On any tending day, 57-year-old Louisa Burns will be found surrounded by love. From grooming her precious lavender in her small garden or feeding the children in her road, she says that caring for others gives her life. Her desire to care brought her to the Eindehoven community centre in Delft where she learnt about the Salesian Life Choices’ Family Affairs Programme.
As one of many foster parents in her community, Louisa is part of a group of women dedicated to caring for children who need a place of safety and love. She says that a social worker she was working with, told her about the Family Affairs programme. “She told me that it is a great programme and that it would give me new ideas on how I can parent.”
Louisa says that she was interested in joining the programme to become a better parent to her foster child of ten years, “her Nico”, or the “king of the house” as she affectionately calls him.
“I helped raise Nico’s mother and now I am raising her son. His mother lived with me while she was pregnant and when Nico was three months old, she left. Growing up, he has only known me as a mother figure, although he does see his biological mother from time to time.”
“At the time, Nico was a bit angry. His mother means well, but she would make promises to him and not keep it. It wasn’t easy to deal with his frustration and when I heard about the programme I was hoping that it would help me make our home happier.”
Family Affairs uplifts and equips parents as a way of creating a safe society where women and children can develop. Salesian Life Choices provides parental skills training and one-on-one sessions with a therapist and a job search counselor to groups of parents/guardians in previously disadvantaged communities.
Louisa says that even though she felt nervous in the beginning of the seven-week parental skills sessions, by the third session she felt confident and began using the tools she learned.
“I remember one day that Nico was angry; I was telling him to do chores around the house but he wouldn’t listen and became a bit rude. Normally I would shout at him, but at Family Affairs we were told that many times children misbehave because they feel un-ease about something but are unable to express it in the right manner. So instead of raising my voice at him, we spoke about what was going on. At first he didn’t want to talk, but after I encouraged him and told him that I care, he started sharing. We have done this a few times already and I can see a difference in our relationship.”
Louisa adds that because of the support of the group she began sharing her personal story, “I was unaware the programme would also help me heal from my past.”
Growing up in the Cape Flats, Louisa faced many challenges in her life. She lost her young son, who at a year old was knocked by a car and also lost her 20-year-old niece who was murdered. “I thought I had dealt with everything by just trying to move forward, but through the programme I realised that I had never dealt with my losses.”
She adds that along with the training she received through the programme, she gained from the one-on-one counselling that she received from the Salesian Life Choices therapist.
“One of the things the therapist told me to do was to write a letter to my niece. So I wrote about how I was feeling, I told her why I love and miss her. It was the first time I did that and it helped. It helped me remember the good and not only the horrible way in which she was taken away. I placed the letter in an envelope along with her pictures. Today, I can look at a photo of her and not cry.”
Louisa explains that she joined the training for Nico but through the process she has truly benefitted herself.
“I thought I would learn to be a better parent. And it is true that I have, but I have also learned so much more about myself, I have healed. The best part is that I know I have become a better parent through becoming a better person.”
The effect of the programme is evident in many areas of Louisa’s life.
“We would talk about self-confidence and discuss ways in which we can make our lives better. Something happened to me through those talks. I haven’t worked in years and have mostly depended on my husband for money. But, after the programme I started thinking of ways to make a difference in my life. I started my own business, selling sweets, chips and on hot days ice cream to the children in the area. Sometimes I make R70, and sometimes R100 of profit for the week. I know it sounds little but it makes me feel so good about myself.”
Another change for Louisa is that she has decided to open her home to more children.
“I’ve decided to become a safety parent, there are many children in my community who need love and care and I want to be there for them. I’ve spoken to the social worker and I am going through the assessment process. I already have clothes for the children, I can’t wait to have them around.”