The Yellow School Bus

( I want to put a disclaimer before you read the rest of this post, contrary to popular belief not all Africans live in abject poverty and ignorance. It gets really frustrating when I meet people in N.America who are shocked that I don’t live in a mud hut and my house has running water and electricity. I have lost count how many times this has happened to me! For heavens sake!!! North Americans have no excuse for such ignorance, you have so much information readily available to you ( most Africans don’t have this luxury), is it not possible to research a little? Instead of eating up what the media throws at you?

I often wonder if I will ever stop being amazed at the humble school bus. You know, the yellow bus that picks up children all over North America to take them to school. Sometimes I stand and stare at it wondering if the kids inside know just how privileged they are for that simple bus. I know many kids back home who at age 6 walk several kilometers to school. I did that for a brief time in my childhood. Education is so very important that whether a household has parents or it is run by children, many will do whatever it takes to get to school. There is a sense of pride when you finish school albeit going to University is close to impossible. Most children know, life is better off with an education than without one. I know of mothers who go without good clothes and sometimes eating well just so they can scrape up money to send their children to school. I have had lots of children crying because they desperately want an education. As for walking an hour or two to school, well that’s just the normal part of life, nothing to moan over.

When I was working in Maputo, I often spent several hours a day a couple times a week walking through the community visiting the children under our care. One day I went to visit Samuel*. I had known him from the time he was 6 months, terribly malnourished with a mother sick with HIV. My mother made his mom come to our house every day for a couple months so that he could be fed back to life. He was literally skin and bones (yeap like those pictures the media loves to flaunt about when it talks about my continent) Like hundreds of children that my parents have helped over the years, little Samuel began calling my parents mama and papa, he became a part of the church family. We continued to watch over him after his mother died and his grandmother started looking after him and his older sister. When he turned 6 his grandmother decided to leave her two grandchildren and live some place else. And so Samuel s 13 year old sister became his parent. A sad reality that happens too often. We as a family could not intervene and take them home … such situations are too common in some communities.

On that particular day when I came to visit, Samuel was alone. I asked him where his sister was, turns out she was often not home. I stood there holding back tears, what was I to do, I had no legal right to take him home. Standing there looking at him I realized sitting with Samuel and crying over how hard his life was would not help the situation, and so I sat on the floor with this 6 year old and we discussed how much firewood he needed to start a fire in the morning and if he had enough rice to cook so that he was not hungry when he went to school. We discussed if his school uniform was clean and encouraged him to keep waking up at 6 so that he could walk to school and not be late. My heart hurt as I treated little Samuel as if he was a responsible teen. After that, I went to the neigbhours and asked them if they could continue keeping a watchful eye on him.

I know there are a host of  external and internal issues that leave so many children on a reserve with a sense of hopelessness, sometimes I can’t help but wonder, is it not a privilege that a child here can wake up one morning and decide: ” I am tired of school, its too boring, I won’t go anymore!” and never sit in that yellow bus again?

*Samuel is not his real name.

Do you pray? please pray I get a new camera. Spring is making a valiant effort to make an appearance, it would be real sad if I can’t capture anything on camera. I can live without a camera but it sure makes my life sweeter!

Sooo, just incase…

…you think all we do is play 🙂

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This post will make sense if you read my post, “thats what friends are for.”

My last day in South Africa was on the 7th of April, I spent close to two months working with Heather and friends . Photos do a better job at describing everyday life so here is a collage 😀

This is only some of what I was involved in. Teaching a group of girls needlework with Paulette. Teaching Peaceful how to crochet. Evaluating how Peaceful, Jabulani, Melusi and Ben conduct AWANA( a christian childrens program) Attending a 4 day AWANA workshop. Watching from a safe distance as the men decide on whether to let a poisonus snake free or kill it. Uncle Johan dancing with the kids. Danielle chatting with the head of AWANA southern Africa.

As we serve we are always aware that our conduct, the manner in which we teach, encourage and reprimand is being closely watched by those we have decided to mentor, it is no small responsibility. The bible says one who decides to be a teacher should be aware that one will be held at a higher standard than those whom they are teaching.

Melusi, Jabulani, Peaceful, Ben. They stay at Heathers house Monday till Friday. As this is their gap year, Heather got the boys part time jobs as waiters but they are all involved in childrens work.

Melusi, Jabulani, Peaceful, Ben(not the volunteer). They stay at Heathers house Monday till Friday. As this is their gap year, Heather got the boys part-time jobs as waiters but they are all involved in childrens work.

