– December 17 2021
Siblings find a happy home at SOS Children's Villages
Text by Anne Kahura; Photo by Mapalane Mahlompho
Kabelo and her two younger siblings arrived at their new home with only the clothes they had on. A social worker brought them to SOS mother Mats'epe Ts'epe to start their new life.
For months after their mother died in early 2020, 8-year-old Kabelo*, her younger sister Tabi* (5) and brother Telo* (2), had been living alone in Makhalaneng, a sparsely populated community on the outskirts of Maseru, Lesotho's capital.
Ignored by relatives, Kabelo felt pressured to step into her mother's shoes and parent her siblings. She dropped out of school and withdrew from her friend group. The children had no food in the house. They ate soil, leaves and fruits from trees.
"It was difficult to be like a mother," says Kabelo. "My little brother cried all the time. He felt better when I picked him up and sang to him. Sometimes I did not know how to soothe him when he cried too much." With such responsibility at a young age, Kabelo says she was always sad.
SOS mother Mats'epe Ts'epe recalls how emotional and devastated she was when she first saw the three children. "They had obvious signs of malnutrition, and their skin had severe rashes and sores. To see the younger children so scared, clinging to Kabelo and calling her "mother," was a sad sight," she says.
The transition to the new SOS family at SOS Children's Villages in Lesotho was difficult for the siblings. They refused to interact with the others and consistently withdrew to their corner. According to SOS mother Ts'epe, it was a sign of trauma.
"I let them sleep together with me in the room until they relaxed and felt comfortable to talk to me and have separate rooms."
Just like with the other five children in her care, Ts'epe gave Kabelo and her siblings the support they needed to feel safe and recover from their past in a healthy way. Warmth and love have helped them embrace their new home and family.
"I like my new family because we play together as a family, including our mother, and it is fun. When we work, we do it together, and it is interesting because my SOS siblings are so funny," says Kabelo, now nine years old. "We have water to drink, good food and I am not scared at night anymore. We have found a happy home."
"The children are now healthy, they have gained weight and their skin has recovered," says SOS mother Ts'epe.
With a reliable adult around to protect and provide for the siblings, Kabelo has become a child again. She enjoys playing pretend house and dancing with her two best friends. Tabi, now six years old, has developed a passion for writing and drawing—she keeps asking her older SOS siblings to give feedback on her work. Telo loves riding his scooter with friends. He recently turned three.
"I am in grade three, and my siblings are in kindergarten," says Kabelo. "I want to be a nurse when I grow up so that I can take good care of people".
*Names changed to protect the privacy of the children.