Boikanyo, the Dion Herson Foundation (BDHF) was established in 2011 by Marilyn Bassin, a physiotherapist, who championed the cause of human rights and dignity for vulnerable children and their caregivers living in dire circumstances. Our organisation is named after 2 inspirational souls: Boikanyo, a dynamic special 8-year-old child and Dion Herson, a philanthropist who loved giving to others.
BDHF was founded in response to the critical need for specialised wheelchairs, buggies, for profoundly disabled cerebral palsy children that Marilyn encountered whilst volunteering at a state hospital in Soweto. Within the first year she was there, she had raised funds which cleared a 2-year – long waiting list of 200 buggies. The buggies were fitted and handed to children who had waited a lifetime for this luxury.
The focus gradually expanded to other wards, where she purchased equipment which enabled children who had lived years in hospital, to return home to love and comfort. Marilyn staunchly advocated for children’s rights. The nurses at the hospital affectionately referred to the children who they called on her to assist as ‘Marilyn’s Children.’ Scores of young lives were touched in various ways. She co-founded an interfaith group with a Muslim cleric, bringing Jewish and Muslim teenagers together with one goal: to improve the lives of ill and dying children.
In 2014, BDHF’s impact reached beyond the hospital and we began working with an organisation of social workers who assisted families living in extreme poverty in the squatter settlement of Protea South, Soweto. There was a pressing need for advocacy work, and authorities needed to be forced to take responsibility for human rights abuses.
Some of our early work in Protea South included:
• Addressing the stark reality of starvation. BDHF established a huge soccer – field-sized vegetable garden at a local primary school.
• Marilyn discovered severely disabled children living in shacks in Protea South, their bodies stiffening and contracting as they lay unsupported on couches or the floor. They needed buggies. She began refurbishing old buggies and distributing them to children in need.
This was the beginning of our hugely successful flagship Chair’ished Children programme which now reaches cerebral palsy children across so many provinces in South Africa. This initiative is expanding all the time and serves South Africa’s rural, underserved, and forgotten communities.
A significant challenge always was keeping children in school. The area experienced a 50% school dropout rate. Young girls are preyed on by older men, who reward them with toiletries. Young boys are sometimes only safe if they join a gang. Survival has always been difficult for children growing up in this area.
BDHF began trying to keep children in school and off the streets for as long as possible. We began assisting five local schools with various necessities, initiating projects that raised funds for sanitary pads, socks, and school shoes. Annual distributions of Easter Eggs and thousands of blankets became cherished traditions.
BDHF began offering maths augmentation classes in 2018 to learners in local schools, eventually collaborating with Singapore Maths. This significantly improve the maths performance of participating students. This maths program emerged as one of BDHF’s greatest achievements, with far-reaching benefits for those involved.
During the traumatic COVID-19 Lockdown, poor communities were hit the hardest. BDHF distributed a 30-day -supply of vitamin and mineral enriched e’Pap porridge to starving children living in deep rural communities of South Africa. This nutritional support kept over 110 000 children alive.
So many elderly people and children were being abused during these dark days, the sight of someone holding tightly onto a puppy became commonplace. This love of a pet was the only love some experienced, and BDHF began helping people care for their pets by soliciting the help of an animal rescue organisation. This project continues today.
Today, BDHF has reached hundreds of severely disabled children in deep rural areas, providing them their own specialised wheelchair. We also have continued our advocacy work in the squatter communities, and have been actively involved in child abduction and trafficking ordeals as well.
Maverick Citizen KwaZulu-Natal