In 2004 I travelled to South Africa to make a TV programme that marked 10 years of the end of apartheid. The programme celebrated people who had made a difference in their communities and Winnie Mabaso was one of the interviewees. Winnie was the most amazing woman I have ever met. She cared almost single-handedly for orphans in the informal settlement of Finetown, South of Johannesburg, providing them with bowls of soup and armfuls of love.
On that trip Winnie told me of a myth that was circulating the township, that if a man had HIV/AIDS and slept with a virgin he would be cured. As a result children, who had been through the trauma of losing their parents to the virus, were being raped by men who were desperately looking for a cure for themselves. Winnie asked for my help and I couldn’t say no. The Winnie Mabaso Foundation was born.
When I returned to the UK I began fundraising to enable Winnie to have the safe-haven she desired and it wasn’t long before Winnie and the children moved in.
Sadly, just a few short months later, Winnie passed away suddenly. At her funeral as the children stood hand in hand around her coffin, I knew that her dream could not die with her and made my promise to Winnie that I would do all I could to keep her legacy alive.
For 9 years I juggled my work at the BBC with running the Foundation but in 2013 I handed in my notice and began working for the Foundation full time.
The Foundation has grown considerably over the years. Although, as you can imagine, not without a big share of heartache and sadness.
Our original building is now a community centre where amongst other projects the feeding station is based catering for over 500 children every day. It is now run by the Department of Social Development.
In 2014 we opened a new home for abused, abandoned and orphaned girls called Ilamula House in south Johannesburg. It’s home to 22 precious children many of whom are living with HIV.
In addition we run many projects on a neighbouring informal settlement, Meriting Village including:-
Vocational training classes
A pre-school for 30 children
A homework club
A granny club
A gardening scheme working with the community to grow organic vegetables
A play area
A beautiful flower garden
Friday Night Feeding Station
My own personal journey with the Foundation has been a steep learning curve and I am proud of all we have achieved.
Winnie did an incredible job caring for these children. It’s our turn to continue what she started.
Lisa Ashton, MBE