Memories live on at Nazareth House

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

A few decades ago Joanne ‘Shirley’ Ellat was sent to Nazareth House in Vredehoek after her mother abandoned her.

Now her daughter Nazreen Ellat volunteers at the institution to raise funds during tough economic times.

Ellat was born in Cape Town in 1958 to a single mother who left her in a hospital bed as having a child out of wedlock was then regarded as scandalous by local society. She presently lives in Perth, Australia, where she works as a community corrections officer. Her daughter is a business studies and public relations graduate.

Ellat walked with Nazreen through the Nazareth House premises where she lived until she was almost 14 years old when she left South Africa. The two returned to Nazareth House three years ago and again this month for the institution’s 130th anniversary.

Shirley Ellat (right) with her daughter Nazreen Ellat (left). Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

“We had so many different characters at this home,” said Ellat as she reminisced through the hallways and church.

“We were normal children going through our stages and it was sometimes hard. Living an institutional life with sisters wasn’t easy. In order to survive it, it was regimented. But that is not to say it was bad for us. We were looked after. A lot of us have survived and we have gone on to do very well.”

Ellat said this proved that abandoned or orphaned children were not ‘broken’ adults as many might believe.

“When I was at university a lecturer talked about what makes a family and a non-family. She put orphans under non-family. I stood up and disagreed with her,” said Ellat.

“I told them my personal story. I have lived with a lot of orphans and at a home for children like us we are all family. The lecturer thought about that and removed the word orphan from the non-family category.”

“We are family. I have at least 50 connections in Cape Town. We had a reunion last year. Some of us hadn’t seen each other for a very long time but we connected very well. It was almost like we had never left each other.”

Ellat said she told her three daughters in “over-exaggerated circumstances” all about growing up at Nazareth House. Nazreen said when she first entered the house she thought everything would be much bigger than reality.

“My mom told me a lot of stories about how she grew up. I thought she had an enormous family. And that she and her brothers and sisters at Nazareth House seemed interesting and they got up to a lot of mischief,” said Nazreen.

“I grew up hearing many stories about this building. Not a lot has changed. Some of the furniture and the clock are still here. Now I’m making my own memories here. It’s passing down from generation to generation.”

Nazreen will volunteer for the next five months with the Nazareth House fundraising unit. She had already volunteered at the institution for three months in 2010.

“I thought that I could do a lot of good work here. Help is needed and everyone works very hard,” said Nazreen.

Sister Margaret, a social worker at Nazareth House, said they needed almost R1-million each month to run various projects, including housing and caring for children who are disabled and HIV-positive. They also take care of elderly persons.

“It’s all going downhill as far as the funding goes. We have cut down on projects. Last year we had to close a unit that took care of HIV positive adults. We found that there were children with HIV whose parents also needed help. But we can’t help them anymore because we received no funding for that,” said Sister Margaret.

“The funny thing is, people don’t give us money because they think the Catholic church is so rich.  But this is God’s work and the Lord is keeping us going. We have to keep faith and have hope.”

To raise funds, Nazareth House will hold a Fun Fair on its premises in Vredehoek on October 26 and 27.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

2 responses to “Memories live on at Nazareth House”

  1. Anthony Breakey says :

    Hi there,
    Lovely to see a fellow orphan doing ok. I lived at Nazareth House, Vredehoek, with my brother and 2 sisters from 1969 to 1976. My Mom whom I love dearly abandoned us, and remember praying often and in earnest for God to give me a family I could belong to. He gave me one, many years later and I learnt through this that my friend God does things in His time not mine.
    Today at age 46 I am boarded due to a severe heart attack and heart op last year, I only have 25% heart function, but I’m happy because I have a family now.
    I was rather successful in my professional life, but in my spiritual life I have flourished through the grace of God. I am now a Priest in my faith, and am a recovered alcoholic since 1989!
    I would love to connect with other orphans from Nazareth House. Sad place for me, but immense gratitude I had a roof over my head and food in my stomach, if I wasn’t misbehaving.
    Kind Regards
    Anthony Breakey
    C: 0827444920

  2. Anthony Breakey says :

    Lovely to see a story about the place I grew up in! Thank you

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