Do you see me now teacher? #charity #heartwarming

A little while back I was sitting in one of the classrooms/sheds with Muzzaine. Potentially one of the funniest kids I’ve ever met. She’s being raised by her grandma due to family problems and she doesn’t have much to eat at home, but she is the most opinionated and funny little kid. Her grandma is super cute as well and often helps out at Little Angels, which has made her a lot happier and more confident as she gets away from family problems and feels she’s making a difference. I’ve seen her truly blossom in the past year.

Anyway, myself and Muzzaine have always had a special relationship. Liezel calls her my “other daughter.” I started bringing her food last year when I knew she didn’t have any snacks in the afternoon. It wasn’t my idea – it was hers. Zennie thinks she rules the world and the people in it you see, so she decided I was going to bring her food, because she was hungry. She also decided she will one day get rich so she can buy Liezel and her grandma a big house and she’s coming to London to visit me. She also announced to other kids at Little Angels that since my foster kids are no longer at creche, but in school, I now belong entirely to her when I’m at Little Angels. Liezel had to explain to her that I belong to everyone. At four, she has all the signs of a world leader.

Just the other day she apparently decided that her clothes weren’t fit for going to Little Angels in. Her grandma didn’t have money to buy laundry liquid and Zennie refused getting dressed as she had to wear the same clothes two days in a row. That was just not appropriate. She found the clothes “dirty” and Liezel “would not accept her showing up in dirty clothes.” As a result she got a smack on the bum, as kids in South Africa do and she promptly told her grandma that Liezel would call the police and send her to prison. We educate the kids on abuse and Muzzaine is not one to be messed around with. Even if it was a light smack on the bum, she would not have it.

Another time when she was doing something outrageous her gran told her she would tell me and Zennie replied that it didn’t matter because I love her so much I would never be nasty to her ever. Liezel did say though that the other day when the kids weren’t listening to her she simply picked up her phone “to call teacher Maria and let her know who isn’t listening” and the whole classroom, including Muzzaine, went silent and lined up to try and get to speak to me on the phone. If I was there no one would listen to me though – it’s a standing joke that when I enter the classroom chaos erupts as everyone’s trying to get my attention, all in one go. Fights have broken out over who gets to be close to me. I can teach maximum six kids at a time, or there will be mayhem.

The time Zennie and I were sitting together in the classroom though she was building something using wooden blocks and she looked up to me and said “You will watch me build this, no?” and it just reminded me that most people’s strongest desire is to be seen. To be acknowledged. And to be loved for who they truly are.

Sometimes it’s easy to think that because we live in different countries, in different worlds, we are different. But we aren’t. Not really.

Talking on the phone to Liezel today we first went through problems, solutions, dreams… Then we got talking about men and laughed till we cried. It’s not all doom and gloom in the townships, we have quite a lot of fun too. We have to. The best way to honor life is not to get dissuaded with what it brings you, but to come to terms with it and make the most of it. And even if we struggle now, one day Zennie will buy us all houses and turn us into royalty by mere association with Queen Muzzaine herself. Pretty nice life, don’t you think?

Maria is a writer, social entrepreneur and foster mommy to a pair or twins from the township. You can reach her via LinkedIn, or Twitter: @OhMyMontgomery@LittleAngelsCT

One day in the beginning of the year I wasn’t feeling great as I had just been to the hospital for some tests for my hands, so I decided to go to Little Angels to perk up and, as you can see, hug Zennie. Liezel famously said: “The fact that you decide to come here when you are sad and you want our love and hugs, that makes me an important person. That makes me bigger than anything.”


Saving a life…

In the townships there are many things happening that those from the outside do not see, or hear about. Not because it’s necessarily a secret, but simply because it’s not what you talk about. When people visit Little Angels they see the staff, the kids and the youth leaders. They might drop by when the Hangberg 50cc Feeding Scheme is there and so you talk about the feeding scheme, or about Little Angels. You don’t start digging into personal stories about each and every one of the kids, staff, or friends of theirs. Having worked there for a year and a half I’ve become friends with the teachers, the kids, grandparents…so I’ve started to hear the stories. Sometimes they horrify me, at other times they fill me with warmth. They are usually not easy stories because they contain pain, but sometimes they have happy endings.

Liezel gets to hear and is involved with more stories than anyone I know. Her door is always open (sometimes to her husband’s chagrin as there is little family time left, so he complains, whereupon Liezel has to close the door and be a wife and mummy for a while, but it usually doesn’t last too long – soon the next person comes baring in) and she is the number one agony aunt of the township. I sometimes envy her because I wish I had a home where people felt always welcome and the kettle was always on. On the other hand, I don’t know how she deals with all the stories and how people expect her to fix everything in their lives – from cheating husbands to HIV, from no food on the table to understanding puberty. And sometimes she can’t handle it and that’s where I come in – I listen, I give advice and Liezel feels better. Because now she has someone to lean on.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Sometimes all you need is ears to hear you out, a bit of love and maybe a hug. Problems ease off when someone else is there to share them. That’s why Liezel loves my ears and the whole township loves Liezel. Admittedly some don’t like when she sends child welfare, the rehab center, or the police after them, but then, that’s also why they respect her – she won’t stand for abuse in any way.

