Mom Joyce’s house is the only home I knew. It’s the only home Thato, Dineo and others knew as their home too. This was our place of love and comfort. This matchbox-shaped four roomed house which, at times shelters more than six children, was a place that produced lawyers, doctors and teachers. It’s a place that turned Thato, a former street boy, into a renowned author. The home that turned Pitso, a former gang leader, into a pastor, a former prostitute, Palesa, into a caring mother to Puleng, her eleven year old son. As small as it is it’s filled with love and comfort, especially for most of us who never knew love and comfort before.
I’ve been here for ten years and every time I get home it seems like a new place all together with new faces every day. From long and grumpy faces to smiley and joyful ones, hiding behind their pain and agony or choosing to suppress their memories. Like them, when I first arrived here, I had so many scars I had lost count of. The only thing I knew about myself, was that I was abused by my step-father and kicked out of the house by my mother.
The day I always choose not to remember. Like them, I seemed to have lost hope in life. There was no prospect to look forward to. Life seemed to have dwindled by. Until, I met Mom Joyce. I had been staying on the streets for two years when an old lady, more youthful than her age was, greeted me in her white Toyota Corolla. I can vividly relive that day: a rainy and thunderous day it was.
“Hi young man,” she said with a friendly voice, typical of Mom Joyce now that I think back. Always gentle and tender, filled with love and care. I couldn’t understand a lady who chose to be so polite to a street boy like me. I was taken aback.
“Halo mama,’ I chose to say, still skeptical of this old lady in front of me. I could’ve asked her for money like I always did to passersby, but I chose not.
“Can I talk to you,” she said, cautious of her choice of words yet, persistence etched behind her voice.
“About?” I asked. She got out of her car and came straight to me despite the wet weather conditions of the day. I felt safe when I saw her smile; it had been a long while since I last saw a healthy smile like that, as genuine and sincere as a toddler’s. It’s not something you often see on the streets.
“What brings you here?” she asked sitting right next to me and making me feel safer.
After we started talking for a while, I opened up to her about how I came to be living on the streets of Cape Town. That was the very same story I had tried so hard to erase from my head.
“I was physically abused by my father for two years. When I chose to tell my mother she chased me out of the house,” I started looking at her closely. I knew how judgmental people often became when I told them my story. She kept her composure like the Mom Joyce I later came to know and admire.
“I’d like you to move in with me,” She said. Those are the words I connected with this four roomed house filled with broken souls, that Mom Joyce made her priority to fix.
Like my story, most of those who find themselves here are filled with pain, but ultimately we come to find joy in this place. Like Ntombi, a girl who was raped by his step-dad. We became close friends in the “center” as we call the house. She was also chased out of her home when she confessed to her mother about the ordeal.
Mom Joyce took her under her wing and as we speak she is studying to become a doctor. She’s doing her second year at the University of Cape Town. She had been staying with us for six years, two years before I arrived, and prior to her leaving for UCT. Mom Joyce made it her mission to get Ntombi back into the education system, which she had left a year before she came to the center. She also made sure that it was the best education this country could offer. Like Pitso, Thami and Lindiwe are all studying at universities; Mom Joyce is the strength behind their academic prosperity.
How we sleep in this house is actually quite funny, but that’s the least of our worries. Food is always available. Regardless of how many we are, we all had something to eat every day. How Mom Joyce made provision for food, no one knew and quite frankly we cared less. But we knew for a fact that come breakfast time, breakfast would be served and come supper time, food would be available. What a wonderful woman she was and still is. I mean, she could’ve chosen to become a caring and loving mother to her own two children, but she chose to take us in and give us second chance in life.
Although things didn’t always work well for Mom Joyce, her love for us has always been unending. I remember Thabo; he had been staying on the streets for six years. I never really liked him; there was just something about him. Mom Joyce however, wanted to hear nothing about our doubts concerning Thabo. In fact, she loved him even more for it. It was a freezing morning when she came in to the house with him; he’d been wearing ragged clothes, like most of us did when we first arrived at the house. He smelled of the streets; tar road, chimney smoke from the city center, smoke from the taxis and the rotten food from the bins we, homeless children, normally dug into for food.
