By Chevon Booysen (IOL, edited)
She survived two suicide attempts, and lost her eldest son to gang violence four years ago.
Today, Mary Bruce stands tall as a beacon of hope to youth at risk in Hanover Park.
Mary, visibly emotional, has opened her humble home as she wants to inspire the group of 32 children from her community to turn away from a life of crime and substance abuse.
She lost her son, a gang hit man, at the age of 26 when he was shot dead during 2014.
“For three months after his death I just felt empty, until I read a Bible verse that motivated me and prepared me for what I am currently doing.”
Her son was a gangster for 16 years and, Bruce said, his pain manifested as anger when he witnessed her being in an abusive relationship with her ex-husband.
“My son saw me every other day with a blue eye and swollen lip, and it angered him that he couldn’t do anything to help me.
“He wasn’t being nurtured by either myself or my ex- husband and he went out to find a connection outside of what should have been his safe space,” she said.
Mary said when her son was shot dead, that’s when she felt a divine intervention.
“That was the time when God spoke to me to take action.
“My programme’s name is What About The Children’s Dream? Because even though my son was a gangster, he also had a dream,” she said.
Last year, to commemorate her son’s life, she hosted a camp for 50 children from the community – made possible through fund-raising, as the entire project is done from her own pocket.
“I am now a mentor to these children who struggle with many issues at home because parents aren’t there for the children in the way they should be.
‘‘Children are now providers and nannies, while their parents are tangled in lives of crime and substance abuse,” she said.
Mary said the children who are a part of her project find comfort at her house.
“Sometimes when we get together at my house for morning prayers, they don’t want to leave; they stay all day and my house has become their home.
“I really just want them to change their mindset and see that there is so much more to life than what they see happen in this community every day.
“We can’t ask the pastors to pray for our children, because then who are we praying for?
“We can’t blame organisations and structures for not doing anything about gang violence and drugs, when it’s our own children doing these things.”
Mary plans to host a weekend campaign during March to spread her message of hope.