Sarah’s name means ‘princess’. And yet the petite, seemingly frail mother of five has endured unimaginable hardship. Sarah Mentoor of Gouda is however anything but weak. She is brave. She is strong. She is resilient. And she is blessed to have someone who cared enough to help her fight for a brighter future.

A rejected family fighting to survive

Over the last couple of years, Sarah and her family have lived in horrendous circumstances. They moved about constantly into too many unimaginable places to even mention.

They lived in a shack behind her aunt’s house before it burned down. Their next ‘home’ was a storeroom on the premises of an abandoned school building. The space was a tiny, derelict and uninhabited place, which has now become a rubbish dump for the homeless still staying there. She is still haunted by the memories of this place .

For two years, Sarah, her life partner and their five children lived in this one room, probably no larger than 8m² in size. The children shared a single bed mattress.

“My partner and I sat on the table,” says Sarah. “Especially when it rained. There are openings in the wall so when it rained, we held cardboard pieces in front of the holes. When they became soaked, we replaced them with new pieces. We would sit and do this all night. We didn’t want the kids to get wet.”

There was no electricity, sanitation or running water on the property. The family used a bucket and Sarah, along with the other occupants, collected water from a tap outside a nearby business.
“We used a candle for light and when the wax was all melted, we shaped it into a little mound and added some charcoal so that we could use it again.” 

The tiny storeroom at an abandoned school where Sarah and her family used to stay.

The humblest of homes

They then moved on to the worst of the lot: an actual pig sty. The enclosed spaces were cleared out and became homes to the homeless. They lived in a so-called ‘Hok’ (the Afrikaans word for ‘cage’) in a place called ‘Die Bos’ (the ‘wood’).

These were some of her darkest days. And at her lowest of lows, this is where Sarah met a woman who would be instrumental in turning her life around. Sent from above was Adriana van der Merwe from the Gouda Learning Centre. 

A mother for Sarah

When Sarah was a girl, her mother left them and she never knew her father. She dropped out of school at a young age and grew up with her grandparents.

When she built a relationship with Adriana, she experienced what it meant to have a mother figure for the first time in her life. Adriana is her sense of reason, her safe place and the person who gives her guidance and wisdom.

Adriana helped Sarah’s eldest daughter to complete her schooling and to get a job with a company that makes jams and preserves.

A sense of purpose

Gouda Learning Centre

Sarah with Gwen Juris and Adriana van der Merwe of Gouda Learning Centre.

Adriana met Sarah when she was running a soup kitchen for the impoverished community from Die Bos. Along with her friend, Gwen Juris, they also had a vision to help children battling with learning problems. They opened the Gouda Learning Assistance and After Care Centre in 2009.

Sarah soon became a regular volunteer there and prides herself in keeping the storage container extremely organised, neat and clean. She has also become a connector between the community and the centre. When the poorest of the poor feel intimidated to visit, she will reach out to them, taking food to them and caring for them.

She has found a place to belong and dreams of seeing her younger children complete school.

A roof at last

Sarah Mentoor with her children and granddaughter in their new home.

Back in 1996, Adriana helped Sarah to apply for an RDP house. It is a long waiting process and Sarah almost lost the house that was supposed to be hers. Adriana was determined and navigated the way through the administrative processes.

Twenty one years later, in August 2017, Sarah moved into her first proper house – a home with two bedrooms, a bathroom and an open-plan living room and kitchen. They even have a pretty little front garden, and their two cheeky cats – Pietman and Karinkels – are happy too. 

Sarah cannot stop smiling.
“Here, the rain cannot reach us. I cannot feel it. I can hardly hear it. I can only see it when I look through my windows.”

Gouda Learning Assistance and After Care Centre – place of hope

Every weekday, approximately 100 primary school learners visit the centre where they receive a meal, homework assistance, spontaneous life orientation lessons and mentorship. They also receive sports, art and cultural activities presented by volunteers. 

When the resources are available, the centre also distributes meals to needy members of the community, including the frail and elderly who aren’t able to leave their homes.

Volunteers preparing meals at the Gouda Learning Centre.

You can help

The centre’s biggest need is a new venue. At present, they are making use of the local community centre. All their equipment and supplies are kept in a storage container on site and these need to be unpacked, set up and then placed back into storage daily so that the hall can be cleaned and prepared for community events. The wind farm company paid for a piece of land for the centre. They now need sponsorship for several containers to form their new ‘classrooms’, as well as funding to put up a sturdy fence around the new premises.

Other needs include

  • Regular transportation of food donated by sponsors in Paarl for delivery to Gouda 
  • Donations of food for the soup kitchen
  • Second-hand clothing 
  • Donations to assist children who cannot afford school clothes
  • Reading books for the children
  • Stationery
  • Art and craft materials

For more information

Contact Valcare at admin@valcare.org.za / 021 872 2365.