"My parents died a long time ago and my younger sister and I went to live with my granny, not far from here," she says. "But she too died while I was still a child and I became responsible for taking care of my little sister. We had absolutely nothing at home but Carryou Ministry was there to help and, the truth is, without them, we would have struggled to survive.
"So I suppose, in a way, it was natural for me to want to be involved in helping kids," she says.
The residents of the Elandsvlei settlement are dirt-poor and struggle to eke out a living. They live in shacks and there is no running water. Every day they must haul water back to their homes, in containers they fill at communal water tanks.
"There was a huge need to prepare the little kids for school and life," says Maria, "and a creche was started in April 2012. Currently we have 25 children, aged from three to five.
"They are taught to write their names, the alphabet and how to count, as well as other skills designed to enhance their learning-abilities, motor-skills and co-ordination.
"We also spend a lot of time teaching them life-skills, like basic hygiene, how to wash their hands and brush their teeth, what road-signs mean and what to do when they see them, basic road safety and how to use water wisely.
"And, because fires are always a significant danger in informal settlements, we place great emphasis on fire safety and fire prevention," says Maria.
Parents pay just R70 (about US$8) per month to send a child to the creche where, in addition to receiving a pre-school education, each kid also gets a daily, cooked meal.
The need at Elandsvlei is great and many more parents living in the settlement would love to enrol their toddlers at the creche but simply cannot afford the monthly fee.
"Some do not have identity documents, which means they can't apply for social grants," says Maria. "We then help them navigate through the paper-work needed to get the relevant documentation."
Although Carryou Ministry receives funding from Government and private sponsors, providing services to a community with such great need, remains an expensive business and a constant uphill battle.
"We get vegetables and food donations from nearby farmers," Maria says, "but there is always a need for more food, stationery and teaching aids."
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