How did a nurse from Gugulethu township end up as mother to 15 children who give her joy that she can’t put into words? KAT FARQUHARSON sat down with THANDI FIGLAN and discovered a woman, a story and a situation to inspire us all

Mother to many, Thandi Figlan: ‘I struggle to see any child feel unwanted or in need.’  |  Photos: Nicky Elliott

Thandi grew up in Gugulethu township, Cape Town, and attended Sizamile High School before training to be a nurse at Groote Schuur Hospital. She has two biological children, Kholi (28) and Khali (16), and is separated from their father

‘My brothers, sisters and I were mainly brought up by our grandparents, my mom’s parents, who we lived with. My mother, a domestic worker, lived down the road with her husband, and my father wasn’t around much. It wasn’t easy and we weren’t well off, but our grandparents did the best with what they had. There was never a lack of love or nurturing, and I’m a product of their love. As the oldest of seven, I practised being a mother most of my life! I struggle to see any child feel unwanted or in need.

My aunt was a cleaner at one of Alexandra Hospital’s cottage houses in Maitland, a mental health care facility. One day I went to her work with her, and the dedication and compassion I saw there in the staff inspired me to pursue nursing when I finished school.

I enrolled to study nursing at Groote Schuur Hospital and, in 2006, got the opportunity to serve at Alexandra Hospital. The experience was challenging but enriching. Five years later, I resigned to study and qualify as a specialised psychiatric nurse.

I needed funding for my studies and decided to set up a foster home based on an amazing one I’d once visited which had inspired and humbled me with the kindness shown to the children. I registered my house at the Department of Social Development as a safe haven for vulnerable children and, inspired by my grandmother, I named it Bambo Home, which means ‘togetherness’. I wanted to be loving and supportive just as my grandmother had been, to create a family for people who didn’t have one.

tricky and hard

I’d known Jesus since I was a child. I learnt about him from my grandparents. Growing up, I knew that life would have challenges and that in difficult times it was important to talk to God about them. So I prayed for help with the foster home, imagining that it would be a short-term project that would fund my studies. The certificate to open my home came through in 2012. I’d felt God encouraging me to get my house ready, but now I needed to figure out how to launch Bambo Home. The desire not to see children struggle was still gripping my heart but this felt tricky and hard. I remember feeling so downcast, just not knowing what to do.

The official name of Thandi’s foster home is Bambo Home for Profoundly Mentally and Physically Challenged Children, but she also fosters able-bodied children with social challenges such as parents who can’t look after them | Photo: Nicky Elliott

But God knew. I didn’t need to go find the children, He brought them. A close friend called me about some parents who had a 13-year-old son with cerebral palsy and wanted someone to look after him. I hadn’t thought I’d start with a teenager or a child with that sort of disability, and felt overwhelmed and underprepared. But when I met the boy, Siya, at his home, it was obvious that he wasn’t doing well. I couldn’t say no to a child in need and took him home with me that day.

My son Kholi was my rock at this time. Aged 15, he started helping me straightaway. Jesus has given him such a soft heart towards others, but also such strength. He helped me with everything, and he and my new foster son, Siya, grew to be like brothers, and are still like that to this day. A few weeks later, a former nursing colleague called to say her aunt had given birth prematurely but didn’t want the baby. She asked me to have her for a while in the hopes that the family would change its mind. I took the baby. She is still with us 11 years on, and she’s doing so well at school – she’s like a genius!

Thandi’s son Kholi [in blue shirt] with Siya, the first child Thandi ever fostered. ‘I couldn’t say no to a child in need and took Siya home with me the day I met him,’ says Thandi. ‘Kholi started helping me with him straightaway and today the boys are like brothers’  | Photo: Nicky Elliott

And so the journey began. More children came to Bambo. Sometimes just for a little while till the family could support their child. But others have lived with me for most of their lives. I have 13 children living with me now in addition to my biological daughter, Khali. They’re all my children. Not all have mental or physical disabilities, some have been abandoned or have social challenges such as parents with substance abuse issues, while some parents say their jobs make it hard to look after their children. The kids come with a wide variety of educational requirements and care needs. Only two have parents who can take them to medical or school appointments.

Thandi is currently fostering 13 children with a wide range of educational requirements and care needs. ‘They’re all my children,’ she says. ‘My dream for them all is to realise they have a bright future, to know that there’s always hope.’ Nondumiso Ndiki, one of four carers who support her, stands fourth from left in the back row | Photo: Nicky Elliott

One of the girls still living with me was brought to us through social workers at the age of nine. It was a devastating situation, both because of her disability and the terrible abuse she’d experienced. She was still in nappies and hardly mobile. Today, she’s a completely different child. She’s artistic, loves to sing and dance, hasn’t needed nappies in years and is flourishing at school.

