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Grace Mashaba - Johannesburg, South Africa

Submitted by Professor Msibi - Johannesburg, South Africa

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She has done very well in making sure that children receive care.

A Champion of Africa

Born in 1947 to a father she never knew, Grace  was raised by her mum, a domestic worker for an Afrikaans speaking farming family in Barbeton, South Africa.  At 4 years old when her mother died, her employees took custody of her, an awkward arrangement in an Apartheid South Africa. Adoption by a white family was not legal, so she became an attachment to the family. Her room was outside, she ate in the kitchen and she went to a black only school. Church too was segregated, so she stayed at home. Nonetheless the mother of the home, who in protest to the law refused to attend church,made a great effort to teach Grace practical life skills and impart a spirit of independence and strength to the young Grace. She excelled at school and became fluent in English, Afrikaans and Sotho and her prospects looked promising.

Then at the age of ten sexual abuse at the hands of the father of the home started. At eleven years old Grace ran away to live on the streets. A charge was laid against herfor the theft of some family jewellery,she was traced and returned to the family and kept as a prisoner instead of the infinitely more attractive option of a juvenile reformatory.

As a result of the sexual abuse the inevitable happened and Grace fell pregnant at the age of 16. Believing herself to have an abdominal complication she was “secretly operated on” and the pregnancy was illegally terminated.Finally she arranged for her own marriage to an elderly farm worker to end the abuse.Unable to give her husband children, a shame in the African culture, she was divorced, but not before tests were conducted which confirmed that the abortion included sterilisation in order to avoid any further risk of shame to the well to do adoptive white family.

Grace’s past shaped her future. Determined to protect children from the horrors that she had suffered, she studied part time and qualified as a prosecutor. By this time she was an area manager for a large retail store and had adopted two children. Unable to turn aside, five more children were adopted at which time Grace made the decision to give up her career and start a children’s home for street children in Malelane and children trafficked on the main highway between South Africa and Mozambique.

Malelane Children’s Village was started in 1989 and was extended to Eikenhof in 2004. To this was added a feeding scheme for 150 children in Grace’s hometown in Barberton. All in all Grace is “mother to” more than 200 children. Wary of adoption Grace has structured her homes to be alarge extended family where older children are “brother and sister, uncle and aunt” to the younger children. Children only move as adults when they are able to support themselves but never “leave” the family, continuing to serve and support their family with financial, emotional and caring support.

Our plea is that we honour this remarkable woman in enabling her to sustain her life work which brings hope, relief, love and a future to children who would otherwise be lost forever.

This story was submitted as part of Oxfam America's International Women's Day initiative to honor women working to right the wrongs of poverty and hunger. Honorees are selected independently by Oxfam supporters. Selection does not imply endorsement or other support from Oxfam America.

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Do you know a woman who's making a difference in the fight against poverty, hunger, and injustice? Share her story with the Oxfam community as inspiration on International Women's Day!

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