Small efforts make a huge difference

Founder and director of Hearts of Hope children's home, Deborah van Dongen, chats to children at the home in Wendywood. Photo: Sarah Koning


One of Sandton’s inspirational women this Women’s Month is Deborah van Dongen. She not only founded and directs the Hearts of Hope children’s home in Wendywood but also runs her own successful human resources business in Bryanston and is committed to caring for her three children and her husband.

She manages to balance a busy life by surrounding herself with a good team, leading by example and linking her clients, friends and family to lend a hand at Hearts of Hope.

Deborah van Dongen plays with a child at the Hearts of Hope children’s home in Wendywood. Photo: Sarah Koning

“The more you do, the more I believe you can do. I have a phenomenal family involved at Hearts of Hope,” said Van Dongen. Her Christian faith gives her the strength to push through the hurdles and ‘be God’s hands and feet’ in the world.

Hearts of Hope is a home catering for 34 vulnerable children between birth and 18 years, seeking to give individual care to each child for the duration of their stay at the home. Van Dongen began the home with a group of friends in 2003 after volunteering for a number of years at a home in Observatory.

Hearts of Hope began with six children and sought to not only provide a homely environment that contrasts with the institutionalised structures across the country but also assist HIV positive children at a time when ARVs were not freely available.

Her desire to see children’s lives transform keeps her going day by day, “There are between four to five million orphaned children in South Africa and we can’t do nothing. We can’t look after four million, but we can look after 34 at a time to the best of our ability.”

WATCH: Hearts of Hope children’s home plays its part

She gave the example of a four-year-old boy who was abandoned at a shopping centre for two days and delivered to Hearts of Hope in a police van. “He was absolutely traumatised when he arrived and he serves as a constant reminder of the difference that love and time can make. Within three months, he was happy and functioning normally. It is a privilege to be in a position to do something.”

Another large portion of her time is spent in Bryanston, operating her human resource management company, Common Ground. They provide outsourced human resource services to companies. She began the business in 1996 after being retrenched from her job and has never looked back. Her struggle to compartmentalise the various aspects of her life has served to her advantage, with many clients assisting in some way at Hearts of Hope.

Deborah van Dongen reads a story to a boy at Hearts of Hope children’s home in Wendywood. Photo: Sarah Koning

She believes that making a difference in the community begins with a personal decision. “You have to decide if you’re happy to do nothing to help the overwhelming size of needs in South Africa… Knowledge makes you responsible. When you know of one orphan that needs help, you can’t walk away.”

She believes a little help can go a long way in making a difference, whether it’s a small monthly donation to an organisation or person in need or taking the time to prepare a meal or read a story to one child.


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Sarah Koning

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