I am sometimes asked how I keep positive about living in South Africa. My answer is usually four-fold: Firstly, when I do those personality assessments I am usually categorised as having a positive personality type. So in some ways it is a part of who I am. Secondly – and this is not meant to be flippant or provocative – I am white and middle class; I have very little to complain about. Thirdly, our democracy is as healthy and robust as it has been in centuries and we are privileged to live in these times. Finally, and arguably most significantly, I am surrounded by incredible people; positive, proactive and passionate, who are quietly going about their business, working to make South Africa a better place.
In my writing, I have regularly celebrated such people. I have written about a little girl who gave all her hard-earned money to orphans; about a young man who made an under-privileged girl’s dream come true by taking her to his matric dance and about a woman who has invented washable, reusable sanitary pads for needy girls.
These people have replaced moaning with some form of action big or small and they seem to have the ability to see the bad but allow it to affect them for good. This is not a unique gift given only to a few. This is a decision.
Once in a while we have the profound privilege of meeting and working with people who literally take our breath away. Such people are usually more human; down-to-earth, lacking in any form of “saviour mentality” and completely at peace with the ‘littleness’ of their mission. They flee from any form of grandstanding or glory-seeking and they do not care who gets the credit. From within this humanity emanates a deep and very inspiring sense of authenticity; a lack of both false humility and ego-driven self-righteousness. They also have enormously high levels of love and empathy that are a result of years of practicing those affects.
Joanne and Bjorn Teunissen are a couple that take your breath away.
When I first met these two people they were on a mission to adopt their son, 3-year old Emmanuel. Both educators – at the time Bjorn was headmaster of Crawford North Coast and is now at Crawford La Lucia and Jo was a primary school teacher running a business selling educational toys – they had no intention of opening a home for abandoned and orphaned babies. But the call was always upon them and it was a matter of time before they partnered with Cathy and I and opened the doors of the Baby Home Durban North on their property in Glen Anil. With their experience of adoption and their expertise as teachers, they took to this new mission as if they had been waiting all their lives to do it. Typically, they embarked on a road less travelled, extending their services to caring not only for babies but also for vulnerable toddlers and children with special needs.
One word describes this couple (and indeed their kids Kiara, Tatum & Emmanuel) and sets them apart: Wholehearted. They don’t just care for vulnerable children, they do it with such joy; such unbridled glee. They simply love it; pigs in poo you might say! They do it with everything they have.
And this is what makes them so unique. If you look at their Facebook page, you won’t just see pictures of babies being cared for. You will see pictures of babies eating bowls of colourful jelly, laughing, riding plastic scooters, playing in parks, on swings, swimming, mucking about, eating ice creams, going to school; you will see babies curled up fast asleep in the arms of one of their daughters, you will see shots of volunteers laughing as they joke with the family. It is one big happy family; love in action.
I am not sure if I can properly capture in words what this family does day-to-day suffice to say that they don’t have 3 kids, they have 9; 3 of their own and 6 in the Baby Home. They love totally, and with utter abandon. They are 1 in a billion.
I encourage you go and visit the Teunissen family and their Baby Home. Allow them to rub off on you. They are a true inspiration; a tonic for negative and battle weary South Africans.
You can contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.