Wednesday, 27 June 2012


It's coming to the end of my time here at the Village of Hope, with only two days to go until I fly home. The goodbyes have already begun, as last Friday was the last Rainbow Smiles club before the school holidays, and our last session with the children. We threw a party, decorating the room with lots of balloons, baking and icing a cake ( with a rainbow on it, ofcourse), playing pass the parcel, musical chairs, musical bumps, face painting, and making a handprint paint picture. Kat made a lovely picture slideshow to music of the children, and I made a photo collage of them. We also gave gifts to Rejioce, to say thankyou for letting us be part of helping run Rainbow Smiles. There were mixed emotions, as one of the oldest boys was emotional which was hard to see, and he said he'd miss us very much. It's hard leaving and not knowing who is going to help takeover the club with Rejioce, and thinking about the children and their futures. It's all out of my control but I know it's in God's hands, and that He has his hand over each of the children's lives, and Rejioce's.

On Sunday I went to church with Trulene, one of the house mums. I've never seen anything like it! Many of the men stood at the back of their church, in their smart suits and shiny shoes, holding their bibles, whilst the rest of the congregation sat on benches. But they didn't sit on benches for very long at all because once the worship started, a lot of people were up dancing, shimmying up and down the aisle and to the front. People would literally run to the front and dnace round in a big circle, singing and clapping. I was so overwhelmed by the way they worshipped that it was quite hard to worship God myself. I wasn't brave enough to go up and dance at the front! I had to leave a bit early (the service can go on for hours) and so Trulene signalled to the pastor that we were leaving, and then to my horror he asked me to come up to the front. It was a big joint service of all the local coloured churches, and I was the only white person! He asked me to introduce myself, and I sqeauked 'I'm Jess', feeling ridiculously English. It was amazing though. There are so many ways to worship God, and I believe He loves all of it, like a parent loves a picture their little child has drawn them. Except that I have to admit, African worship is a very well drawn, colourful beautiful picture!

scared children looking at monkey
Since it's now the school holidays, we took the children to Monkey Town on Monday. A family of six from Texas arrived at the weekend, so we had lots of pairs of hands to help out. Unfortunatey most of the children were traumatised by the monkeys, as we were walking through caged tunnels and they were very loud with sharp pointy teeth ( the monkeys, not the children, hehe) and the lady who was showing us round kept telling us about how they can bite your fingers off. Also, a chimp starting throwing rocks at us, and he had a very good aim. However, we then went to a restaurant overlooking the sea in Gordon's Bay, and the children enjoyed their chicken burgers and chips much more. It was fun just to spend time with them, and they had a little paddle in the sea which turned into a full on drenching. We had to bundle them all, sopping wet and half naked, back into the Combi and put the heater on full to dry them off!

On Tuesday morning, the four of us girls went out with Siphile Sonke, another organisation in Grabouw which hands out food parcels to households who don't currently receive any income and runs support groups, amongst other things. I went out with two ladies and we visited some homes to hand out food parcels and see what other needs people had that Sipile Sonke could meet. The food parcels include rice, sam, cooking oil, flour, Cuppa Soup, stock etc. The first house we visited was the worst that I've ever seen during my time here. It was a cement house, and the walls were black with damp, and within several minutes of standing in there I could feel the damp on my lungs. The sink was leaking so the floor was wet with mud, and the windows in the adjoining room were broken, letting in a cold wind. A couple live there with their children, and the man was ill, lying on the sofa underneath a blanket at the back of the room. It was a desperate situation and I could feel and see the despair in the lady's eyes as the Sipile Sonke ladies carried out their assessment. All I felt I could do, which would mean anything, was to pray with them, which I did.

The conditions which they have to live in are so awful, and the cold and damp breed sickness and depression.  It's easy for me to say that there is hope, when I'm returning to my comfortable life back home, where my room is size of someone's entire house. But it's not just me who says there is hope, it's Jesus. When I prayed in that place I felt the Spirit of God hovering there, and I felt hope. That's what The Village of Hope does- bring hope! It's what countless organisations do around the world, in whatever field of work and sphere of influence they are in. God is working in the economy, in business, in the arts, in music, in international development, in advocacy, in education, in healthcare, in the government, in universities, at bus stops, on football pitches, in theatres, restaurants, clubs, offices, villages, townships, wooden shacks, mansions, cities, in the most unlikely places and ways, and sometimes in the most unlikely people.

