Aziza Nolan says it was a speech Nelson Mandela made in London more than a decade ago that drew her back to South Africa and ultimately to Parklands where she now runs a safe haven for abused children.
Speaking in Trafalgar Square in 2005, Mr Mandela pleaded with expatriates to return home and use their knowledge to help the children of South Africa.
Ms Nolan had been abroad establishing a career for herself at the time with “no plans of ever coming back”, but Mr Mandela’s words had changed her mind.
“He said he wished he could put all of us in his suitcase and bring us back with him but that he couldn’t,” Ms Nolan said, recalling the late president’s speech.
Ms Nolan now runs Peace Home, a refuge in Parklands for abused children. There are 12 children in her care — the eldest is 14, the youngest just 18 months old.
She sits on a couch, rocking a baby back and forth as she speaks. In the yard, children are playing on a jungle gym, screeching with laughter. They do not look like survivors of harrowing experiences yet their pasts are gut-wrenching.
Ms Nolan said the mother of the baby in her arms had confessed to her on Facebook that she was a drug addict and wanted to kill her child.
One of the girls giggling on the jungle gym, she said, was a victim of child trafficking. Another was abandoned as a baby and Ms Nolan had to have dental tests done to determine his age – and the list goes on.
When she took in her first few children, she discovered some of them had been sexually abused. But, she said, getting justice for them had not been easy.
“It involves a lot of red tape and can be very frustrating, and I thought if it’s this difficult for me, an educated person, how much more difficult for the normal guy on the street? It was then that I decided I would be the voice for the voiceless.”
Child Protection Week started on Sunday May 27, and Ms Nolan said it was important to focus on bullying and child sex trafficking.
“One of the cases I dealt with was a little girl who was forced into sex trafficking by her mother. She sold her daughter to a man for R10. The girl had never been to school and could not read or count. Eventually as she progressed, she pointed out the green note and said that’s what her mother was given by the man.”
It is stories like this that she wants more people to hear as she believes child sex trafficking has been “overlooked” in our society.
Now a registered non-profit company, Peace Home started in Ms Nolan’s two-bedroom flat in Bantry Bay when she returned from the UK. It quickly became crowded and she needed a house with a yard for the children to play.
She sold the flat and bought the house cash and registered it as a trust so that there would always be a place for the children if anything happened to her, she says.
“I didn’t want the house to feel like an institution. I wanted it to feel like a family home”.
Pictures of the children on the walls and scattered toys suggest she has achieved this goal.
Last week she received a nomination from someone in the community for the Make a Difference Campaign that acknowledges community heroes, a Milnerton Lions award as well as a certificate of recognition from the Parklands Neighbourhood Watch.
She relies on public donations and bakes to earn some extra cash.
She sold her car last month to pay school fees and cover other expenses, but she says it’s all worth it in the end.
“When you see a child is being abused, you put all your eggs in one basket to help that child. You spend as much as is needed to help that child. We have a responsibility to protect them.”