) in action, and apart from 3 salaried staff - the teachers, all the assistants at the three centres are volunteers, mostly from the surrounding communities.

As well as the creche, Gozololo offers homework classes for older children; counselling for HIV/AIDS sufferers; stress & trauma workshops; home visits and play therapy. They also organise recreational programmes such as football; basketball; netball; gum boot dancing; drum majorettes; drama; and keep-fit classes – all to offer the members of the community the opportunity to engage with each other, and to keep the youngsters occupied and entertained so that they do not succumb to the lure of gangs, drugs and alcohol. There are also community income-generating programmes include vegetable growing; sewing; beadwork and grass weaving.

Over the years, Gozololo has assisted over 2500 vulnerable children to have normal childhoods, and has many success stories. There are ex-pupils who today are nurses, teachers, university students and graduates, all because of one woman’s vision and passion, and her ability to involve communities in assisting their children in need. Recognition must also go to Mirriam’s daughter Thoko, who is the Operations Manager and Siswe Mvusi, the Administrator, who share Mirram’s passion and dedication to making a difference in the lives of others. Their enthusiasm is palpable, and their pride in their roles at Gozololo and their commitment to Mirriam’s vision to establish at least fifty Gozololo Centres throughout the country, is obvious.

Gozololo is a registered NPO but gets minimum funding from the government. Therefore, it relies on the generosity of donors to keep its doors open and providing critical services to the vulnerable children of these mainly impoverished communities. They are always needing assistance, in kind and in cash to maintain their situation, and to supply the ever-increasing needs of the children in their care. If you have a child of your own, you know the expenses involved with feeding, clothing and educating him or her. Multiply that by 208 and you will know the load that Mirriam and her staff carry every month. Fortunately, Mirriam has strong faith and believes that God will always find a solution.

If you would like to get involved in Gozololo’s fight to give needy children a normal upbringing, please look at their advert on Page to see how you can assist.

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