• Eunice Stoltz

In conversation with KOOT and ENGELA

- In collaboration with Petra Institute

Poverty and abuse of alcohol are some of the ever-present circumstances that children in various households of South Africa are subject to. Building healthy relationships almost seem unimaginable in these unreceptive environments.

“The real challenge is the parents. There are limited discipline or cooperation from the parents. There is one household that shelters roughly 10 children, who are sometimes left without supervision on the farm. It is a very neglected environment”.

Within this context, both retirees husband and wife, Koot and Engela van der Walt, are devoted to serving the farming community outside of Potchefstroom in the North-West province of South Africa. After Koot realized the great need among children in that area, he started his journey to equip and educate himself to positively contribute to these young lives.

Engela van der Walt

“I realized if we want to make an impact on the community and the people in it, we must start with the children.”

Koot started his training at Petra Institute in 2009 and completed all of the courses in 2011. While Koot completed the in-person training, Engela completed the online courses that Petra Institute offers. Today Koot and Engela, in strong collaboration with The Reformed Church Potchefstroom-East, are actively working with roughly 35 children between the ages of 2-and 17-years in the surrounding farming communities of Potchefstroom. Koot van der Walt

Koot also conducts various training courses to equip other adults with knowledge on how to interact with children. Likewise, Engela is a mentor for Petra’s online courses for students around the world like Singapore and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Both Koot and Engela cannot emphasize the importance of developing healthy relationships with children enough.

“When Alice in Alice in Wonderland asks the queen where she must begin, the queen answers her ‘start at the beginning and end at the end’. In our case the starting point is relationships. A child doesn’t listen to someone he has no relationship with.”

Ellen talking to children on a farm outside Potchefstroom.

Relationship-building echoes throughout the training of Petra Institute. Koot refers to the title of one of Petra’s specialized courses: Walking with Wounded Children. This title describes that it’s not just counseling, it is taking a journey with a child who has been wounded by life in some way. Koot emphasizes: “Stop telling children, talk with them. Stop prescribing what they must do, rather become part of the child’s world. That is the foundation”.

Working to help build loving and supportive relationships in communities is never without obstacles. In addition to poverty and alcohol abuse, Engela notes that another real challenge can be the parents. In particular, the shortfall of ownership and strong cultural believes are what limit the opportunity for fruitful relationships.

Developing ownership within the community is essential for Koot.

In the Syferfontein area outside Potchefstroom.

“If the urgency does not come from within the community, they do the training where after they sit back and ask ‘but what now?’. There is no ownership. That is why we currently have a strong focus on ownership, even if it is a few members.”

Koot, fortunately, adds that there is one congregation that seems to show a yearning to learn more about taking ownership and that this might ultimately change the way in which their children are nurtured.

Strict cultural boundaries limit some children to gradually form part of their direct society. Koot explains that in some black communities, children traditionally play outside while the adults attend church services; excluding children from these types of essential gatherings.

He states that persuading parents to see the importance of making children part of church services or other daily activities, takes a lot of time and patience. But the couple is hopeful and dedicated to their valuable work.

“We work with the firm belief of "the word of the Lord never comes back empty".

They don’t seek results, they only sow and minister, says Koot. He adds that you are sometimes able to see that certain something reaching the heart of a young, neglected child, and then ‘you are overcome by joy’.

During a visit to a farm outside Potchefstroom.

Engela shares the story of three women whom they sent for training at Petra Institute. The one started a Crèche, whilst another now leads a youth and Bible study group in the same community. The same woman, together with two other ladies who also completed the online course at Petra, accompanies Engela and Koot on their weekly visits to a farming community outside of Potchefstroom.

Through applying the methods and training that they gained at Petra Institute, Koot says it creates the opportunity for a child to willingly speak and open up, ‘so that the child who is severely neglected can know that he or she is listened to’.

Younger children attending a lesson.


Petra Institute’s mission is to help build communities where children are welcome. This calls for changes in the attitudes and skills of parents and community leaders. The institute works in partnerships with local organizations, helping to bring about attitude changes and to build capacity for the benefit of children, families, communities of faith, and society in general. To read more, visit the Petra Institute website, here.

*This article is in collaboration with Petra Institute and all photos were provided by Engela van der Walt.