If you have followed me for a while you know when it comes to work, I am either dealing mostly with children or teens. Of my time in South Africa, I really enjoyed getting to know and work with these 4. By far one on one mentoring is what I enjoy the most about being a social worker.  I had some amazing bible studies, intense political debates and profound moments sharing life stories. I hope and pray the best for their future and I will miss them.

In my next post I should have finally come up with the right words to describe why I am moving to Ontario Canada.

If you want to know more about Heathers’ organisation and are interested in doing some volunteer work either in South Africa, Uganda or Kenya, please check her website: http://hopeofafricayouth.com/

THE BABY.

These last days death has been on my mind a lot.  Friend, can you believe that he even has the audacity to visit me in my dreams? I wish he would leave me alone! I know it is strange to talk this way about him but you have to understand, in my line of work(I deal mainly with HIV/AIDS orphans) I am  surrounded by the effects of death. He is never too far away, always lurking behind the memories of the children I help, he is the very reason their lives are so difficult and at times abusive.

I have wanted to share this story for years but each time I read what I had written I did not feel like it did any justice to the short life of the baby boy who made such an impact on my life.

THE BABY.

In Africa it is common practise to give a baby a name that has a meaning. I was first introduced to the baby when he was still in his mother’s womb.  His mother visited my house often and always told me when he was born I would name the baby. I always thought she was pulling my leg as no one had ever asked me to do this before. A day after he was born, his mom was at our house asking for the baby’s name. Only then did I realize that she was serious.

I spent a week thinking over various names and asking my family what they thought and finally came to the name “Tendai.” It means “give thanks” in Shona a Zimbabwean language.

Tendai and his mother visited us often, he was a little charmer. At six months Tendai got sick, at first we thought it was just the normal diarrhea that little babies in this part of the world occasionally suffer from. Nevertheless my mother encouraged his mom to take him to a local clinic. That was on a Friday.

On Monday, Tendai’s condition had worsened, the clinic had done nothing to help him. When his mom brought him home Monday afternoon he looked like he was dead… its amazing how fast a baby can lose so much weight in just two days, gone where the chubby ebony cheeks. As my mother held his weak frame she wept deeply, I realise now what she knew then;  when you often deal with death you can sense him in the room, patiently bidding his time till he robs life from us once again.

My friends and I were not willing to give up on the little boy and decided to rush him to a hospital 30 mins away. I remember Tendai made no noise, he was too weak to do anything but give out very shallow breaths. The car was in silence except for the occasional cries of a mother loosing her baby and the desperate prayers for a miracle that we quietly shouted to the one who understands suffering more than anyone else, Jesus.

When we arrived at the hospital I took Tendai from his mothers hands and as I held him, he released the rest of the water that was in his body, a sure sign that he had just died. With my clothes covered in liquid I held the baby in my arms, my two friends and I did not have the heart to tell Tendais’ mom that her pride and joy had just gone. . . at that moment she was running towards the hospital looking for anyone who could help them.

Many African government hospitals are often places where people go to die than recover, when we entered the hospital all we could see where rows of people holding someone who was dying or in great pain. We called for a doctor or a nurse but all we got were vacant stares from others who had been waiting hours for help that was taking its time to arrive.

I ran out of the E.R and entered another section of the hospital. The pediatric ward to my knowledge should be filled with nurses, doctors and children of all ages recovering. I hope to never enter a pediatric ward like the one I walked into, it was deathly quiet, no children, no doctors, no help. As we stood helplessly not knowing what to do next, a man came towards us took one look at the baby and referred me to a room.

Inside the room where two doctors engrossed in a lively conversation. They took one look at me and the baby and continued talking as if I did not exist. I stood there for what felt like an eternity doing my best not  to crumble into a heap of tears. I finally asked them, “whats wrong with the baby?” Irritated to find I was still in the room with them they flippantly responded, “this baby is not our responsibility it died before we got it, there is nothing we can do.”and immediatly continued with their personal conversation.

No one wanted to tell the mother the truth so I told her. . . no one should tell a mother she has lost her love. . .  babies are not meant to die.

The man from the mortuary quickly decided he didn’t want to deal with a grieving mother and so chose me to take Tendai to the mortuary. We entered a small van that had seen better days and whose inside floor had traces of blood of another who death had taken. Had I known they would take me to the back entrance of the mortuary maybe I would have declined to go, I just wanted to make sure Tendai would be OK. What I saw will haunt me for the rest of my life.

