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A special relationship: St Henry’s Marist College and Lily of the Valley Children’s Village

| April 10, 2017 | 0 Comments


KwaZulu-Natal’s Valley of a Thousand Hills is a fabled area that holds many stories – its tranquil beauty has been the backdrop to historic events and romantic adventures.1

Today, it is the setting of the Lily of the Valley Children’s Village,2 a place of refuge and home to 120 children whose lives have been traumatised by HIV/Aids and dysfunctional family environments. The village, situated in Hammersdale, Mophela, near the farming community of Eston, 40 km west of Durban, was set up in 1993 with a focus on providing palliative care for dying children. Since then, the gentle, loving environment, together with good nutrition and medical treatment, has meant recovery for many souls. These children now had a life to live. Responding to the new challenge, Lily of the Valley set up programmes to prepare the children to move into adulthood.

It takes a village — and more — to raise a child

The stated visions of Lily of the Valley are to “raise children into young adults who are achieving their God-given potential” and “to provide an environment in which children and youth are given the opportunity to reach their God-given potential”. The spiritual grounding of each child is foundational in this Christian-based community. Spiritual health is paramount, along with the children’s physical, social and educational well-being.

Each child is embraced by its surrogate family so that, in a stable, loving environment, they can grow into balanced, contributing members of society. The children are accommodated in cottages with an average of six children in each, with a “house mom” as a caregiver for each unit.

The children of the village attend various pre-primary, elementary and high schools in the surrounding areas, and the stability of their “home” background provides a sound base from which they can pursue their studies. Homework is overseen by the house moms, who receive back-up from volunteers and a qualified part-time mathematics teacher. Academic results show that this system is bearing good fruit.

The village partners with a number of local and international organisations and trusts to ensure the sustainability and growth of the community. It offers those with skills the opportunity to give up six months of their lives on a voluntary basis to ensure Lily of the Valley thrives. Those with a calling to give unconditionally and compassionately in service to the children can exercise their skills in areas like medical work, administrative activity, youth work, mentorship and educational support.

St Henry’s and Lily of the Valley

St Henry’s Marist College in Durban has developed a special relationship with Lily of the Valley through its outreach programme. Grade 10 students regularly interact with their peers from the Valley of a Thousand Hills. An alumnus of the college and US resident, Alan Kolling, has been generous in his sponsorship, which has made possible the establishment of the Doreen Kolling Lily of the Valley Outreach. This underpins much of the Marist activity at and on behalf of the children’s village. Not only do the pupils of St Henry’s give in kind – having collected and donated educational textbooks and stationery, household items, toys and board games – but they also give priority to becoming friends with children of the village. Sports and other fun activities are arranged, and college coaches have given of their expertise to help the village children “up their game”. Staff from St Henry’s have travelled on a regular basis to the village to guide the Lily of the Valley children with their studies.

The whole St Henry’s community has been drawn into the Lily of the Valley outreach programme, through the college’s annual drive on behalf of the Clothes to Cash Exchange. Wardrobes have been emptied of clothing that the college’s families have outgrown, and each year over a tonne of useable clothing is collected. This has resulted in healthy sums of money being raised for the Lily of the Valley outreach programme.

Teach a man to fish (and to cook)

In 2015, eight Grade 11 learners from Lily of the Valley entered the School Enterprise Challenge. This programme was part of the Teach a Man to Fish initiative, in partnership with The Saville Foundation, Ithala Bank and the Department of Education.3 The eight learners embarked upon making beaded bracelets and necklaces, packaging them with their logo: “Hope Ithemba Hope”, which means “Working together for hope”.

Through this programme, the learners were taught how to draw up a business plan and how to do a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis of their venture. The project aimed to develop the students’ skills in problemsolving, communication, teamwork and aspiration. The product launch took place at St Henry’s Marist College, where these eight business studies learners were given the opportunity to share their experiences with the Marist learners.

The Hope Ithemba Hope group went on to win the national challenge and was invited to the world conference, held in India later that year.4 In 2016, the learners and teachers from St Henry’s decided to host a cooking course at Lily of the Valley, to further the learners’ small business opportunities. A day was spent teaching the art of making various preserves, such as basil pesto, coriander pesto, onion marmalade and marinated feta. The hope is that the Lily learners will be able to use their newly acquired skills and continue to produce these and other products for sale. They currently take a table at the Musgrave Night Market5 on a Friday night, where they sell a variety of cupcakes. This has proved to be a good fund-raising project for them.

The 2016 Lily of the Valley matric class consisted of seven learners, all of whom are girls. At the end of November, these young girls attended their matric dance – an event they had been looking forward to for many years. The St Henry’s community once again opened its hearts and responded generously when a plea was made for matric dance dresses. Eleven beautiful dresses were collected for the girls to choose from.

Passing the baton The Grade 10 volunteers who have been involved in this programme have been humbled by their experiences. One of the most significant projects they have started is to provide a birthday gift for every child at Lily of the Valley. In addition to this, each house receives a special snack pack for the holidays as a special treat, and each caregiver takes home a food parcel for their families over the festive period. As 2016 drew to a close, the year’s volunteers handed over the reins to the 29 eager Grade 10 St Henry’s volunteers of 2017. They have already collected used school clothes from matrics who have completed their final examinations. Stationery has also been collected and bundled into individual packs. In small ways, St Henry’s, together with Lily of the Valley, is keeping hope alive. 

Liezl McDonald heads up the life orientation department at St Henry’s. She has run the Lily of the Valley project, with the assistance of another teacher, Barbara Munsami, for the past three years. Rowan Phillips recently retired from his post as marketing manager at St Henry’s.

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Category: Autumn 2017

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