Heartbreak, hope and healing

Marilyn May with a child at Atlantic Hope.

“I believe that children are our future,” sang the late Whitney Houston. Yet in South Africa today, the suffering of children puts their futures in jeopardy. Marilyn May has decided to fight this scourge and began the organisation Atlantic Hope.

Tell us about Atlantic Hope and the work that you do?
Atlantic Hope is a safety house for vulnerable babies, providing temporary and immediate placement within a safe and loving environment. We serve as an immediate and temporary safe haven for newborns and infants who have been abandoned, removed from their parents care, or are awaiting adoption. We provide vital care to these infants while legal and life decisions determine the child’s future. We are legally approved to house up to five babies at one time.

What we have achieved so far?
In the limited time that Atlantic Hope has been operating, 11 babies have been placed in our home, which is also my home. We provide them with developmental, physical and emotional care. Not only are their medical needs prioritised, but their emotional needs are also met with love and affection in a stable environment.

Why did you decide to start this organisation?
n 2010, my brother and best friend Barney Reznik passed away. It was one of the saddest experiences of my life and I was devastated. I spoke to Rabbi Feldman of the Gardens Shul, and learned that Jewish tradition encourages people to dedicate themselves to a project in honour of their lost family member, so I did this by starting Atlantic Hope.
The idea for Atlantic Hope came from an experience I had volunteering at New Somerset Hospital. I was moved by the plight of babies whose parents had either abandoned them or placed them for adoption. Because of the window period enforced by the New Child Care Act, the process for adoption can only be started after sixty days. Too often these infants are left alone for days and weeks waiting for the bureaucratic process of placement.
I couldn’t imagine anything more perfect than dedicating myself to a project that ensures the care and safety of our most precious South African citizens. The passing of my brother inspired me to
start an organisation that recognised the importance of life.

Why do you think it is important that the community knows about Atlantic Hope?
Atlantic Hope aspires to provide vulnerable babies with the best possible start to life, but we are often fighting the legacy of inequality in South Africa. Over time, the inability to achieve country-wide goals has made us turn to smaller non-profit organisations like Atlantic Hope, and those smaller organisations are supported by our local communities. Atlantic Hope reveals some of the most fundamental
problems facing South Africa, and offers a way forward. The right to life is not just a South African ideal, but one that the Jewish people of the world hold dear to their hearts.

Tell us a ‘story of hope’ that you have been involved with:
Baby T was born on 2 August 2011. Her mother indicated that she was going to give the baby up for adoption, but before the paperwork was done, the mother left without letting the staff know. On Friday 19 August, Baby T was placed in our care on Form 36, a document that gives authority to social workers to place the child into temporary safe care. After the child had been with us, the social workers
were lucky enough to find her mother and assigned a social worker to assist her. They assessed the home situation in terms of the best interest of the child and an arrangement was soon reached to reunite Baby T with her biological family! Atlantic Hope remains in touch and continues to assist her family with essentials. It’s stories like these that really keep us going.

What are the biggest challenges the organisation faces?
Funding! The cost of a baby, as many people only find out once they have one, is expensive. We estimate that the outlay of essentials to support a healthy baby is approximately R3600 per month. The
state currently provides R390 per baby per month. Many of the children that come to us frequently have severe medical dependencies; they are not the average healthy bay but we hope to help them get
there with love and care.
Since the health of the babies is our main concern, a large proportion of funds are used for their medication. We have established partnerships with a local baby clinic, a GP practice and a paediatric
practice, each of whom kindly offer medical advice, and care and consultations free of charge. But it’s not enough. As we expand, we hope to take on more infants that need our help. We would never want to have to turn away a child because we don’t have the funding — that would break my heart.

What have been Atlantic Hope’s biggest achievements?
We have been caring for babies for almost two years. We measure our achievements by the joy we receive from watching our infants flourish and develop. The greatest joy is being able to see the child being placed in a more permanent and loving environment, either with family or adoptive family.

How can readers assist Atlantic Hope?
We are most grateful to those individuals who are able to share their success financially, in order for us to cover the costs of taking care of these young ones. Volunteers are needed — a helping hand
is so valuable. We also need medical practitioners who are able to provide reduced rates on medical supplies. Contributions of specific goods, including baby formula and clothing; prams and car seats; cots; compactums; bottles and sterilising equipment; disposable nappies and blankets are hugely appreciated.

Anything else you would like to add?
With the help of the Jewish community, among other donors, we have been able to sustain ourselves for two years, but each month is a struggle. We aim to create a network of funders in the future who we can count on to keep Atlantic Hope running for infants in our Cape Town community. We thank all those who have provided or want to provide us with support.

For more information, visit www.atlantichope.co.za