Cotlands Orphanage, Johannesburg by Sharday Shelby 14 March 2011

It is truly amazing to see what wonderful things can be achieved when a few people are able to get together to affect change and be of service to those less fortunate than themselves.  Cotlands is evidence of this change and service being possible. Cotlands currently operates as an orphanage for abused and neglected children, as well as some children who have been removed from their homes by social services.  It currently is housing sixty-five orphans under the age of ten, but can house up to seventy children.  The orphanage is unique in the fact that approximately ninety percent of the children housed there are infected with HIV.  They pride themselves in being able to provide adequate healthcare, education, emotional support, and love for these amazing children.

This year will be a particularly exciting year for them as they celebrate their 75th anniversary. However, this will also be a challenging year, as they find themselves in a difficult economic environment.  Although the South African government requires corporations to donate money to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) of their choice (something my colleagues and I found to be amazing) and Cotlands has received some corporate funding, they are still struggling to receive adequate funding from private donors and other sources due to the international economic crisis.  Additionally, they do not receive a large portion of their budget from governmental funding.

Although Cotlands is struggling financially, I am convinced that they are not lacking in the substance of the amazing work that they do.  As we entered the orphanage, two employees of Cotlands greeted us and took us on a tour of the building. One of the first things we saw was a painting of Dorothy Reese, the woman who founded Cotlands originally as a shelter for single mothers and their children. Presently, one of the most impressive aspects of Cotlands is their educational program for early childhood development, which has been used as a model for other educational programs in South Africa.  I think it is fair to say that we could all tell just from walking into the classroom that this program must be beneficial to the children, because the room was in disarray from recent child activity and there was much evidence of interactive projects.

As we continued our tour, we encountered a group of children, roughly four to six years old, walking back to “sanctuary” from school.  “Sanctuary” is an area of the orphanage with cots and a play area.  These were the first children we were able to meet and they touched all of our hearts.  The most moving part for me was when one of the children walked right up to one of our colleagues and hugged him. Several of the other children immediately began to do the same and hugged several of us. It was remarkable that after all the abuse and neglect some of these children have experienced in their lives, they were able to be so trusting of our group, who were to them complete strangers.
Another equally moving experience was the opportunity we had to see the children in hospice.  I should explain that hospice at Cotlands does not currently carry the same connotation of expectant death as it does in other places.  At Cotlands, the hospice area started off as an area where a great number of the children that were placed there would likely not survive.  However, with recent RAV drugs, the children in this hospice area are likely to survive, but may be currently in poorer health than the other children.  As we approached the hospice area we were able to look through the windows and see that most of these children were just young babies and toddlers under the age of 4.  They were abandoned, neglected, and sick.  We were given an opportunity to go into their rooms and see them.  It was truly a sad moment for many of us. However, as sad as this was to witness, it is truly an amazing and exciting thing to see that this orphanage has taken these children in and created a safe, happy, and healthy environment.

Our visit to Cotlands was by far the most emotionally stimulating experiences thus far, for me, of our trip to South Africa. Their work is truly a testament to the generous and caring nature and existence of humanity in the world.  I have nothing but positive expectations for the future of Cotlands.


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