How a single mom, once an orphan, turned her ‘messy’ life around.
As an orphan, Celestina Ralede (39) knows the important role that a parent plays in a child’s life. She is a single mother of three–two boys aged 17 and one, and a twelve-year-old daughter. She has never met her parents, as she grew up in an orphanage, and memories of that hard life all came back to her as she bared her soul to Mam’Eunice Hlatshwayo, a Community Care Worker supervisor for HOPE worldwide SA’s SHIELD programme. The programme links families in need with local sponsors for a period of one year. Those talks had an enormous impact, as Celestina and her family became part of SHIELD programme. She shares how it changed her life.
“Talking about my life to Mam’Eunice reminded me of the past. I’d often wish my parents were there. I’d ask God why he didn’t leave me with at least one, to help me with the challenges I faced. The loneliness, the despair, the fear, all these emotions came back as I talked to her. She met with me three times a week and counselled me. I felt such relief. Just talking about it, made me feel better.
“Until that point, my life was a mess. I even thought of taking my life, and that of my children,” Celestina explains.
Despite her own upbringing, Celestina took her responsibility as a single mom seriously. She had a decent job, working at the security control room of a shopping centre. But she gave it up. The fear for the safety of her children became too much, as she had to leave them home alone while she worked long and irregular hours. Being unemployed meant that she couldn’t afford to pay rent. Her landlord evicted them and the family had nowhere to live. Life became more difficult, and Celestina had to move from house to house begging for food to feed her children.
Her life improved when a local newspaper highlighted her plight and received help from a social worker and the local councillor. The councillor helped her get a shack to stay in, rent-free. However, she was still without a job. Determined to better her family’s life, Celestina baked and sold cookies and weighed metal for recycling to generate an income. But food and employment remained a struggle. Her son needed uniform for school and she owed thousands in fees for her daughter’s schooling. Her situation was bleak, and Celestina despaired of life itself.
Celestina’s meeting with her SHIELD sponsors from the Joburg Church of Christ was an answer to a prayer. Her family received monthly groceries, and a school uniform for her son. Her sponsors even helped her start a small hair salon. While that business didn’t work out, it didn’t dampen her determination to take care of her family on her own. With her sponsors’ continued support, Celestina tried to start her own preschool, but when COVID-19 hit, it blocked her plans.
“The first lockdown was hell. Confined to a small space, we couldn’t go out to buy fresh food. We don’t have a fridge to store anything and ended up eating only pap for two weeks. Plus, the thought of getting COVID scared us,” she shares.
Through all of this, Celestina still has hopes and dreams for her children to attend school and stay off the streets so that they can have brighter futures. Her can-do attitude is inspiring. She started selling atchaar(a type of pickle) from door to door and now plans to sell fried food. She’s worked various odd jobs in-between. And she hasn’t given up on her dream to restart a preschool.
Celestina is a fighter and is incredibly resilient. She embodies self-motivation and determination, yet she doesn’t under-estimate or take for granted the role her sponsors have played in her life.
A grateful heart
“I have a family that really supports me. I always say God has a purpose for our lives, and he knew before we met how things would turn out. I was in a dark hole and didn’t know what would happen next. They were there for us. My children could go to school because of them. The food we eat, school uniform, stationery, we’ve managed all of that, because of our sponsors. They are amazing, I don’t know how to thank them. They have done enough for me and my children, I wish I can find a job fast.”
So while Celestina grew up without parents of her own, with the help of the SHIELD “Adopt a Family” program, she is making sure her children have a different future than what she had.