Monthly Archives: August 2012

#244 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 11

Initiative.

Ithemba Projects has a long term vision to make the community of Sweetwaters both self-sufficient and sustainable. It means that the progress, though at times slow and even painful, is rewarding, tangible, and the eventual change belongs firmly in the hands of the community. Too often aid projects waltz into failing, poor situations, give a glamorous make over and vanish in elusive puffs of smoke. As Ithemba Projects strives to develop a relationship with the community, as it works to make the inhabitants of Sweetwaters feel involved and responsible for this long term development , it is also firmly digging its heel into the red soil, planting itself within the community foundations.

Last week I was dismayed and frustrated at the lack of innovation and initiative the teachers at the Drop in Centre appeared to be showing. Was it because they expected something from my colleague and I? Were they waiting for us to take over for these few weeks? My JD was to work alongside and support the creche teachers, not take over. I firmly believe, and so does Ithemba, that one of the most important aspect of aid work is to encourage the locals; to make them believe in themselves and their potential to create the change they want. Yes, they might not always have the resources or even the education needed to start up a development project, that’s where aid charities come into play, but they do  have the potential to continue them. By virtue of being human beings they are as capable to run a creche, teach a lesson, engage in community outreach, tree-planting, development, as someone from England.

Yesterday, the creche teachers demonstrated that – and my word were they good. Not only did they split the 19 screaming, laughing, singing children into two, smaller, more manageable groups, but they engaged them, of their own accord, in puzzles, drawings, outside play and songs. Ithemba Projects creche outreach, Asidlale, provides every creche under the Ithemba umbrella with teacher training, and daily schedules for class activities. Yet, perhaps  the benefits of following these schedules isn’t fully recognized until the teachers claim it for their own. Seeing the positive response from the children could only have been a huge encouragement to the two creche teachers. I am excited to see how this burst of initiative flowers over the next few weeks.

Prayer for Day 11: That the creche teachers are inspired and encourage to continue following the Asidlale program. That a spirit of confidence is born within them, and the Drop in Center would flourish.

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#243 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 10

In the silence of the night

As the pale saucer glowers in a magnified sight

Clouds ripple with an invisible shimmer.

The cloak of night is both opaque and sheer

in texture and tone, shadows which roam over hill valleys

and misty mountains

sit within his throne of might,

(And under an unfathomable stare which shines like a harsh white glare,

Folded into deck chairs, hands looped around necks,

A lone figure returns the look, suddenly aware of a stillness which stifles the vast, opaque, still moving

air of the night.)

Gently twinned within subtle breezes and the faint hum of star light is the call to

Be still and Know that I am God.

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#242 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 9

So yesterday was an extremely raw experience. Not everyday is like that – although maybe it should be? For today’s post I would just like to keep it short and clarify some points, that on reflection have settled in my heart.

Yes, there are situations that can make us angry. Livid. Yesterday probably seemed, and definitely felt, like one of those experiences. Yet I don’t want people who read this blog, or some of these posts, to just be overwhelmed by my naked emotions. Anger doesn’t create anything. It neither nullifies a situation nor creates change. But it can be a catalyst for discerning, wise, and thoughtful actions.

Sadness and pity are also good catalysts, but weak emotions on their own. I also don’t want you, the readers (or myself in retrospect), to be overwhelmed by what might seem to be a dire situation. Because dire it is not. I have sought to stress the incredible good that resides alongside these painful experiences. The charities I have the privilege to support do phenomenal work and they are headed up by extremely wise, compassionate, thoughtful and motivated people. Change takes time. Change in our home communities takes a painful amount of time. And yes, in the interim of change a lot of pain and frustration can occur. But that is the nature of progress.

I suppose, what I would like to stress to all those who have passed through this blog is that, there is hope. Don’t just live off my righteous indignation and anger, and become despondent, faithless, wildly angry or depressed. Rather use my experiences as a catalyst to say – there must be more. There must be more than the education we are getting back home, there must be another way to conduct our National Health Service, there must be a better way to promote adoption, sexual health services, inter-racial participation, to end segregation, racial profiling, broken families, homelessness, loneliness, whatever it is that makes up the brokeness in your home community. Search out that new way.

My experience here has been all the more painful, because it is so hopeful. Because I can see the progress, the process of change taking place, and in my impatient nature I want it now. But it is coming, and that is what is beautiful. I have the hope that, in 3 years I saw creches like the Drop in Centre transform into excellent educational  play facilities, well staffed, well-managed with flourishing children. I can therefore hold the hope that, maybe in another three years, the situation that I faced yesterday may very well have drastically transformed.