“Listen up here everyone,” she said holding Thabo’s right arm with her left hand. “This is Thabo, he’ll be staying with us,” she said as everyone applauded the newest member of our family. All except Thato; he was always complaining about the food becoming less if Mom Joyce kept on bringing more people home with her.
That was typical of Thato though, he was always sad and grumpy. You wouldn’t blame him if you knew the kind of upbringing he had to endure. This had become our daily song; one new member after another. Some stayed for a while, before they went back to the streets. Others couldn’t last a day without smoking glue and in turn ran back into the streets. There was something about Thabo though that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
The following day we heard that he escaped the house; taking with him all the money Mom Joyce had sacked for that month. After this incident, I expected Mom Joyce to be less loving and stricter, but like I’ve said, her love for us was unyielding. She was still the same Mom Joyce we knew. The one with a heart filled with love and mercy. How I wished I had a biological mother like her. The less said about my mom the better. All you need to know is that she had given her life to a man and alcohol; these two controlled her life to the point where her own son meant nothing to her.
Mom Joyce’s house isn’t that big; however, it is modest and gorgeous with a big open floor space. You would hardly be able to find a room to swing a cat in, but we knew how to make use of the small space we had. So did Mom Joyce. The house included a relatively compact kitchen with lots of oak cabinets and counter top space. There was also a breakfast bar; pantry and formal dining room were all sorts of luxuries were served to us. The house was surrounded by peach and apricot trees, but with an easy care yard, park and a walking path that made the yard always look clean and fresh.
It was indeed a relatively modest house that could hardly accommodate four people, but in this instance, it housed more than six children. We could be more at times and less at other times. Every time we thought that we were used to one another, Mom Joyce brought home another homeless child. Mom Joyce as we now know is a social worker. With a minuscule salary to hardly feed and clothe herself and two biological children, she takes care of all of us. When she’s not working at the center, she is dedicates her time to mentoring young men and women who seem to have lost hope in life. She is that hope and inspires a belief, that not all is lost and we can make something of our lives.
During the day, we all go to school and Mom Joyce goes to work. After school, we go to the nearby recreational center, a prospect which Thato never relishes. Those who play soccer do so at the soccer field nearby. Those with an interest in art and drama head to the theater and for some of us who don’t have an interest in anything; we play around helplessly looking at the clock for the time for us to head back home. After the recreational activities, we all make our way home. The first thing we do when we get home is our homework ad a reading lesson, my two favorite past times which are followed by lunch. Mom Joyce never compromised when it came to education. She’d always point to the successes of those who made it to university from that very same house.
“You can be whoever you want to be. Just believe in yourself and work hard,” she’d say. We always knew what would come after this.
“Look at Ntombi for instance,” we’d say in unison even before she does. That’s how she deeply believed in education. And there’s been no doubt in her heart that we’ll all make it in life one day.
How she started this great gesture of generosity is quite amazing. It was after she met a homeless young woman when she decided to dedicate her life to helping homeless children and remove them from the streets. She started a soup kitchen which lasted a few months and quickly realized that her impact could be far greater than giving homeless children food; for she saw beyond today. She had her eyes on the future of children like me. She then decided to turn her home into a center for hope.
Mom Joyce has become the epitome of active citizenry and an illustrious community leader. But to some of us she is just a loving mother. As I make my way through the University of Cape Town’s great Bremner Building stairs to start my Education degree, I can’t stop but reminisce on the great life that was afforded to me by Mom Joyce. I am not bothered by all the intimidating faces around me. I can only keep a bold smile, her smile never failed her. Her contribution in my life has been unfathomable and her value in it is indescribable. That’s Mom Joyce. The smiles she magically and splendidly coaxed out of me are the ones I’ll never forget. As for her breakfast, I wish I could travel with her because I don’t think I’ll survive a day, let alone three months without her mouth-watering and appetizing breakfast.
Do you think Mom Joyce forgave Thabo for stealing her money and what do you think he used it for?