Grace Fellowship was formed from the events of the bitterly cold Cape winter of 1980 and was the start of a long, but wonderful journey for Celia and Otto Kassar.
Newspapers carried stories of squatter dwellings being torn down by government officials, leaving hundreds of families destitute and vulnerable to hardship and suffering, especially where children were affected. As Celia lay awake at night in the howling wind, many questions went through her mind. Why was her new baby tucked up warmly in a cosy room, while others were being punished by the wild, wintery elements? Otto and Celia realised how starkly life was for the poor was contrasted with the selfish materialism of the age.
It all started as a simple experiment where friends were invited to join a weekly get-together with their toddlers. Celia felt sure that there were some educational principles that could be applied with great success. She did have a deep insight into the overall development of children. Celia is qualified in Remedial Education, she held an honours degree in Psychology and had spent four years in a high school as a teacher psychologist. Before that she had worked in a psychiatric clinic in Oxford, England. Together they made and developed Toddlers' Workshop as a franchise organisation. All their four children participated in the programme for their first three years of life.
Again, in 1986 their attention was drawn to the terrible need for childcare in the black townships of Cape Town. Babies were being left in the care of older preschoolers by day, while mothers, desperate to earn a living, went out to work. They knew a few township women who wanted to help their communities by running "back yard crèches" in their own tiny homes. Otto and Celia visited the women in the townships and assisted these women financially, whilst trying to equip them with ideas and guidelines.
This was no easy task. At that time there was violence in the Townships and towards outsiders. Every time they felt great apprehension going into the townships and a great relief to get out. They also felt the guilty that they were part of a system where this happened. So eventually they came to the conclusion that they could only really be involved with the poor if they lived close to them in proximity and in 1992 the Kossar family moved to Sedgefield to live close to the poor in order to bridge gaps of racial prejudice, lack of education and poverty. Their intention was to be self-supportive through the franchise operation of Toddlers' Workshop.
They formed a non-profit organisation, Grace Fellowship and set up a base next to an impoverished area, Smutsville, and an informal settlement commonly referred to as "Die Gaatjie" (The Hole). Eagerly they began to establish links with the disadvantaged communities through the crèches, the school, the various church groups and political leaders. Friendships were formed and many informal projects were initiated and their energies were pored into a variety of projects. A dream was to start an enrichment group with the poor mothers, providing quality educational experiences for their children. The mothers needed a crèche for their children so that they could look for work.
Soon the Kossars' own situation deteriorated and became a struggle for survival. They had to learn so many harsh lessons themselves before they could hope to bring about changes in others, let alone uplift a deprived community. Little did they know at the time how coping with their own crises would help them to identify with the anxieties of the poor.
Through Grace Fellowship, Celia restarted a Toddlers' Workshop for mothers and children from the surrounding areas. Many families have benefited from the input and support received through this program. This has remained one of the main sources of income for them through the years. They hope to eventually train township women to conduct this type of educational program, which at the moment is mainly available for the more affluent communities in South Africa.
One of their great learning curves has been the realisation that community development cannot happen through quick fix solutions or handouts. They have come to respect the internal processes of growth, which require the support and leadership of community leaders. These are some of the projects that they have been involved with:
ALLEVIATION OF POVERTY
Establishing and assisting soup kitchens in the community.
Distribution of clothes to the needy.
Feeding children through an informal gardening project and play settings.
Distributing food which cannot be sold, but which can still be used.
INTERPERSONAL SKILLS TRAINING
Personal counselling to church leaders and businessmen as well as dealing with a wide variety of personal problems.
Marriage seminars to local churches, as well as further afield (by invitation) such as Hornley and Beaufort West.
Giving talks and input as regards Biblical values, educational principles, parenting skills and life skills in general.
VOCATIONAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE SKILLS TRAINING
Computer training through a computer centre with computers, which have been bought, donated and assembled.
Help to individuals to type letters and CV's for job applications.
Assistance to various churches and township organizations (e.g. soccer club) with planning and formulation of goals.
A microbus, which was donated to Grace Fellowship has provided a means of transport on various formal and informal occasions.
Visits to the sick.
A ministry to prisoners through talks to groups and individuals.
PREVENTATIVE AND EDUCATION PROGRAMMES RELATING TO HIV/AIDS
The Sedgefield Aids Forum, Masitandane, which means "let us love one another" in Xhosa, was established in September 2003 through the initiative of Grace Fellowship.
Sadly in June 2003 Otto suffered a stroke and has become partially paralysed as a result or it. Most of the active ministry that he was involved in has been put on hold but the Kossars know that their work is not over.
Through this adversity their projects continue. On instance proudly is the Wellness Centre, which was opened on the premises of Grace Fellowship in October 2006.
"The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of intense darkness and the shadow of death, upon them has the Light shined".