About Tremendous Hearts

July 29, 2008

Tremendous Hearts was conceived by Marilyn Votaw in response to the orphan and vulnerable children (OVC) crisis in South Africa. Tremendous Hearts aspires to recruit, train, place and support financially, volunteers who commit to a year or more of service to an OVC-serving organization in South Africa. Volunteers will apply their skills and knowledge to assist local agencies in providing high quality services to the OVCs in their care with a particular emphasis on increasing outplacement to kinship, community and foster care or adoption.


Marilyn took her first trip to South Africa in July 2006 and volunteered at the Baphumelele Children’s Home in the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town. She worked in the “baby house” assisting the Xhosa-speaking care-workers care for 40 infants and children under 4. It was very clear that even this well-funded home needed more resources, particularly long-term volunteers with skills in teaching, accounting, construction, fundraising, project management, public health and medicine to properly raise the more than 100 children in their care.


Originally called the Orphans Count! project, Tremendous Hearts, traveled to Cape Town in August 2007 to conduct a needs assessment of and begin to form relationships with local children’s homes and other OVC-supporting organizations. Marilyn brought with her Joye Dickens, a psychotherapist; and Meredith Crowley, a filmmaker on 22 meetings in 16 days with agencies that included: AVIVA, Baphumelele Children’s Home, The Children’s Institute at UCT, The Christine Revell Home, Durbanville Kinderhuis, Ebenezer Village, Emasithandane, Etafeni, Holy Cross Children’s Home, Nazareth House, Ons Plek, The Volunteer Centre, and The Warehouse. Near the end of the trip, Marilyn flew to Johannesburg to meet with a pediatrician who is an expert on residential care and runs the Big Shoes Foundation. 


We came away from this rich and extraordinary experience with a much-needed, deeper understanding of the very complex OVC landscape in Cape Town as well as some very important relationships that will make the next steps possible. Meredith shot the footage needed to make A Tremendous Heart, the first of several films planned about this project.


Marilyn is now preparing to relocate to Cape Town in early 2009. During her first year in South Africa she hopes to build partnerships with two children’s homes in the Nyanga township and work towards becoming a trusted community resource. In addition, she hopes to learn some basic Xhosa to support conversations with children and care-workers and understand deeply (by doing) what the transition from the US to South Africa for a long-term volunteer assignment entails.


Your generous contributions are needed to support Tremendous Hearts’ work in South Africa!