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Christine Booysten is not your typical angel. She has no wings and her feet are planted firmly on the ground. But for the organisers of the Table of Peace and Unity (TPU), she is an angel of the city for the work she does in her community.
Her small three-roomed house in the Military Heights informal settlement, near Seawinds, is home to 20 children, a refuge for those who have nowhere to turn. After receiving TPU funding last year, she was able to build on the third room.
Booysten is grateful for the recognition and help, but regards the work she does as her healing process after years spent living on the streets, and being raped.
“These children and I come from a similar background. Our childhoods were taken away because we had to be little adults in an adult world. My heart goes out to them,” said Booysten.
Among them is a 20-year-old who was left to fend for himself during the 2008 xenophobic attacks. While his entire household fled, the then 16-year-old lived by himself in a tuckshop.
Booysten has taken in pregnant girls whose families have shunned them, helped them through their pregnancies and seen to it that they finish school. She also shelters children who have been removed from their parents due to suspected abuse and negligence.
Of the 20, Booysten and her husband, Hannes, are the natural parents of two and foster parents to four. Added to this, she feeds 27 children who live in the area, and provides meals to the HIV and TB patients at the local clinic.
She does all of this with the help of her daughter Anthea Booysten, and Magdalene Heradien.
Their day starts early, when Heradien comes over between 5am and 6am to help with the children. Booysten says it’s during that time that the “drama” begins. The children all have to be fed and dressed for school. When they leave the house the pink lounge settles down, as only the babies are left behind.
Booysten has a few hours to cook, clean and do other duties before the schoolgoing children get home. They are then fed and Booysten, her daughter and Heradien help them with homework. Eventually they are all bathed and should be ready for bed, but Booysten knows that this is not where the day ends.
Some of the children carry so much trauma with them that it’s not uncommon for Booysten to be up until 3am comforting them.
Between the three women, each child gets the attention they need. Booysten worked as a domestic for several years. Eventually she and her husband of 21 years found themselves unemployed and living on the streets. Someone saw Hannes eating out of a dirt bin one day and decided to teach him to work as an electrician.
Speaking about the difficulties they’ve lived through, Booysten said: “Today that is all behind us. Caring for others makes you a better person. I’ve had a lot of healing from helping people.”
The couple and their two daughters, now aged 22 and 21, moved to Military Heights about 10 years ago. When her husband was able to support his family, he had no objection to Booysten taking in the vulnerable.
It started with her taking in children who played by themselves in the street. She offered them food and a place to wash. She found that many of them had been abused. This is when Booysten saw the great need in her community for a place of safety.
There were times when the Booystens didn’t know what the next day would bring, whether they would have food for their extended family or money for electricity.
Among the small miracles has been connecting with the TPU organisers.
Booysten is a beneficiary of the TPU funding. With last year’s funding she was given pillows, duvets, kitchen equipment and a cellphone, and was able to build an extra room.
The TPU’s organisers hope to raise enough funds so that a proper home can be bought.
Nceduluntu Sanctuary Trust, based in Mfuleni, is also a TPU beneficiary and provides residential care in the Lwandle and Nomzamo areas near Somerset West for children who are disabled, HIV-positive and orphaned. Funding has previously gone towards essentials for the babies, including nappies.
The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre in Masiphumelele is a third beneficiary. Completed in January last year, the centre was built in response to pleas from the community to develop a centre which would include a reproductive health clinic, an education centre and recreational facilities.
All the TPU’s funding is raised at the annual Table of Peace and Unity on the slopes of Table Mountain. Initiated by the Good Food and Wine Show 11 years ago, it takes place on Sunday, May 13. For tickets between R400 and R500, contact Computicket.