So please, don’t be angry or sad, but be inspired, motivated, and encouraged to let your heart be raw, so it can catapult you into a better scenario, a better tomorrow.

And, if you have been inspired by these posts to write yourself, then a word of advice: Express all your passion as best as you can, but be wise in how you do it. The people we write about, the lives we intermingle with for a short period of time are real people. They deserve to be protected, honoured and assured the privacy entitled to them. I apologise for not recognising that in time. 

Prayer for Day 9: That a spirit of Hope would bless everyone who has come into contact with this blog. That Hope would give them an enduring strength to seek change. Hope would sustain them in the long process to change. Wisdom would govern their ways and discernment would guide their paths.

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#241 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 8

I asked God to break my heart for people who are suffering. Today he made it bleed. It hasn’t stopped.

Zanini Bantwana (Come Children) is a charity which does outreach in three government hospitals in Maritzburg; Edendale, Northdale and Greys. Run by Alan Gaston and his wife Sheila, the charity has been providing much needed childcare and attention in the impoverished children’s wards of these ‘black’, therefore poor, hospitals.

Private Medical Care in South Africa is at an excellent standard. Most people who belong to a middle to upper class have Private Medical Care. That means, considering the incomprehensible gap between the poor and the rich, Government Hospitals are the domain of the poor black population.

At a Government Hospital, located in a former ‘white area’ therefore perhaps a better standard than some Hospitals, there is a little girl on the children’s ward. Her name is ‘M’. She was abandoned at birth. Just over a year old she has HIV, TB and severe social problems. Her eyes are unfocused like Girl’s in the Drop in Centre Creche. She doesn’t form relationships with the staff. She refuses to recognise anyone. Why? The knowledge that she is unloved, worthless and unwanted has already been imprinted onto her fragile infant brain. She could be my daughter.

When I was three weeks old, I came down with a cold. My gums turned blue, my mouth sealed shut, I could barely breathe. My nose was filled with mucus, yet my nostrils were so small my Mum had to suck the mucus out because she couldn’t grip my nose with tissue. I was rushed to hospital, because at three weeks old, I was dying. My mum was by my side every day. My twin sister didn’t sleep. The doctors did everything they could to save my life.

I’m alive today because I was wanted. Yes, I’m asthmatic, but I row. Yes, I have a poor immune system, but I can afford drugs.

‘M’ is the same complexion as myself. She has the same droopy cheeks I have in my baby photos. She has similar almond shaped eyes. Her nose was caked in mucus. A tube ran out of it, probably similar to the tube that ran out of mine when I was three weeks old.

A nurse thought she was my daughter.

She could be my daughter.

At best, she’ll die before she reaches 11. At worst she’ll die within a year. If she lived in Hilton, and had parents that could care for her, TB wouldn’t kill her. There’s medication for those who can afford it.

Her name is ‘M’. She is an abandoned black child who comes from a township. She has no one to buy her those drugs. No one to care for her.

And my heart is screaming, and I have not cried so hard today as I have in years, as I prayed to God. How can I go to church with fellow Christians who believe we are all made in God’s image, yet don’t consider adopting a reflection of God? How can I live within a faith where we preach loving the unloved, and yet we are so blind, blinded by an irrational and an inhumane fear, that we never set foot in a hospital five minutes from our homes? And yes, I am painfully angry at South African society right now, but also British. How often, do we step into a hospital to visit a sick relative, and ignore the patient on the bed next door who is in distress, because we don’t know them?

When will the Church rise up, not out sentiment, but out of duty. Because our theology compels us to love and to nurture and to comfort those even when it harms our idyllic lifestyle, our hopes and dreams our finances. Paul does not preach the Gospel because he wants to, but because the Spirit of God compelled him to, and he had no choice!

And I see ‘M’, who could be my daughter, whose name means flower, and I am angry. I am angry at a world where people can spend up to R180,000 (about £18,000) a year on a child’s education (Hilton College, the most expensive school in Africa), and can’t even give enough spare cash to their community neighbors to have a basic education, diet, medicine. I look at the UK, and how, though in Zulu culture people are loath to adopt incase they inherit the Ancestral spirits of the adopted child, how we are loath to adopt because we place our genetic children as a greater priority. I need to take care of my own. Charity begins at home.

I am torn with a frustrated, righteous anger. And though I yearned to capture every moment I experienced today in words, I have failed. Because I don’t think I can make you see. I don’t think I can make you look into the vacant eyes of ‘M’, who was disposed of after birth. I don’t think I can tell you what it feels like to hold a child who cannot afford the right medication to fight TB, something i‘ll never have to worry about. To know she may be dead in three years time due to HIV. And that no-one cares. Because there are millions like her.