The last memory I have of Tendai is when a half drunk mortuary man grabbed Tendai like a sack of potatoes opened the door to a cold room that was lined with wooden shelves on which lay at least 40 uncovered human bodies…he found a little corner and shoved him there.

The whole time I was at the hospital I was like a stone, I knew the only way I could handle the situation and be strong for Tendai’s mom was to switch off emotionally. It was only when my friends and I got home that I broke down and wept.

Some memories are hard to revisit but still they come, clamoring to be remembered, refusing to be ignored. Today the memories and the pain of Tendai’s story feel as if it all happened yesterday and yet its now going onto 4 years.

babies are not meant die but sometimes . . . they do.

how it all began

Because of insufficient funding my parents and i have decided that our school should close.The decision to close our school was taken in December but the magnitude of our choice only hit home today. Made me kinda teary as I realised just how much the school project has shaped my life and dare I say, my identity. I guess the reason why its only got me today is because when I have a difficult decision to make I usually pack my emotions out of the way so that I can deal with whatever is at hand with a clear mind, only after everything has been done do I sit back and deal with the emotional aspects of the situation.
Friend, when something that has been a part of your identity for years is taken away it takes a while to deal with all the emotions that come with letting go. Today I choose to deal with it in writing.

my story.

A month before I turned 21 in 2006 I moved, (with my parents blessing) to live in a rural area of South Africa called Nkomazi. I had been invited by my friend Sally Mckibbin to come and work in her organisation called: Thembalethu Home Based Care(THBC). The Nkomazi region is known to having one of the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in South Africa. When I arrived in 2006 it was estimated that 36% of the population was infected, today those numbers have risen to 50% with a population of around 334,421. THBC is involved with helping people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS through community development projects. (www.thembalethu.org)
When I arrived in Nkomazi I had no experience with community development much less HIV and AIDS. All the experience I had was a year of running a Sunday school with 100 children every Sunday all by myself but Sally and her sister Heather saw potential in me and offered me a position in the organisation.

My responsibilities where: to run an After School Program for orphans and vunerable children in 4 surrounding villages. Basically I had to travel weekly to these villages and monitor how the volunteers in charge were running the After School Program and distribute food to the centers. Every Saturday I was part of a group heading a kids club for about 150 -200 orphans and daily i was involved in tutoring 4 orphans from the THBC orphanage. In total each week I came into contact with around 300-350 children. At the same time I was studying via correspondence (BA in community development). I found time early in the morning and late at night to study, in fact whenever I found a spare moment at work I was busy studying. It was hard work but I loved it, I learned so much from THBC.
At the end of four months I had my first experience with burn out and decided even though I would be letting a lot of people down I had to go home.

Upon my return home, I found that my dad was saddened at seeing orphans playing in the streets instead of going to school so him and my mom had decided if no one was keeping track on the welfare of these orphans they would. With that decision my mom found 4 pieces of sack cloth and 4 long sticks and made a shelter from where she taught about 20 children. In the meanwhile my dad(without any promise of financial help) started a building project, so that eventually the children would start learning in classes. When I heard about what my parents had started I got very excited and after a much needed holiday, i  decided that I would join them to run and establish the school. There was no special word from the Lord, neither did I spent days in prayer I simply saw a need got excited and jumped in.

From there I looked for volunteers in the church my parents where establishing(they plant churches). At that time there where teenagers in our church who needed financial help to go to school. We decided that if they really needed the money they could spare a couple of hours a day teaching at our school. The school grew from 20 kids to 100 in a couple of months. From the school came many other sustainable projects that I started in order to help the children in our care. Some where amazing such as our kids club, foreign volunteer program, gardening and bakery projects. Others started off on bumpy road such as our construction program( building homes for orphans) whilst others where resounding failures e.g selling frozen drink packets. When I started running the school, there where no desks, chairs, text books…pretty much everything that is needed to run a school but that didn’t bother me I was determined to give the children a chance. Wherever I went I spoke about my school and my love for the children. people began to visit and donate, money, their time and material to keep it running.

My dream has always been that our school be the best in our community teaching and training children from a young age the importance of community development with Jesus as the heartbeat of all we do…its sad letting go of that dream.

sally and my parents will always be my inspiration, I will forever be grateful to them for believing in me and giving me full reign to projects that other people may have thought I would have been incapable of running.