So it's time to say goodbye. I'm excited to be going home, because I really do love it, and there's no place like home, and I can't wait to see my family and friends. But I'm sad to leave the children, the house mums, the team, the friends I've made, because I might not see some of them ever again. Life at home is so different to life here, and it's going to feel very strange at first, trying to adjust back. Then there are all the memories of what I've seen, which I hope will always remain with me and shape my choices and decisions in the work that God leads me into, whatever it is.

I know that The Village of Hope will continue to grow, and that the future will bring hundreds of new people to it in years to come. I wonder what changes will take place, and what new direction and opportunities will open up? What will happen in the lives of the people in the community I've encountered? Only God knows! These are the thoughts that are running through my mind in the these last few days.

Goodbye to The Village of Hope, to Tim and Maz and the team, to the children and house mums, to Grabouw, to South Africa. I won't forget you.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Americans

Last Sunday saw the arrival of an American team from Augusta, Georgia, whose church runs short term mission trips twice a year. 8 of the team were staying in the volunteer's unit, whilst the other 6 stayed down the mountain in Somerset West. Their main job while they were here was painting the entire baby unit!- big job as they had to move all the furniture out, and likewise we had to move all the kids out during the day! They did such a great job, and the children were so excited just to have a clean coat of paint on their walls. Personally it was a hard week because I didn't get much sleep and lost the ability to function properly ( I few times I found that I'm been staring with a glazed look at a random object for 5 minutes), but what was really amazing about this team was their love for Jesus, and how He shone out of them in the morning meeting in prayer and worship, and just generally all the time. It's so uplifting when a group of believers come together and you catch glimpses of the Kingdom of God being built, brick by shining brick. It's invisible and yet so palpable,and real.

During the time the team was here, we had to find a way to keep the childrens' hands AWAY FROM THE WALLS! Quite a task as kids like to touch everything. Thankfully we had a few sunny days, but on one rainy day we took the kids to a Play Gymn in Somerset West which we've been to before. It's always a bit traumatic trying to squidge 10 children into carseats, especially as some of the car seats have fastenings that only a puzzle-master could work out. Anyway, after one wrong turning we finally got there and tumbled inside. As usual the children loved it, and the two head house Mums ( Mommy Nettie and Francis) also seemed to be having as much fun as the children!

Mommy Francis enjoying a ball pool fight!

So it was an eventful week , and the team left on Friday morning. On Thursday evening we all went out for a meal at a lovely winery/hotel place (I don't actually know what i was because it was dark outside). I'm sure that they'll be back soon, and who knows how God will use them next in their involvement with the The Village of Hope?...

Monday, 28 May 2012

This week has been quite a challenging one for the team at Village. If you go the Village of Hope blog (which comes up if you type it into Google) you can read about Tim's experiences and feelings as the project manager, and also just simply as a human being with his struggles here in Grabouw. There have been a number of things which have happened this week, the first being that one of the little ones had to go to hospital as he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Thankfully they caught it in the early stages, as it's quite common in Grabouw with air being more damp and poor living conditions for many. He was admitted overnight, and me, Kat and Lauren drove down the mountain on Tuesday night to bring home one of the house mum's who with him at the hospital, whilst Mel had to stay overnight at her friend's and come back in the morning. Fortunately he was able to come home after several days, and he's making a good recovery- he's currently pottering around the garden in the sunshine, looking very perky to say he's been poorly. Me and Mel had taken him to Tygerberg hospital the day before for a routine appointment to do with his ears, so I think he's had quite enough of hospitals for a while!

One of the things that shocked Tim this week was discovering that the lady who I help run Rainbow Smiles, the support group for children with HIV, lives in a house the size of a garden shed, with a leaking roof and no water and electricity. I've been meeting with this woman every week for the past four and a half months, and I would never have guessed that she was living in these difficult conditions, because she's always so well-presented and she never complains. Perhaps there's an underlying assumption that I've made which is wrong, which is to think that because someone is poor means they simply won't be able to present themselves as well as they'd like to, or that they'll aspire to less because they expect less of life. Not everyone is like this, and this lady is a prime example. After seeing her house, Tim wanted to do something to help her fix her roof, which hasn't been placed properly, and so he was going to sort out the materials and pricing for it. However, a few days later, he had an email from a guy who owns a roofing company and has many many sheets of corrugated iron which he doesn't need. So God's provided us with the resources to help her fix her home, and hopefully many others will benefit from these free resources as well.

