Franziska Blöchliger was the inspiration for Thula Baba

Caroline Isted, Tokai

The horrific brutal murder of the young Franziska Blöchliger in Tokai Forest in March of 2016 started my pilgrimage against violent crime.

It would be two years of research and soul searching before Thula Baba Project was registered in March 2018.

The journey started with a coffee meeting with Don Pinnock, the esteemed criminologist and the reading and re-reading of his book Gang Town. This book gave me great background into the creation of gangs in Cape Town and how and why young people of the Cape Flats are drawn into it. Don advised that my energy was better focused at preventing children from joining gangs. He also introduced me to the theory that underpins much of the Thula Baba Project work.

When pregnant women are in a toxic environment their babies are born with an aggressive predisposition, a kind of built in coping mechanism. It is critically important that these babies are made to feel loved and safe through effective attachment and bonding.

I met and had a long discussion with Lucille Meyer, CEO of the Chrysalis Academy, where I learnt the value of programmes and peer based support structures followed by many long discussions with the late Father Terry Wilke who was at the time the priest at Bishops. He shared his insight into troubled youngsters.

I spent hours in prayer and walking pilgrimages from Worth Abbey to Canterbury Cathedral in England and from St Michael’s and All Angels to St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town with the spiritual guidance of the late Canon Rowan Smith, who encouraged my pilgrimage of life.

It was during the pilgrimage in England in 2016 that I was introduced to the idea of the Finnish Baby Box. A box filled with baby necessities given to every new mom in Finland. It is based on a cultural tradition of gifting a box for baby to sleep in. Since being introduced in the 1950’s the infant mortality rate in Finland dropped from one of the highest in Europe to now the lowest in the world. Often attributed to the baby sleeping safely in the box, however my research led me to more recent studies that showed that it was the fact that moms had to register their pregnancies before the 4th month and were then plugged into the very informative prenatal care programmes.

I had also met Roseanne Turner who was running the organisation “Girls of Hanover Park Matter” during my research. Many of the teenage girls she was working with were also mothers. The Cape Town walking pilgrimages (one in 2017 and one in 2018) were with these young women and their babies. Walking through these once healthy communities with these brave young women knowing that it was the destruction of these societies that triggered the eventual toxic environments they now lived in was sobering and humbling and so very disturbing.

I discovered Thula Baba Box during my research into the Finnish Boxes. It was a research project from Stellenbosch University. It had been dormant for a year but had a great Facebook presence. I realised that by combining my professional experience as a programme manager, my training as a life coach and the consequential understanding of personal transformational change and the management of change in systems, I could revitalise this project and make a difference in the communities I am so concerned about.

I co-opted my friend Trixy Lochner, a life coach who has experience in product development and my now late partner Chris Downie, a seasoned bank manager, to launch the Thula Baba Project as an NPO based in the southern suburbs of Cape Town servicing the mothers and babies in the Cape Flats.

Thula Baba Project is focused on strengthening mothering skills. It is specifically aimed at increasing mother to child bonding and attachment and also teaching mothers how to stimulate their baby’s natural curiosity towards improved development and therefore increasing school readiness.

The key objective being that if children feel loved, they will not only be less likely to search for a sense of belonging in gangs, but they will also have the courage to learn more without fear of failure. Children who are ready for school when they enter the classroom have more chance of academic success and are less likely to drop out and find themselves unemployable.

Since our start we have successfully incentivised 741 mothers of the Cape Flats to attending pre-natal and child care classes. During Covid we pivoted our approach to crisis relief support and since May 2020 we have assisted nearly 7000 babies born in the Cape Flats with basic clothing and toiletry needs.

All this has been achieved by a small enthusiastic team, from my house in Tokai and with the amazing support from your – our Thula Baba family and your amazing support in the form of donated goods and financial contributions.

If you would like to donate new and nearly new baby supplies or make a financial contribution to Thula Baba, email Caroline Isted on

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