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Reaching out from W2 to South Africa
Mary Stephenson, a former Churchwarden of St Stephen's, is Operations Director of the Waterberg Welfare Society (WWS) in Vaalwater in South Africa's Limpopo Province.
Mary says: "When I decided to trade my Notting Hill flat and life in London for rural Vaalwater my friends and family were astonished. They said I should let the dust and emotion from my first trip to South Africa settle before I made any rash decisions to leave my job, sell my flat and move out there.
"It was September 2000 when I first went to Cape Town to organise an art exhibition. Friends invited me to visit their farm in the Waterberg where I heard local farmers talking about the impact of HIV/AIDS on their staff. Instantly I knew that this was what I was being called to do.
"Two local farmers' wives (the founder members of WWS), along with the local paediatric consultant, had already begun organising awareness and prevention workshops. They'd quickly realised that there was a need to provide the service on a full-time basis.Over the next two years I made several visits to build up relationships before moving out in March 2002."
What started out as an HIV/AIDS awareness programme soon developed into something much bigger. WWS now cares for 330 orphans and vulnerable children, 100 youth and around 65 adult patients.
Mary continues, "We're involved in testing and counselling; home-based care; providing for orphaned children and offering pain management and respite care from our hospice building which has been our headquarters since September 2004. We've also built a youth and orphan centre, Timothy House, on the plot of land next door which opened in October 2006.
"During my years in South Africa I felt backed-up by St Stephen's in many ways: the church has supported the work through prayer and sending volunteers."
"Yes, there is sadness here, but enormous fun and laughter too."
The Westbourne Park Family Centre
We also have very close links and support the work of the Westbourne Park family Centre.
For more information about the work of the Family Center: www.westbourneparkfamilycentre.org.uk