I was recently commissioned to make a wedding anniversary wall hanging by five children for their parents. Each of nine patchworked rectangles were personalised with dates, special quotes, photos, etc. The lady who ordered the wall hanging said that she would like a starfish on one of the rectangles, because it symbolised something special to both of her parents. She then told me the story of the reason why, and I thought that I would share it.This was written by her father Michael:
“Ten years ago I travelled to South Africa for the first time. It was a coach crash near Lydenberg in the north of the country near the border with Mozambique that brought me there. Now, several trips later, it is the faces of young street children in Capetown that is exerting a magnetic pull on both Karen and I. South Africa is a land of deep paradox in which the very poor live adjacent to the very rich. Top of the range BMW’s, Mercs and DB7’s intersect in the traffic with the ubiquitous and very overcrowded white mini buses that ferry black people in and out of the city from their shanty dwellings on the Cape Flats. It is hard for any visitor to fully grasp the contrasts.

There is a small but significant oasis for at least some of these kids in the unlikely setting of a monastic community right in the middle of fashionable Capetown. There the older teenagers learn different trades while the younger ones get to go to school, many while they are still living on the streets, or in local hostels, by night. At first, we felt overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the needs. It seemed that anything we might conceivably contribute would make no difference. But the story of the little boy throwing stranded starfish back into the sea was sent to me in an email. A passing man pointed out there were so many of them that it was really a waste of time. The little boy picked one up and said, “it is not a waste of time for this one”.

This changed everything for us.

After spending a month at the projects it was clear that the helpers – social workers, teachers, administrators, cooks, cleaners – also needed some help in managing the very demanding work expected of them. So, over the next three years, Karen and I will be developing a robust staff support programme for them.

This is our starfish.”

Michael also has a blog where you can keep up with their wonderful work.

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