“I found that the mother had died in the hospital the very next day: July 19. The children had to go to claim the body.”
Before long, Dyantji had, in her own words, “become a mother to 79 kids. They started calling me ‘Mother’ and had so much confidence in me. It was as if they were asking ‘Feed me, nurture me.’ They became kids of my heart. But all this was making me run like a chicken with the head off. Soon there were 102 children.”
A single mother of five, Dyantji decided to leave nursing school and find a job to help support a ministry for children in crisis. It was consistent with her determination to make a difference in the lives of those suffering with AIDS, if not as a licensed nurse.
‘We are like two hands that wash each other.’ — Ways of Dying
Today, Ikageng-Itireleng AIDS Ministry, which Dyantji founded, serves nearly 2,000 children in 293 households, some of them headed by children as young as 10. Ikageng-Itireleng literally means “build yourself, do it for yourself” in Tswana, one of the 11 official languages spoken in South Africa.
“I have seen God moving in the courage of children raising themselves and their siblings,” says Dyantji . With a paid staff of 18 and 24 volunteers, the ministry provides food parcels, after-school and weekend tutoring, training in life skills, and emotional support through counseling and mentoring. Twenty house mothers, who receive a small stipend and food parcels, care for children who are too young to head a household.
Dyantji knows and remember every child’s name. In the ministry office, she introduces an 18-year-old youth as head of his household and quickly names each of his seven younger siblings.
“Kids tell us, ‘Drugs understood me. Poverty has decided for me.’ We try to offer a circle of support that counters these perceptions. We organize school clubs and have kids come in on the weekend to try to help them catch up academically.”
Dyantji says she “lets each child know ‘you are special to me’ in such a way they feel me as a mother. They call me ‘Ma Carol.’”
But mothering a multitude is not easy. Thirty-two of her charges are unable to cope at school; some have attempted suicide; 102 children are known to be HIV-positive. One girl’s boyfriend, who had won the teen’s trust, convinced her unprotected sex was OK. She became pregnant.