Here we are at the end of the first week of orientation already, having been in Africa now for just over a week. I find myself torn with this blog – between providing enough information about what I have been doing day to day so you know more about what my life now looks like; and between sharing some of the deeper thoughts and more internal struggles that I have been wrestling with. So I will attempt here to give you an insight into both.
Our days have been jammed packed for orientation. Most mornings start with an 8am meeting whether it be for corporate Hands at Work Prayer, Ladies Prayer, Small Groups etc. and go through to 8:30/9pm each night as we finish most days with a debrief session of the days events (we were also spoilt last week in that we had dinner out at a different house within the village each night so I have not really even had to cook yet!)
Monday and Friday last week was spent in one of the local communities called Siyathuthuka which was the very first community I visited on my last trip to Africa in 2011 and I was delighted to find that the very first little boy we met and played with back in 2011, was still being cared for in this community, however has grown up so much (if I am honest it did make me feel a little old! :-)! So it was just amazing to be back. Additionally heading back on the Friday after visiting on the Monday, it was wonderful to know some kids by name, to be able to build on relationships and to also do some home visits with the Care Workers.
Home Visits are one of the foundations of the Hands at Work model whereby weekly/multiple times each week the AMAZING Volunteer Care Workers (the true heroes of this story – I will dedicate a blog post to them at a later date) walk and visit the homes of the orphan and vulnerable children that Hands at Work cares for. Many households do not have an adult present, the oldest child is simply looking after their younger siblings, or sometimes Grandma’s (Gogo’s) are looking after a large number of orphaned children, or it can be Aunts and Uncles Etc. Visiting the home regularly allows the care worker to build stronger relationships with the children, check on the safety of the home on an ongoing basis, identify any other needs of the family, assist with house chores and life skills if required, check on and help the child with school work and a whole manner of other things. It’s hard to describe fully, however, even just the fact that an adult is visiting and taking interest in a child on a regular basis can provide an extra level of safety for that child to slightly reduce their vulnerability.
Tuesday was spent at another community Welvediend, again we attempted to do home visits, however there was a massive rain storm right in the middle of the day while we were out walking and most of us got very wet! (We go back again to Welvediend tomorrow which I am very much looking forward too!) We then had the privilege to spend 2 days with George, the founder of Hands, hearing more about the Heart and Vision of Hands at Work. For one of these sessions we headed out to sit in the Nelspruit Botanical Gardens which were stunning!
So after a fairly packed first week, Saturday came, and for our first day off we headed out to mac mac pools. Approx. 2 hour drive from where we are located to these beautiful fresh water swimming holes/waterfalls. The temperature was a little lower yesterday than it had been during the week – so the water was a little fresh 🙂 But it was so wonderful to be able to swim! The highlight of the day was watching one of our fellow Hands at Work team members who is from Swaziland and has never learnt to swim – watching him practice and swim for the first time under the instruction of some of the other guys and then the huge part – watch him jump from the top of the waterfall into the swimming pools. He was so brave! And it was so delightful watching him not be able to wipe the biggest smile off his face as he learnt this new skill and achieved such big things for someone who has never swum before! We also saw our first Cobra snake on the road in front of the car on the way home that reared upright after the car had passed! And we shopped at a roadside market where I picked up a huge bag of the biggest, juiciest lychees I have ever eaten for 20 rand (approx. $2.25)….YUM!
This morning – Sunday morning – we headed to a small Pentecostal community church in Nelspruit to which we were welcomed so very warmly and enjoyed a fantastic service. Sunday afternoon has been spent napping from the big week! 🙂
If you will now allow me to flip over to the internal struggles and thoughts of the week; I LOVE being out in the communities for the day where we get to spend time with the amazing care workers and children, however part of me ALWAYS DREADS the end of the day. As the visiting white people (“Mulungu’s”) we say our goodbyes to the care workers and the children, climb in our vehicles and drive off down the road while the children run along behind the car waving, smiling and yelling out. It breaks my heart. We step into their shoes for a day, only slightly and briefly get a glimpse into their lives and then at the end of the day always know we are going home to a safe warm bed, a nice meal and hot shower; leaving them behind. Behind to stay in a house that might not be the warmest or the safest, to a home where the only food they will eat is the one meal they receive in the afternoon at the feeding point from the care workers, to the responsibility of running a household with no adult or parental figures, to being very vulnerable.
Part of me wishes I could just take all the children with me, lift them out of their current situations and protect, love and care for them, but I know that is not the answer. It’s also what I love about Hands at Work. One of their core values is supporting local community ownership, and at the end of the day is the only thing that is sustainable.
I do believe we need to wrestle with the injustice. We need to ask the hard questions. We need to determine what our response will be. And my prayer is that I will never grow complacent or apathetic to the things I will see every day here.
Why was I so blessed to be born into a situation of privilege in Australia to, in global standards, a wealthy family, with opportunity to pursue education through to University level, to always have a safe home to live in, and always know the next meal is on the way? Why me? And why these African kids – why did they get born into situations where they have lost both mother and father, why does the 8 year old need to care for her 3 younger siblings because no one else will? Why do they need to live in fear each night not knowing who might knock on the door? How can some of these children be dying of hunger and some of us living in far too much excess? I could have been born in Africa. I could have been born into any one of these situations…but I was not. So what then should be my response?
These are the hard questions, and I don’t have any answers. The only response I can formulate right now is to use my situation of privilege, that I am not entitled to by any means however find myself in, that I use it to help and advocate on behalf of those I meet. To be present when I am with a child or care worker or gogo for the long or short time I am with them; to make them feel valued, loved, special and hope that in some way I can share the love of Christ and make a small difference in their lives.
It’s a thought I will continue to wrestle with and perhaps challenge you to do the same…
Bring on week 2!