Local Heroes 2023: Mother figure Linda Beja creates safe space for children to grow

An unassuming white house surrounded by construction-ridden roads in Quigney is a sanctuary for many children, run by courageous and caring mother figure Linda Beja.

Her passion to take care of these children reaches beyond the bounds of her creche, with the caring Beja also a mentor to many of their parents.

Local Hero finalist Beja, 46, from Quigney, opened the Future Roses Care Centre in 2016 to give babies and children under the age of six the opportunity to grow up in a safe space.

“Half of our children are from healthy families, the others are from hopeless situations. We have children staying in the bushes with their parents,” Beja said.

The NPO cares for 37 children from birth to six years old during the day, and 16 preschoolers who attend aftercare until 6pm.

“We’ve got parents who are not working, some who are prostitutes or amaphara [thieves].

“We have two parents who live on the street and in the morning we give them coffee and porridge. They don’t have anywhere to go — they stay in the bushes.”

In the mornings, Beja and her staff of three women heat water and bathe the children in a small blue tub, after which they enjoy a bowl of hot porridge before lessons, nap time, a fruity snack and finally pickup time at the end of the day.

“In the morning when I wake up, I’m very happy because I’m going to see their happy smiles, but when the day ends I don’t know what is going to happen at night.

“Sometimes we let the children go in the afternoon and then in the morning we are told the child was raped.

“We just wish we could open for 24 hours, but our resources don’t allow that.”

In the morning when I wake up, I’m very happy because I’m going to see their happy smiles, but when the day ends I don’t know what is going to happen at night

Parent Anela Fono, 33, from Quigney, started taking her four-year-old son to the creche in 2022.

Fono said: “When my son is here, I know he’ll be safe and taken care of.

“I see Linda as a mother, not only to the children but to us young parents as well.

“We can take our problems to her, she isn’t just there for the children. She is that mother to all of us.”

More than once, parents have dropped their children off for the day and never returned.

“It’s always happening during the grant time, they will just drop their child in the afternoon and will not come to fetch them.

“Then we have to call other NGOs to help us.”

While food and electricity were challenges, Beja said, the biggest struggle was paying the R5,850 rent for the house, which she and her staff keep clean, neat and welcoming.

“During the month we do anything an early learning centre can do, but when it comes to month end sometimes we don’t have rent and we can’t let this place go because it’s the only house that is saving children from Quigney.”

A grateful Beja received countless donations on Mandela Day, a testament to her efforts, however, without a freezer, keeping the food fresh is a problem.

“We would love a chest freezer because we receive donations of pies and meat bones, but we have to cook all of it at once and give it away before it goes off.”

In addition, Beja prepared food parcels to hand out to 11 parents to take home. “We live by faith; we love what we are doing, so it keeps us going.”

Community activator Busisiwe Ngqengelele, 45, from Scenery Park, who often visits the home as well as other similar centres in East London, said Future Roses was special.

Ngqengelele said: “When I heard her story, I thought, let me help her where I can.

“The passion that Linda has and her story from the beginning ... As I was doing my usual visits to surrounding crèches, I could see she was different.

“Her love and passion for children, you can see how comfortable they are around her. This is not easy, especially in this environment, but she is trying her hardest.”