13 June 2011
Thobani owns a large envelope. His guardian keeps it in a safe place for him, a fact which only increases its value.
Thobani’s envelope is the result of an initiative called “Memory Boxes” in which orphans are helped to gather memories, stories, and photos from people who knew their parents, and keep them in a box. This powerfully challenges their sense of being lost or displaced, and gives each child the priceless gift of history and grounding, identity and belonging, and affirms the good things in their present life.
When we arrived to visit Thobani, he had just returned from school. Although he was hungry, he exhibited excellent manners as he answered our questions and waited until we were served refreshments. Several friends were waiting to hang out with him.
Initially shy, he grew actively interested in the conversation, giving good answers from his heart. Thobani was very pleased to show us the contents of his Memory Box, or in his case, envelope. It included family pictures and documents which verify his identity and the identity of his extended family. Since his parents died so long ago, most of the photos were of his present extended family members. Fortunately he seems to have a cohesive identity, some assisted memories, and an authentic sense of family and belonging. Thobani, a very good student, is also expected to do well his remaining school years.
His foster parents are his aunt and uncle who have a nice home with a well-kept yard. Thobani is very proud of his new home which is a two bedroom building recently added to the compound for Thobani and a young male relative who is boarding with the family so he can attend school.
Memory BoxesIn Thobani’s case, there is no actual box to put things in. There isn’t enough money for all the Memory Box participants to have a box, so the ministry is waiting for funds in order to make that possible for everyone at one time.
It is hard to imagine anything with a cost so minimal, yet with the power to so fundamentally impact the psychological security of a child or teenager. Even the process of sleuthing about and collecting history for the box is itself a precious and fortifying gift.
Thobani is not just an orphan; he is an orphan with a history and story. And today he is also an orphan with faith in Christ. Through the holistic outreach of Lulisandla Kumntwana, Thobani came to know Jesus. He asked his aunt and uncle to support him by coming to church with him. They did and soon becamefollowers of Christ too. Thobani’s auntie says that God must receive the credit for all this, because without the Lord, they would be floundering and bound to empty traditions.
Related project in Zimbabwe: Memory Books
If you would like to sponsor the Memory Box initiative, please contact your nearest SIM office and specify a gift to project #97398.
photos courtesy of Brent Van Dan Berg
Lulisandla Kumntwana (“Reach Out to the Child”) is a church and community-based initiative and fostering agency that cares for vulnerable children in and around Mseleni, South Africa. Its 20 staff and many volunteers care for more than 3460 orphans. Family Support Teams help children to cope with the pain of losing their mom or dad and with the complexities of finding a home and identity in the years following.
The Memory Box workers have continued to make progress in recruiting new families who want to do memory box work and in bringing the families they have been working with to the point of concluding with recording the family story and taking photos of the family. The recording is put onto a CD for the child to keep.