Breath of Life shelter runs on the power of love

Recently celebrating her third year as  house mother and co-ordinator at Breath of Life, Michelle Rielly is a woman passionate about her job and has nothing but love for the babies in her care.

Rielly often starts her days at 5am because there is so much to do. Doctor check-ups, immunisation and admin work keeps her on her toes until 8pm each day.

Breath of Life was established in 2009 as a place of safety for abandoned and neglected babies. The organisation's main goal is to help women in crisis about their pregnancies and to care for unwanted or neglected babies in need.

“There are always surprises and challenges. We have quite a few different ages present in the nursery, from newborn to 15 months and that means we have quite a varied group of activities geared towards the different ages. This requires lots of planning to keep them all entertained and happy.

“It has been a struggle during lockdown because we haven't been able to have any volunteers or visitors so we have all become queens of extreme multitasking,” Rielly quipped.

She said her days were long because she spent the better part of them tending to the youngest in their care.

“I spend the better part of my day with the babies — loving them, feeding and playing with them. Then when they are sleeping I do admin and paperwork with my lovely assistant Ilanthea. My day normally finishes between 7pm and 8pm and then I spend a few hours with my amazing husband and children before I hit the books,” said Rielly, 41.

She is studying for a Bachelor's degree in social work through the University of Fort Hare.

“Trying to fit everything in is one of my biggest challenges, but I am thankful God has given me the capacity to make it work.”

Over the years, the organisation has homed 195 babies and counselled more than 25,800 women.

Rielly, who grew up in East London, worked in sales for a property agency before joining the organisation.

“When God called me to be at Breath of Life I was working in the sales department of Harcourts Advantage, completing my property practitioners internship. Four years ago I would never have thought I would be taking care of abandoned, abused and unwanted babies. But God really knew my heart and where I needed to be,” said Rielly.

She said one of the most difficult experiences was getting calls from social workers asking if she had space for another baby in need.

“This basically means there is a child in need of care and sometimes they arrive abused and broken. I am thankful and honoured that God would place these precious souls in my care. Their time here is filled with healing and love,” she said.  

During her time at Breath of Life, Rielly and her team have cared for 76 babies. While the premises only really has capacity for six babies, Rielly said they had had never turned away a baby that falls into their age range of newborn to 18 months. 

“We have found lockdown extremely challenging because not only have we not been able to welcome our regular volunteers and visitors, but there have been fewer baby product donations. We are finding it very difficult to cover our expenses as our fundraising methods are rather limited and our house is overflowing with babies.”

The home has 10 staff members including a social worker and eight baby caregivers. Rielly and her husband are house parents.

“I am so thankful my wonderful husband Andrew and our three daughters Jazmyn, Lilly-Ann and Alex-Rose, are walking this amazing Breath of Life journey with me,” said Rielly.  

MadeleineC@dispatch.co.za


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