Oblate Youth Service work in South Africa

Our African Projects

Time as they say, waits for no one, and the years have gone very quickly since two members first volunteered to travel overseas way back in the mist of time in 2002.  Since then there has been a tradition of members travelling ever since. The first trip was to Kenya to the Mercy Sisters mission hospital in Mutomo and from there, there was further involvement in S. Africa. These were three very different projects, two outside Durban and the other Johannesburg. As regards the project in Durban ‘Streetwise’ this has involved two different ways of involvement, one working with the children for whom it is home and the second a major renovation of the building to ensure that it was safe and not in danger of collapsing.

Streetwise - The Home

Streetwise is a project for street children that was set up many years ago in the late 80’s and it is based on the principles of care, compassion and empowerment, and it is situated in Marianhill, Pinetown outside Durban. Those involved believe that a strategic approach centred on compassion for the child is vital for working with street children; hence they have a four-phase programme.

  1. Amaoti - Which is a prevention project designed to promote family preservation and reduce the number of street children coming onto the streets.
  2. The Street Educators Team - Who are outreach workers whose aim is to identify the children on the streets and through building trust empower children to make life decisions and offer them the opportunity of  leaving the streets.
  3. The Streetwise Residential Rehabilitation Centre - Which is at Marianhill and cares for the former street children whilst reconciliation work is done with their families. It is here that the children receive love, care and counselling from the team of social workers and child care workers. Their programmes include a bridging school, practical skills training and a rehabilitation programme for children crippled from the effects of glue sniffing as well as sporting, cultural and recreational activities. Where possible the goal is to be able to reunite children with their families and communities.
  4. After care work - Which would be follow-up services to children who have been returned home and would include food parcels, counselling and assistance with education costs.

However, for older children that have no family or are unable to return to their families there is a “half-house” which provides a home environment for when they are ready to move on from the rehabilitation centre and start work with skills training or continue in education.

Streetwise - The Renovation Project

It was while members of the OYS were involved with working with the children that we became aware of the dangerous state of the building and hence two skilled members of the group Padraig a quality surveyor and project manager and Gareth a civil engineer went out to undertake a feasibility study of the building and the work required. It was decided that some work was required to be done as soon as possible with further work to be completed over a three phase work period and this has been completed with only one more return visit required to finish off the top floor of the building concerning the flooring of the roof space. To date the work carried out under the supervision of Padraig and his team of expert trades people with the help of some members of the OYS.

Phase 1 - Demolition of old showers and complete renewal of same, complete renewal of electrical wiring in dining/recreational area, retiling of kitchen area and other essential maintenance works.

Phase 2 - Dismantling of roof on annex and complete renewal, construction of new library/play area, and associated maintenance projects.

Phase 3 - Complete remove and replacement and strengthening of roof on main house. New roof skylight windows and replace of windows on top floor.

Phase 4 - The fourth and final main renovation work concerning the roof is hopefully expected to be completed shortly.


Little Eden

A place of compassion, understanding and love, over two sites caring for 290 physically and mentally disabled children and adults. It is very much a place where the Oblate Youth Service has been privileged to visit and work and to have been accepted by those who administer and run the homes under the care of its CEO Lucy Slaviero and her great team.

This great story goes back many years to 1967 when Mrs Domitilla Hyams started a day care facility for three little girls with mental handicap, which led her to devote her life to children such as these. Her simple objective was always to allow these special children – some of whom have been abandoned by their parents – to live in a peaceful, loving environment. Today, Little Eden consists of two homes, one at Edenvale and the other a 43 ha farm in Bapsfontein which together are home to over 290 disabled children and adults.

Children at Little Eden benefit from 24-hour nursing care and a full programme of physio, occupational, speech and hydro-therapy, reflexology, art and music – all aimed at developing their quality of life. Ranging in ages from just a few months to 53 years, the residents include people with mental illness, disturbed behaviour, multiple physical disabilities and epilepsy. They are divided according to their age and abilities to ensure each receives appropriate care and stimulation in the best possible environment.

Smaller children and those requiring frequent medical care generally live at the Edenvale home, and the more mobile and older residents are better suited to life at the Elvira Rota Village, the farm in Bapsfontein. Those who wish to are encouraged to be involved in the daily chores – whether it’s rinsing the dishes, folding laundry or just ensuring the farm is free of little. This provides a sense of achievement and belonging which adds to their well being. Participating in the annual Christmas concert is another favourite activity and one which those that attend it find incredibly moving and special.

The residents may not be able to run and play like other children, some cannot even sit up, speak or feed themselves. Yet each person at Little Eden is a whole, complete being created by God...with a mind, a body, a spirit and a soul, however handicapped. At Little Eden everyone tries to recognise the resident’s abilities and to work with them at their own level of functioning, to encourage and develop them to their full potential. Although there are many sad cases, Little Eden is not a sad place filled with hopeless people. It is a place of great love, where every child feels secure and valued. Even those who cannot speak can be reached through the universal language of touch, and so often respond with joyful smiles.

What Domitilla set out to do so many years ago with the complete support and confidence of her husband and her family, friends and supporters is truly remarkable, a miracle. It was with the gift of faith that she set out on the road, not knowing where it would lead her, but with a certain conviction that what she was doing was in response to God’s invitation to do something for these special children ‘angels’ that God would not let her down and would walk alongside her every moment of the journey. Domitilla died in January 2011 and her spirit lives on through all those who give so much of themselves to the care of the children and adults of Little Eden.



There is a centre in Inanda outside Durban called Sukumawenze, which in Zulu literally means stand up and do something. This centre was begun by Fr Paddy McMahon, an Oblate from West Meath to help people help themselves. He began with sawing classes and was supported by his pastoral assistant Sr Mary Ann, both of them believed the work of evangelisation included helping people improve their quality of life They started with nothing more than a little shack and a second-hand sewing machine, one has to admire their faith and courage. They did not wait until they had everything, later they were able to build a little hall and many were taught how to sew and were helped to get their own sewing machines.

History soon repeated itself and with a second hand computer they began computer classes, and later with the help of donors they were able to get a few more computers and today train jobless young people to become computer literate.

Responding to the needs of the community, Sukumawenze began to receive AIDS patients who had been discharged from hospital. They started with eight beds and now this total has risen to 24, Fr Paddy, Sr Mary Ann and Sr Mirriam have enlisted voluntary carers who are trained to assist the patients. Alongside this work there is also the feeding of over 200 children each day, morning and evening at Sukumawenze and two other local stations, these are children AIDS patients. It is not always easy and the challenges are tough on Fr Paddy and Sr’s MaryAnn and Mirriam but there is always a smile on their faces that comes from the knowledge that they are empowering people to help themselves. What is truly amazing was when Fr Paddy began this work with the sisters he was ninety years of age when he began this new ministry at Sukumawenze.