I have four staff members who help in shifts, day and night, helping feed the children, getting them to school, playing games and doing homework with them. My sister Chloe helps a lot with homework and activities and my daughter Khali helps with the younger girls. God has given her a great heart for others and the grace to share her mom with other children and see them as her siblings. She is clever and wants to be a paediatrician. She would be a good doctor, that one!

Thandi’s 16-year-old daughter Khali helps her mother with the younger girls every day. She dreams of becoming a paediatrician. ‘She would be a good doctor, that one!’ says Thandi | Photo: Nicky Elliott

Over and above the help from adults, the children really do a lot. I hardly have to ask them to do things, they’ll see something that needs to be done and do it. I’m very grateful for them.

Funding-wise, we get a small monthly grant for each child from the government. It’s not enough to cover all costs, but two of the families are really good at paying the extra. We get donations from time to time, the ‘Greyladies’ nuns from St Saviour’s Church in Claremont kindly make a donation to us at Christmas and a family from the suburbs of Cape Town help us when they can. Dr Nkosinathi Duma, a GP in Khayelitsha, is so kind and treats the children for free when they are sick, even my own. It’s still so tight some months, but by God’s grace and the kindness of his people, we’re able to keep doing what we do.

‘I hardly have to ask the children to do things. They see something that needs to be done and do it,’ says Thandi. ‘They make everything easier’ | Photo: Nicky Elliott

We recently moved out of Philippi as we were being asked for protection money by local people and I was stressing day and night. The wonderful thing is that Kholi, who works in IT, surprised me by buying a house in Kraaifontein, a safer area! I prayed about finding the right schools for the different children and God’s favour definitely went before us as we’re found spaces in all the schools we needed based on the needs of the children – even though schools are so full. It’s a huge answer to prayer. They’re adapting well and the teachers have given such good feedback about the behaviour of my children and their interactions in class discussions.

Our journey together has, of course, been filled with challenges. Things can be difficult. My weak point is admin. My son used to do it, but doesn’t have the time anymore with his job. Sometimes my sister helps, but it’s always a challenge. With 14 children, there’s lots of mess, which can be tiring, and every month there are needs for stationery and other things which I try to balance across the months. Our biggest issue is transport. We need safe transport to school and it’s expensive. Kholi was helping us with his car but the mortgage on the house he bought for us changed three times and he had to sell the car. Yhoo, I feel for him. I’m trusting God for our own transport, which would make such a difference. I’m not good at asking for finances or raising money!

love and resilience

But I don’t like focusing on the difficulties because God has been so good and it was such an amazing surprise when Kholi bought the house. And the children make the difficult days worthwhile. I treasure each and every one of them, regardless of their abilities or age. It’s an honour to watch them grow up, they’re a joy to be with. The love and resilience we’ve built within the walls of Bambo Home is undeniable, and my life is filled with joy.

Thandi: ‘Together, we are family’ | Photo: Nicky Elliott

My dream for all the children is for them to realise they have a bright future, to know that there’s always hope. Whether they’re abled or disabled, I believe every child deserves an opportunity to grow up in a loving home. I’m grateful every day for the chance to make that difference. In terms of material and practical things, I can’t give them as much as I’d like to, and they’re not perfect, but they try always to please me and help each other.

I never ended up studying for my psychiatric nursing specialisation but, looking back, I can see how God’s hand has directed my path towards helping them, from having many siblings to witnessing supportive caregiving. The love I have for these children is difficult to put into words. Let me just say that it makes my whole life easier! Every night I put my head down in gratitude and pray for safety for my children and their home. And every night, God answers. I thanks Jesus for the children He gave me. Together, we are family.’

Power trio: Thandi with daughter Khali and son Kholi, both of whom play a vital supporting role in the life of the 13 foster children of Bambo Home | Photo: Nicky Elliott
  • Donate new or used clothing, bedding or household goods to Bambo Home. Call or WhatsApp Thandi on 073 493 3136 or email her son Kholi on aflkholi@gmail.com
  • Donate your time for outings or support for the children, or your time as any kind of  therapist, including speech, occupational or physiotherapy. Call or WhatsApp Thandi on 073 493 3136 or email her son Kholi on aflkholi@gmail.com
  • Donate funds to Bambo via ISIBINDI CHARITABLE TRUST. For banking details, WhatsApp Neil Macdonald on 083 288 8555 or email him at neil@neilmac.co.za. This is a section 18A trust so an income tax deduction certificate can be provided if you would like one
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