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Healing Wings - A Story of Hope
By Ruth Strimling
In 2001, in a remote rural area of Southern Mozambique, a newly established drug rehabilitation Centre, comprising of a slightly modified cow shed, half a hut, a water pit and a huge dream, opened their doors to begin a legacy that would become the most successful rehabilitation Centre in Africa.
The story of Healing Wings began with a dream. Recovering addicts Ruth Strimling and Acacio Valadas Vieira had found the serenity of recovery and felt the burning desire to dedicate their lives to others who were in the chains of addiction.
It began with a piece of land in rural Mozambique that had nothing; Hippos, crocodiles and dangerous snakes were the only residents. They had little funds to support their vision but the passion was stronger than the challenges they knew lay ahead.
The land had not been inhabited since the Civil War in the 70’s and all that was there were the remains of a house; inhabited by goats and infested by mosquitos. It had no electricity, no clean water and no infrastructure.
Ruth and Acacio’s story began when they met at Noupoort Christian Care Rehabilitation Center in the Karoo. Like so many others they arrived helpless, broken and had run out of options. Familiar with the pain and suffering caused by substance abuse their life calling became focused on helping others escape the chains of addiction.
They took on the challenge of starting a recovery center where none had ever previously existed. Their desire to help outweighed their fears and thus began the story that has today helped thousands of addicts recover and live a life that once felt unimaginable.
In the beginning the living conditions were dreadful, but this didn’t matter as the goal was to give back and serve. The center started with one patient from Mozambique and quickly grew as there was clearly a need for a safe long-term facility where addicts could recover. Ruth and Acacio knew that real recovery needed to include God first, along with a strong focus on physical and mental transformation. These beliefs led them to introducing the 12 step program Celebrate Recovery which is still in practice today.
As the center grew, work allocations became an important part of the program allowing patients to feel hopeful and purpose driven. These tasks included patients fetching water, working with horses and feeding them, cleaning out the cattle kraal, preparing vegetable gardens, chopping wood, working in the kitchen, and making rustic furniture, as part of their skills training.
A large part of the program included giving back to the community and therefore soup kitchens were held every evening while children’s Church was held every Saturday morning. The young women from the community were hungry to learn skills and thus were taught how to make dress patterns and knit, along with arts and crafts. Out of these initiatives a woman’s community initiative, Mamana Mudada meaning ‘’the women of the district’’ was born. Here local woman made and sold exotic jewelry, candle holders, beautiful wood carvings, and beaded place mats, that were sold in America, South Africa and Mozambique.
Patients from Healing Wings visited the nearby village Bela Vista daily to bring soup, bread and encouragement to the local prison and hospital where conditions were dire and AIDs rife.
Healing Wings approached the Social Department in the district who gave permission to foster local Aids victims/orphans and thus the orphanage was born. Further donations to build a school, playground, buy food and a bus were received and soon 35 children were being taught daily and learning in three languages.
As the community developed so did the Healing Wings program. Patients were following the 12-step Celebrate Recovery programme that included group and individual therapy, counseling and bible studies. At recreation time they enjoyed swimming in the river, hiking and playing football, while taking trips to Mushangulu a village on the magnificent coast and bordering the Maputo Elephant reserve.
By 2003 word had spread about the work being done and applications from South Africa started pouring in. Eventually having South African patients in Mozambique was becoming logistically difficult, and the tough decision was made to move Healing Wings to South Africa. A suitable place was found in Sudwala, Mpumalanga, and a new era of Healing Wings had begun.
The new facility was tailor made for a rehabilitation center. After being in Mozambique for 12 years, Healing Wings South Africa was finally established. It was fully registered with the Department of Social Development and the Department of Education B.H.F. and today has helped countless individuals find freedom from addiction. Soon after the Healing Wings Youth Centre and Purpose College was established where adolescents can do their schooling and recovery at the same time.
Today Healing Wings can accommodate up to 120 adults and youth offering a fully holistic program with a full complement of full time professional staff including social workers, nursing sister’s, psychologists and accredited addiction councilors.
Recently Healing Wings have added St. Georges Reintegration center in Johannesburg to their armory which caters for inpatient and outpatient treatment.
The mission statement remains to restore within an individual, the capacity to make life decisions, which are not dictated by circumstance, addiction or compulsion. One of the aims and objectives is to encourage the participation of parents/families/care givers in the recovery process through attendance at support groups to facilitate understanding of the treatment program and improve the process of reintegration into family and society.
While many things have changed over the years the goal remains the same. All glory goes to the Lord for his Protection Wisdom and Unfailing Love.