Rosemary Toorn

Rosemary Toorn


It is easy to forget the privilege of having a place we can call home. A dwelling where despite the outside world we can always go to, to find what is familiar and safe. Rosemary, 19, shares her story of having her home taken away and spending her teen years displaced.

Rosemary Toorn had a joyful childhood, ‘we lived with my grandparents who owned a big house. Family was everything to us and we were very close, despite my father being absent I had everything I needed and we were happy.’ Rose’s world literally fell apart within one month, ‘I was 10 years old when my grandparents both passed away suddenly within one month apart. I was devastated, almost immediately our family began to split up. We stayed in the house for a few months, but what used to be my home, quickly turned into a war zone.’

Rose’s mother started dating around the same time, ‘my mom’s partner promised us the world and he spoiled us rotten. He moved in and things changed. He was abusive towards my mom and although she did her best to hide it from us, I remember the first night I heard him hit her. She screamed, I tried to cover my ears but her cry was too loud.’

The family decided to sell the house and Rose and her closest family had to move out, ‘we had nowhere to go. We were homeless and spent our nights moving from friends houses to temporary accommodation. All the while seeing my mom being beaten regularly. I was living in a nightmare and all I wanted was my family and my home back.’

Rose’s mom was not working at the time and a friend reported her to Social Services, ‘I remember being interviewed by a social worker but I can’t remember what she asked me. All I wanted was to stay with my mom, I was confused, I loved her.’

The court decided that Rose and her brother needed to be taken away. They were cared for in a foster home while her mother could work towards becoming more stable. ‘I cried, but my mom agreed to let us go because she knew that in that moment it was the best thing for us. I understood and we were placed in the house of a lady who was a policewoman. We were stable but it didn’t feel like home, I felt out of place, I longed for my mom. We wrote letters to each other often to keep in contact. I knew she was doing her best and I never felt anger towards her, I just felt sad.’

After eight months, Rose’s mother secured a job and was able to prove that she could now take care of her children. Rose and her brother moved back, ‘I was so happy to see her but when we finally returned home I saw him, my heart sank. I had prayed each night for my mom to leave her boyfriend but he was still there.’

The family continued moving around, Rose remembers attending four different primary schools in one year, ‘nothing was constant, there was never time to make proper roots, it was tiring. I was always the new girl, unable to make real friends and constantly trying to fit in.’

Rose’s mom finally found the courage to move away from her relationship after an unforgettable night. ‘We had moved into a place in Ravensmead that my mom’s boyfriend had found. We had been staying there for a while. I was 12, and my brother and me were in the house alone. I had just been washing dishes, when suddenly police burst through the door. With guns in their hands they told us to lay face down. I was so scared, they began searching the house and us, I felt humiliated. The neighborhood had gathered on the street to find out what was going on. When my mom arrived she was informed that the house belonged to a drug lord. After that night, my mom took us and left.’

The family moved to Pelican Park and Rose was placed once again in another school. My mother met another man which she married, ‘he was an immigrant from India. He was nice and we got along. We moved with him and we stayed together for the next three years. I liked my school and now that I was entering high school I needed more stability. For the first time we were settled and I started to feel at home.’

Unfortunately the relationship was not to last, ‘my mom found out that he already had a wife and a child back in India. He was with my mom only to get his South African papers. I was so disappointed, once again we had to move’. Rose’s family moved to Steenberg, ‘this time, I begged my mom to stay in the same school. I needed to feel like I belonged somewhere. I was so happy that I could stay and even though we had moved again, it was just the three of us and life began to get back to normal.’

Rose’s life stayed stable, however the five years of displacement and trauma began to catch up. ‘I began to rebel in school and in grade 11 my grades dropped significantly. I was a hard worker and always on time with my tasks, but when it came to exams it got too much. I started smoking dagga to calm me down. This habit did not reap the results I had expected and I performed poorly.’

Fortunately Rose’s teachers saw her potential and promoted her to grade 12, ‘I was so grateful about what they did, I knew that this was my second chance. I took it with both hands and gave my all into studying.’ Rose matriculated with bachelors in 2012.

‘I was relieved that I passed but I didn’t have any idea what to do next. Leaving school hit me hard, as this was my only support structure. Now, I felt as if I was on my own. I became severely depressed, hopeless and I tried to commit suicide.’

Rose survived and the doctors suggested that she should be admitted into a psychiatric hospital for treatment, ‘I refused because I knew that I just needed to find my strength again. The strength that allowed me to survive all those years. I became an out-patient and got support. ’

‘One day, visiting a social worker, I saw an internship advertised with Social Department. I applied and got accepted. This internship assisted me to find many reasons to live. I wake up each morning with a smile on my face. I love what I am doing, I work with children everyday and see them go through similar or even worse situations than I faced as a child. I feel a deep sense of compassion that compels me to want to help them and make sure they have the stability I never had.’

Rose’s internship inspired her to apply to study a social worker degree. ‘My goal right now is to work at my career so that one day I can provide a house for my mother that she can call her own. I want to give my family the home we lost and give them back the sense of belonging they deserve.’

Rose is a Social Development Intern.

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