Akin Wilson was removed from his family home by social services at the age of 14 and sent to live in a children’s home.
Now, a decade later and aged 24, he has returned as a mentor at the recently launched Lili House in Kraaifontein.
Lili House is a bridging house for those who grew up in a children’s home and had completed high school but had nowhere to go.
Mr Wilson and his sister were taken away from their family home in Brooklyn.
His sister was adopted by a New Zealand couple and Mr Wilson had to learn the ropes with over 140 children at the Durbanville children’s home, which accommodates 12 houses.
He says after breaking away from the children’s home for four years of studying sports science at the University of Western Cape, he feels privileged to be in a position to help the boys at Lili House deal with their developmental phases.
“For me it’s nice to give back to them and show them the ropes while they continue with their lives post-matric,” he said.
He said his role is to guide them and shield them from making the wrong choices they would have otherwise made on the streets.
According to Mr Wilson, children’s homes face several challenges, including one child worker having to oversee an entire house.
This denies the child the love and affection they need, he said, adding that on average, one child care worker looked after 12 or 14 children, including toddlers.
As a mentor at Lili House, Mr Wilson sees to six students in the boys’ section of the house.
Mr Wilson said stereotypes about the behaviour of children who grew up in foster homes, tended to be “true to a certain extent”.
He said the children basically fended without their families’ support structure, which is fulfilled by the children’s homes.
Mr Wilson said there were rules in place in foster homes to effect change in their behavioural patterns.
He said there was a great advantage to growing up in a children’s home than living on the streets.
“I had opportunities that a child living on the street would never have dreamed about. These opportunities don’t come on a daily basis for every child.
“We were sponsored a house without having to pay back anything. We get a lot of protection and help here.”
Alicia van Vuuren, a manager and social worker at the Durbanville children’s home, said it was an easy decision for them to pick Mr Wilson to mentor the nine students housed in Kraaifontein because he had shown he was a capable leader during his time at the home.
Ms Van Vuuren said Mr Wilson will work towards ensuring that the students are reintegrated back into the community.
She said the aim of the home is to take as many children as it can back into the community. The house was sponsored by one of the board members of the Durbanville children’s home, she said.
She said there was a significant lack of funding in children’s homes, making it difficult for homes to reintegrate children into society.