What now?
For the orphans, the bakery, kids club and construction projects will continue they run well without me, possibly more projects will be started. Personally, I really don’t know what’s next for me, as of January I was without any responsibility, a strange place to be for someone who has always had something to do. These days I just quietly wait believing that, surely the new season with its new set of responsibilities will eventually come my way.

Friend, I know this has been rather long, I hope you don’t mind.as always with much love

and so they came

hey friend, i think i told you a couple months back that some of my friends from the bible school i attended in the USA would be coming. well its hard to believe that they have been here for a little over two weeks now. it feels like they have always been here.

i love hearing calvins thoughts on american politics or the NBA(so funny at times), i love seeing trina busy making breakfast early in the morning without even asking me if she should,its almost as if she has always been here. i love that logan enjoys just hanging out with the guys on the construction site and trys real hard to speak portuguese and i love taylors humour, it is extremely dry and you never know when he is going to drop one on you:D

i know i have been negligent in writing to you of late, well its because i have been very busy and to be honest just didnt feel like writing at the end of the day, too hot,tired and bothered. its been great having my friends over as a team. the guys have been busy with construction and trina has been with me running a bible study for about 11 girls(we have been meeting them almost everyday now going on to the second week). from my perspective i think so far its been a great trip. what i appreciate most about them is their willingness to learn and adapt. i know the language barrier has been quite frustrating at times and also adapting to the very laid back attitude that pple have here, i am sure has been challenging at times. whereas they are used to being busy all the time we here put much more emphasis in taking the time to making and maintaining relationships, sometimes that means hanging out at the construction site not doing any work but chatting with the other young africans who are volunteering as well.

i have really enjoyed having trina as my partner with the girls discipleship group, its so important for me that things are taken real slow when teaching, its important that the girls understand exactly what is being taught. i also put a lot of emphasis on just hanging out with the girls hearing them talk and interact with each other without me saying anything. it gives me  more insight on who they really are and trina has adapted so well to that. a lot of times americans find it hard to take things slow when they come here and after living in the states for a year i understand why and therefore appreciate even more her willingness to adapt in such a short time. the girls have also enjoyed her company, even with the language barrier they love inviting her to join them in games or they ask her to teach them english, which is quite hilarious. i am of the opinion she will make a great counsellor oneday:D

for me the whole point of having teams is not that i give them a “good time” but rather they find it in their hearts to be ready to learn what ever God has for them and also to have an open heart and mind to learn from someone from a completely different cultural background. i do hope in the very least thats what my friends will take out from their short stay in mozambique.

PLEASE do continue to keep them in your prayers.

Kids club 2011

friend, we had our annual kids club from the 12th till the 16th of December. the theme this year was “Jesus is my treasure.” here is a snippet of our super fun week. we had around 170 children, 150 where OVC (orphans and vulnerable children).

hopefully next time you will be here with us:D

p.s if you let your cursor hover over an image you will be able to read a description of the pictures.

gilda’s mother died last week

gilda.

gildas mother died last thursday. she hadnt been sick for long. gilda is 13 years old and i have known her for close to 7 years.she has been part of a small group of girls i have been discipling for about 5 years now. broke my heart to see her cry. i did not know her mother had died till sunday, couldnt get to see her till today wednesday cause i have been sick.low income families cannot afford a mortuary so it is customary to keep the body at home for a day before it is buried but when her mama died the landlady demanded that her body be buried immediatly because she didnt want a dead body in her house(extremely disrespectful of her!) and so a couple hours later she was buried.
. . . . . . .  just-like-that, she was gone!
how could a person be so callous that they dont give children time to say goodbye to their mother?

they dont allow children to cry at funerals here . . . some traditions are not meant to be honored! if  i had been there i would have made sure that gilda and her younger brother been given the right to cry.  i dont know what will happen to gilda, she has now lost both parents and her life will depend on the good will of close relatives. maybe they will be good to her, maybe they wont. at the end of the day life is going to be difficult.

as i left her house, i heard news about another child of mine, marieta. she is 11 years old i was told she has become a streetkid, she ran away from home where she lives with her grandmother and uncle both who are very abusive towards her. i dont know how i will find her because she just roams the streets of our community. our community is large and has a population of around 50 000 people . . . not a safe place for a little girl to roam at night. sometimes people have seen her sleeping in trees other times at the steps of our church other times at different peoples homes.

at times my work feels like a plumber almost done fixing a leak only to find 3 other places that are leaking worse than the first one. it can be rather discouraging to be honest.

you know what i think friend? what we need is a home for children like gilda and marieta . . . maybe thats what we need to start my friend, a home.  will start praying about it.