Changing communities by caring for children
Every life matters, every story is worth telling – the best ones are when God tells His story through us. Stories of Hope is a collection of inspiring stories of ordinary people whose lives have been impacted through the work and care of ministry partners of the Mergon Foundation.
This is Cazile Mhlope’s Story of Hope.
It is estimated that 7,800,000 adults and children in South Africa are living with HIV. In some communities of KwaZulu-Natal, 60 percent of women have HIV. This devastating epidemic has ripped apart countless families and left many in despair.
From the age of five, Cazile Mhlope knew what it meant to lose the people closest to her. Within a few years she lost her parents, two aunts, as well as her sister. As a result, she had learnt to be responsible at a very young age.
‘After my parents passed away, I moved in with an aunt. It wasn’t long before she got sick and passed away and I had to move in with another aunt. She unfortunately also got sick and passed away,’ shares Cazile.
Finally, when there was nowhere little Cazile could go to, her sister dropped out of school to take care of her. ‘My sister found small jobs here and there and even managed to get me into school. In 2006 she got sick and within a week she, too, was gone,’ explains Cazile.
With no one left to look after her, Cazile’s eldest aunt who lived in a different village, heard the news and decided to take her and her two cousins in. ‘After that, life was kind of getting normal again and I was able to continue with school.’
Cazile, though she didn’t have a proper school uniform or adequate stationary, was simply happy to be able to go to school and get an education. In the midst of life slightly normalising, however, Cazile’s youngest cousin became paralysed and had to be hospitalised.
It was hard – suddenly her aunt had three children to take care of and now one of them needed extra attention. Between hospital visits, while the other two children were alone at home, Cazile’s aunt met someone from Key of Hope. They saw how hopeless she was and started telling her about Key of Hope’s work and suggested that the founder, Daniel Smither (Uncle Dan, as the kids call him), go and visit Cazile and her cousins at home.
Key of Hope reaches children, youth and young adults in disadvantaged communities in Durban with the hope found in Jesus Christ. Home visits are foundational to Key of Hope’s vision of life-long mentoring and discipleship. Each child involved in Key of Hope’s programme is visited by one of their caring adult staff every week, giving them the opportunity to assess basic needs and provide spiritual counsel and prayer.
‘I’ll never forget that day when Uncle Dan knocked on our door,’ recalls Cazile. ‘It was weird seeing a white person in a black community! He invited us to Kidz Klub and we were intrigued.’
From that day on, she started attending Kidz Klub every week which, she says, changed her life. ‘I got a new school uniform, new school shoes, full stationary, food, and my aunt got support from Key of Hope as well. I was 12 years old when, on a Key of Hope camp, I felt like the Holy Spirit opened my eyes. Soon after I gave my life to Jesus,’ she says.
The Saturday Kidz Klub is Key of Hope’s main gathering and serves as a gateway to their other programmes. The fun mix of games, singing, prizes, puppets, and Bible teaching attracts hundreds of children, often providing Key of Hope’s first contact with a child. Cazile joined Kidz Klub at the age of 9. In high school, she moved on to youth nights, and after high school she started volunteering at Key of Hope. Eventually she became an intern and today she is a full-time Key of Hope staff member.
Key of Hope bases their discipleship approach on Matthew 28:19-20. They guide holistic growth and development by:
- giving children emotional support through mentoring relationships during home visits,
- teaching children about Jesus and how the Gospel impacts their life at Kidz Klub, Youth Night, and devotions,
- providing children’s school fees, uniforms, and transportation to receive tutoring at the Hope Academy programme, and
- nourishing and strengthening children with food parcels and their sports programmes.
‘We want to unlock the future of Africa by empowering children to be ambassadors of change in their families, schools and communities,’ shares Key of Hope founder, Daniel Smither. ‘15 years ago, based on the power of long-term mentoring relationships and the language of music to communicate the truths of the Gospel, our dream to reach thousands of children affected by poverty was born. The work literally began with one child in one informal settlement and has grown steadily from there. We now operate with a staff of 35 people, ministering in over a dozen different settlements with 2,500 children being visited at home each week,’ he explains.
‘Losing so many people in my life left me with a massive fear. I used to distance myself from my story so that I wouldn’t have to go through it all again. Over the years however, I have learnt to share and connect with it. The coolest thing is that I’m now able to help kids who are going through the same things I went through when I was their age,’ Cazile concludes.
Find out more about Key of Hope’s work and programmes here: https://www.keyofhope.co.za
Stories of Hope is brought to you by the Mergon Foundation, a resource partner to ministries who expand God’s Kingdom and bring hope and restoration to communities across Africa and the Middle East.
Listen to Cazile’s story here.