Born in Krugersdorp, Gauteng, Elsie du Plessis was abandoned as a baby and grew up as a foster child. However, she did not let that experience define her, instead, she devoted her life to helping other abandoned babies and founded Miracle Kidz safe house in 2000. It has since become a beacon of hope for vulnerable, abandoned, and abused children in the Western Cape.
Although her dream was to become a nurse in high school, looking after vulnerable children were always at the back of her mind. After quitting nursing for personal reasons, Du Plessis changed her career path and succeeded in opening up a safe house for neglected and abused babies.
“Miracle Kidz is a safe house for abused, abandoned, and neglected babies and toddlers. A number of the babies either have FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) and ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) or are drug babies. Our safe house is not an orphanage; the children do have biological parents, and if conditions have improved, these children will be reunited with their parents. Otherwise, they will be sent to foster homes or children’s homes.”
Du Plessis says that it was not really a person who had the strongest influence in her life, but rather, her circumstances, the way she grew up, and where she grew up that shaped her and laid the foundation of who she is today.
Dream becomes reality
“It has always been my dream to open a safe house since I was a young girl. My biological mother gave me away as a baby, so I grew up as a foster child and have never been adopted,” she says.
“I lack a sense of belonging. It is important as a child to have the same surname as your parents when you grow up, and I never had that. I was always the different one.
She explains how the process works when it comes to looking after abandoned children.
“As a registered safe house, we are not allowed to take children off the streets or from their mothers, even if the mother is willing to hand them over. We have to do it with the social worker’s help or the police; they need to fill out the correct forms, then the social worker will take them to the children’s court, where the court places the child legally in my care.”
The cost of running a safe house
Miracle Kidz safe house provides a range of services to support the babies in their care. As a non-profit organisation, funds can sometimes be a challenge, as taking care of babies is a huge expense, and the government grant is not enough for them to take proper care of a baby.
“Finances are sometimes a very big problem as we receive very little from our government, and social workers are sometimes very overwhelmed. They bring babies and do not follow up to see if the baby is okay or if we are coping with the baby. It is also difficult to have reliable staff with a lack of funds, and we can’t rely on volunteers all the time. Fundraising is difficult nowadays, but we work hard to try to raise funds. We do markets every Saturday and also sell stuff we no longer need or use. We do anything that can bring in a little bit of money.”
Health care for babies is also a huge expense. Du Plessis says they go to nearby state hospitals and sit there for hours with sick babies. If they really need specialised equipment for a baby, they do fundraising and buy it because they cannot allow babies to be without the necessary healthcare. They make a plan and ensure it is available for them.
The difficulty of letting go
Being attached to someone you take care of is also expected. Du Plessis says this also occurs in their working environment, but they are strong enough to let go as the main goal is a better future for the babies.
She adds that sometimes the babies usually stay longer than the recommended three months, making one grow fonder. However, most of them are usually placed in safe and loving homes within three months.
“I get calls from social workers on a weekly basis, but we can only take a certain number of babies. We can take another one in as soon as a baby or toddler is placed out. Sometimes it does take the recommended three months or longer.”
A lifetime of dedication
Du Plessis’ dedication to improving the lives of vulnerable children is a long-term commitment for her, as abandonment is becoming very common in South Africa. Parents are getting younger and the abuse of drugs and alcohol is also increasing.
“The reality is that abandonment will not end soon. The extent of abuse gets worse by the day. Injured babies, traumatised babies, raped babies, babies found under trees full of ants—I don’t think people realise how much we work; they see these beautiful babies, clean and well dressed, but they never really know the state the baby arrived here in.”
Under Du Plessis’ leadership, Miracle Kidz safe house has become an inspiration to many and serves as a reminder that even the smallest acts of kindness can have a profound impact on the lives of others.
“I am glad because I still have my passion for what I’m doing after all these years – to change these kids’ futures and have a path in their lives and futures. I’m proud to be the mom to tell them you’re safe now and loved. Being part of milestones when they walk or sit is amazing.
“Although we also get tired, we also need counselling, and we also need a break, I hope Miracle Kidz safe houses’ journey never ends. Be patient if we don’t allow visits, we have a reason for it: the safety of our babies. Report abuse; it is our responsibility to look after the vulnerable.”
Du Plessis concludes by encouraging everyone to never give up and to keep spreading the word to mothers who are unable to keep their babies to never lose hope, and remind them that there is always someone to help.
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