Children’s home re-built after devastating fire

Elizabeth Barrett speaks at the reopening of her home. With her is Jason Juta, 8, one of the children who lives with her.

Elizabeth Barrett cried tears of joy when she thanked the community, local companies and donors for fixing up her Harrington Street children’s home, which was gutted by fire three years ago (“Harrington’s Heroine Honoured”, CapeTowner, February 20, 2014).

“I am filled with joy. Thank you to everyone who helped. Thank you for the donations I received. I don’t know who they are, but everyone, you are blessed,” she said at the official re-opening of the home on Friday July 29.

Representatives of Group Five Construction Company and some of their subcontractors, neighbours of Ms Barrett, staff of the Townhouse Hotel, Alistair Rendall of ARG Designs, Judith Middleton of Duo Marketing and organisers of the home makeover, Ashton Hayes and Tony Dallas, all gathered at the house to celebrate the event with Ms Barett and the children.

Courtesy of these organisations and individuals, the house, where Ms Barrett looks after about 10 children whom she had taken in, now has a brand new roof, a newly-paved courtyard, rebuilt stairs, new beds and linen, a study area where children can do their homework, newly installed plumbing and electricity and a renovated kitchen with a new stove – the one thing Ms Barrett needed most. “Before, I cooked meals for the children on a one-plate gas stove,” said Ms Barrett.

Mr Dallas, a Tamboerskloof resident, heard about the fire in December 2013, and, wanting to do something special for children that Christmas, he took Ms Barrett to get some groceries so that they could have Christmas lunch.

He said at the time, they had moved into the warehouse next door to their home, as the house was uninhabitable.

He spoke to Ms Barrett about getting her home assessed and fixed up.

Meanwhile, he was unaware that Mr Hayes had already started the same project, and was in the process of crowdfunding for materials to fix up the derelict home by creating a simple website and uploading a video, challenging people to donate to the cause.

Mr Hayes managed to raise R42 000 through crowdfunding for some of the renovations, and approached Builders Warehouse, who donated the materials.

Mr Dallas then roped in some of his contacts to assess the building and to do the construction work after hours and in their free time.

Albertyn Smit of Group Five, who brought in some of the subcontractors, said it had been a privilege to be involved in this project. “We want to thank Tony for introducing us to this project. It’s easy to write a cheque, but to be part of something is extra special. Ms Barrett is one very special lady.”

Ms Barrett said she was very grateful to everyone who put work into fixing up her home. “First, I had to watch the children because the courtyard was full of rubble. Now they have somewhere to play. It was so dark here that sometimes I heard people running through my house. Now, there is light, and we can have hot showers. It’s wonderful.”

Ms Barrett said when her husband died 11 years ago, she didn’t want to be alone. Then one day, she heard a child crying outside. “He was three at the time. I asked him where his mommy was, and he said the police took her. I took him in. He is 15 years old now and is still with me.”

Ms Barett had since opened her doors to children in need, and survives on donations and social grants.

She said she sometimes reconnects with the parents of some of the children and escorts them back home, because they run away. But most children who stay with her don’t have anywhere else to go.

Ms Barrett was also awarded the Bronze Menzi Award for Courage in 2014 and travelled to Pretoria to receive her award from President Jacob Zuma.