So the other day Liezel was telling me the story of her daughter, Camilla’s, best friend.

There was recently a funeral as three kids, of whom one is a youth leader at Little Angels, lost their mom. She liked her drink a bit too much, but there was nothing apparently wrong with her, yet the other week she didn’t wake up one morning. She simply died in her sleep and left three children behind.

During this recent funeral Liezel was reminded of a funeral about a year ago – one of her best friends died in a cab accident and her daughter was Camilla’s best friend. I remember this as well, because it happened due to a taxi accident in Hout Bay and they stopped my car the next morning when going into the township in an attempt to ensure all vehicles were licensed. I believe one of the cabs that were in the crash did not have a licensed driver. It happens that way. It’s Africa. It’s the townships. There are many rules, but they can’t enforce them – half of the cars in use are falling to pieces and if they enforced the law 90% of the poor would no longer be able to drive. They would probably also have to hire twice the police force. And the current police force is partly corrupt, so there’s that as well.

When her mom died the girl last year was devastated and Camilla kept telling Liezel she had to help her so that she wouldn’t drop out of school, or commit suicide. So Liezel talked to her and talked to her and hugged her and kissed her. Then the other day the girl came over with some chocolate to say “thank you for caring when no one else did, thank you for being a mummy when no one else was.”

It’s these stories that keep Liezel going even without a salary; even when living in poverty. She often gets weighed down by hearing about everyone’s problems as she doesn’t have the resources to help everyone and there are many tragic life stories around her all the time. Crime, poverty and prostitution is everyday life in Hangberg. There are many people leading “normal” lives whereby they work and abide by the law, treat their families nice and stay off the drugs and keep clean from HIV, but all of them have to go through seeing many of their friends and family succumb to difficult lives. Sometimes I find it difficult and I don’t even live there. I just work there. And more than anything I fear for the wellbeing of Liezel (she has asthma and a bad thyroid problem which affects her weight and health), the other teachers and the little ones at Little Angels. Especially in winter when it’s cold and we don’t have electricity. It feels weird living a life where I have one foot in the township and one foot out, on the other hand I realize I can’t give up my life on this side. We all help, in whatever way we can. And these stories, these beautiful stories and the hugs from the kids keep us all going. It’s what makes our hearts beat stronger.

– Maria, @OhMyMontgomery @LittleAngelsCT


Liezel at the monthly birthday bash at Little Angels – as many kids aren’t celebrated at home, by the end of each month we throw a party for all kids whose birthday it was that month and serve some cake. 


These are my heroes…

Yesterday a homeless woman who had been out in the rain all night arrived at a rehab center together with her son. They were wet and hungry, but no doubt beautiful humans underneath and most importantly – humans daring to ask for help. The rehab center sent the woman to Little Angels, pleading with Liezel to help her son. Of course, Liezel could not refuse.

In the midst of the pouring rain the teachers were running back and forth to houses in the area, gathering hot water as there is no electricity at Little Angels. They managed to wash the boy, get him into some clean clothes and feed him two bowls of food. He fell asleep shortly after and slept for hours. One of the teachers, Randy, said it was a shame I was not there, because I would have cried seeing the transformation. And probably I would have.

The rehab center is helping the woman come off drugs and have found her a place to stay temporarily. Little Angels will feed and educate her son.

This is why I love working with Little Angels – they make a difference. In a community ridden with crime, HIV, drug misuse and prostitution they stand out by doing what’s right, even if it’s not always easy. They aren’t paid, they often have little left for food, clothes and electricity. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they falter. But they never give up. The teachers at Little Angels have become my extended family. I wish I could give them healthy foods, warm clothes for winter and a constant supply of electricity and simply a break sometime to go somewhere and relax, away from what it means to live in a township (not least for Liezel as she has people knocking on her door at all hours, being the agony aunt of the entire community – the go to person for food, warmth, advice and hugs and for Stacey whose husband has just been diagnosed with cancer and who was the sole provider of the family). I can’t. Not right now. But I know that we have each other – we have each other’s support, joy and laughter. More than anything we have success stories to warm our hearts and kids to hug us on a rainy day. We have what few will experience – the unconditional love of hundreds of children who interact with us. We are very blessed.

– Maria, @OhMyMontgomery @LittleAngelsCT



Chatting on the Radio!

Today we had the pleasure of appearing on Smile Radio 90.4 FM here in Cape Town. It was lovely being able to speak about the work we are doing with the children in the township of Hangberg. We are so excited to see the changes happening with the kids that come to us, how their behavior changes as they get some sort of stability through the crèche and being able to share that and the passion we feel for the work we are doing is amazing! Also, all the support we get from people is wonderful as it can be tough working for nothing and constantly struggle against the odds, even if we love what we do and the kids fill us with joy every day.


Maria, Liezel, Benito (from Smile Radio), Dennis and Jaqui