Stella, 21, arrived in South Africa in 2008 after migrating from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with her uncle. After adjusting to life in Cape Town, Stella was ready to resume her education; she and her uncle looked to Lawrence house, a child and youth care center registered with the Department of Social Development, for support. Lawrence house specializes in the care and protection of unaccompanied foreign minors and refugee children, as well as children who have experienced trauma.
A Family Reunion
The transition from living with her uncle to moving into Lawrence house was eased by the fact that two of her brothers (one older, one younger), were already there. Stella had been disconnected from her brothers for almost two years. Eager to pick up where they left off, Stella believes that the time they spent apart made their relationship stronger.
Stella describes having positive, and even familial relationships with other children in the house. She believes that their similar backgrounds prevented feelings of isolation, and allowed themselves to better relate to one another. “Half of us came from the same place, from the DRC, some Angolans, so I didn’t feel insecure of my background; we had the same struggles, same challenges,” she says.
Developing Skills and Meaningful Relationships
Lawrence House invests in the personal development of its children. Growing up, Stella regularly attended dance classes, and the program facilitated a multitude of other activities like karate, cooking classes, weekend picnics, trips to the movies, in addition to providing emotional support resources like counseling and therapy. “Every week, we had something to do,” Stella reminisces. “We did not watch TV on a regular basis because there were so many other things taking place at the house, good activities.”
Leadership and staff at Lawrence house played a crucial role in shaping Stella’s experience, and she describes the depth and significance of these relationships fondly. “I bonded with Auntie K and Uncle Jeff the most. They taught me that life is about challenges, and that overcoming challenge is what gives you strength. They also provided comfort for me when I was missing my family.”
They taught me that life is about challenges, and that overcoming challenge is what gives you strength. They also provided comfort for me when I was missing my family.”
Pursuing a Passion for Fashion
In addition to emotional support, staff at Lawrence House assist youth to pursue fields of work and study that are suitable for their skills and interests. The manager of Lawrence house, known to Stella as Aunt Gulia, guided her through the process of applying to university. “She explained what certain things were, helped me with processing papers- they don’t let you leave Lawrence house without having something to do. Even if it’s not university, they will help you find a short-term job and get on your feet before letting you go,” says Stella.
Stella is currently a textile engineering student at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She recalls growing up with a passion for clothing design, and feels challenged and fulfilled by her studies. “My courses come along with a lot of theories. It isn’t just about drawing designs; there’s a lot more to the field, and I have learned so much.”
Stella plans to finish university this year, and her long-term goal is to work until she can afford to bring the rest of her family from the DRC to South Africa. “In terms of my decisions and choices, I can say that I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without Lawrence house. I’m a stronger person because of my experience there. I always think back to the lessons staff members gave me. Before, I wasn’t as strong as I am now, but I can make decisions that I’m sure will work in my way,” she reflects.
“In terms of my decisions and choices, I can say that I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without Lawrence house. I’m a stronger person because of my experience there.