And her name means flower.

And I cry. I am so angry. I weep. I groan. My chest is torn. For a few hours today I could love her as she deserved to be loved. Yet there are a million like her. And her name means flower. She could have been my daughter.

She could have been my daughter.

Prayer for Day 8: That people would love like Christ commands us. That we would be compelled to create a home for the homeless in whatever capacity we can. That our eyes would be opened to the M’s in our own communities, and we would make a poignant decision to love them, to give them hope and a future. That we would be compelled to act justly, love with a God like mercy, and be figures of hope. That we would become parents in whatever capacity we can, to whoever we can.

Please read this next post in order to transform the potential pain of this experience into one of hope. Thank you

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#240 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 7

I’ve come to the end of my first week…and the smell of that red soil has done it again. It’s like the scent of home cooking which brings with it a deep, yet gentle reassurance of safety, family, of a future. Yet, simultaneously it speaks of discomfort, of a need to read against the grain, to go against the essence of oneself.

In this week I’ve gone from having an adverse reaction to genuinely falling in love with my crèche babies. Perhaps it’s the latent mothering instinct within me which is deciding to rear its premature head, yet the desire to protect and nurture has thankfully overwhelmed the fear that resided there to begin with.

I have also had my first experience of teaching – teaching children who are hungry to be taught. It has made me, on reflection, so grateful for the incredible (free) education I have benefitted from, yet also hopeful. Teaching children my own age has yes, on one hand, shown me how blessed I am, and how much I have to offer, yet it has also reignited in me that desire to learn, and to be unashamed to do so. The children at Msimude came with a bravado, with chatter and perhaps pride, yet within their letters, the veneer of control is gently stripped away. I have been reminded not only of the power of the written word, but the power of dreams. If these children can hold visions of becoming engineers, social workers, nurses and DJ’s, then I also can hold onto my dreams. Just as their letters have inspired me, perhaps my writings will inspire others. I don’t envision myself as a teacher, but I have always dreamed of going back to Nigeria and doing a year of Youth Core Service, and now I think I know what I will do. When I started Uni, I came with a pride, with an arrogance, and with my own bravado. Seeing them learn, seeing them hungry for the little I have to offer, has humbled me and humbled the way I view my own teachers.

In this coming week I will return to Edendale hospital. Originally a ‘blacks only hospital’ under the Apartheid regime, Edendale is still racially segregated with few whites even driving down the road which leads into its township. When I visited Edendale three years ago I was disturbed to hear that many of the children in the hospital had, quite literally, been abandoned. Either because parents couldn’t walk the long distance to visit their children, or because they knew at least there they would receive decent food, shelter and medical attention. I don’t know what to expect tomorrow, but I do hope that the work that two British Expats have done for years has continued to grow. To see more about Edendale Outreach please click here.

I will also start my first teaching lessons at Mountain Home Primary School, as well as continuing to help out at the Saturday Kids Clubs (Jabulani and Kulah), alongside the weekly life groups, Msimude High School, the Drop in Centre Creche and the Running (potentially walking) Club. Bring it.

Prayer for Day 7 – For a continued strength in the weeks to come. That the children would be inspired in the lessons. For safety for the Ithemba team and that a spirit of Joy and Hope would be upon us. That my eyes would be opened to new stories and I would continue (or begin) to be a light in Sweetwaters.

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#239 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 6

I am handsome with a baby face, he said.

Fine boy, smooth skin, no pimples, upon his thin

frame. The smile which lit up his face,

the gentle voice which held a certain grace.

And yet iron is reflected in the recesses of his eyes,

the scars that loom in the pits of his pupils

irises, round, shimmering with fear,

that handsome face…i cannot bear to see it

re-appear.

And the prayer that one says

as tarmac roads loom in front of a rolling heat wave

is that justice would be delivered today.

That wisdom would come this way,

through the thin bars nailed into place,

an acknowledgement of the wrong, yet with space left for grace.

 

Prayer for Day 6: Justice and a quick case.

 

 

#238 ~Ithemba Projects: Day 5

The grade 11’s started off being too cool for school, but my enthusiastic charm won them over :) I am so excited to see how they improve over the next four weeks as they grow more confident in themselves and in speaking and writing English. This is a class of extremely gifted and talented children with a lot of potential. Enjoy a selection of their letters.

 

 

 

Prayer for Day 4-5: That the hopes and dreams of all these children would come to pass. That their education wouldn’t be disrupted by poor teaching, or a lack of funding. That their families would be kept safe so they wouldn’t have to drop out of school to work.That they would never loose sight of their goals or doubt their potential. That every door would be opened to them, so they would become an incredible future for South Africa and this world.

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