On Tuesday I went along to help out at sports in Hillside, an area of the townships which is renowned for sexual abusive and an aura of spiritual darkness. At the end of the sessions the girls and boys are divided and the sports team runs a short lesson and discussion on the theme for the week. This week we were talking about HIV awareness, and the girls answered intelligently and had obviously been educated about it at school. The boys, however, were unsettled and rude and Tim had a hard time trying to engage with them as some of them showed little respect and made it difficult. As we drove back, we stopped to collect another sports mentor who'd been running another sports session in another part of the township. He was downcast on the way to sports and told Tim that one os his school friends had been stabbed and killed. When we drew up, the children were sat side by side in a line, listening attentively as he talked, and as we watched we saw a real leader in the making. I don't know him that well at all, but I can sense that he is a person of integrity and strength who God will use to influence and lead in Grabouw and maybe further afield. Only the previous day one of his schoolfriends who was a couple of years below was stabbed and killed, yet he was still out there mentoring, trying to bring the balance back and make a difference.

I'm mainly relaying the experiences of other people in the team. In all honesty, my own experiences come with a mixture of feelings- still there is the lingering guilt and helplessness when I'm confronted with what is the reality of life for many people in Grabouw and in poor communities around the world. Also, although I've been here five months I still experience culture shock...sometimes this foreign place that I'm living and working in still feels so alien- or rather, I feel like an alien! My faith in Jesus has helped me relate and connect to the people I've met, but at other times I still feel like an observer, which is a surreal and disquieting experience. I feel that there is still much more I could do, and that sometimes my heart is still not fully engaging with all the different things I see and hear. That life here is so different that I only manage to the catch the surface with my finger tips, and just as the reality begins to sink in, I lose it and find myself once more bewildered and disorientated. I don't know whether this is normal or not!

Anyway, this week an American team  of 12 have arrived, 8 of which are staying in the volunteer's unit so it's a full house! They're going to be helping to paint the baby unit, which should be interesting as we'll probably spend most of the week trying to keep lots of little sticky hands away from the walls. I'll keep you updated!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

A little adventure

Tradouw Pass
It's taken me a while, once again, to write on my blog, but two weeks ago the four of us (me, Grace, Heather and Katia) set off from the Village on a week of travelling along the Garden Route. We had a great time, and we had no major disasters (unlike the time we managed to break down halfway up the mountain pass in the pitch dark, at midnight, on the way back from a football match and the two Tim's had to come and rescue us!). One of my highlights would be the walk in Wilderness National Park, where we hiked to a beautiful waterfall and swam in it! The landscape in South Africa is incredible, and so vast and spectacular, not to mention varied. One part of our journey took us into semi-desert, with dusty orange plains and scrubland, whilst the Tradouw Pass was full of beautiful soft green mountains dappled in sunlight.

We travelled up the Route 62, stayed over one night in Oudtshoorn, and then went on to stay in Wilderness at a backpackers for four nights, before travelling onto Tsistikamma National Park. We also did some amazing things, like an safari, staying in a safari lodge for the night with two evening game drives as well as a morning one, an adventure tour in the Cango Caves, a canopy tour in the trees, and an elephant interaction at Bufflesdrift Game Reserve!

I feel uncomfortably aware of how lucky we were to go away for the week and have these experiences. With me all the time is the knowledge that we enjoy priviledges all the time, every day, that many people will never have. It makes me appreciate everything more, but I also battle with guilt and confusion.

We returned back to the Village on Sunday, minus one, as Grace left us at Port Elizabeth to continue her travels. We've settled back into Village life- Lauren, who arrived a few weeks ago, has had an interseting time with the paper shredder, which refuses to work for more than a minute, and then needs a twenty minute break! I've been spending time with the children, working on their one-to-one development time, doing the school run, planning for Rainbow Smiles, and helping out with sports. On Tuesday we went to Iraq, one of the poorest informal settlements and Grabouw. It's in Iraq that I sense the presence of God most strongly- I see His Kingdom being built there in a way I've never seen before. Some people would argue that surely, in the face of such poverty, God isn't be present, or how could He allow it? I don't know- all I know is that I see Jesus in the faces of the children, and I feel Him there. There were about forty younger children bounding around the sports area who couldn't play sports as the outreach is for 9years +, so Lauren and I took them over to one side of the pitch, wondering what we were going to do with them all! I was humbled to see that we didn't need to 'do' was enough for the kids that we were just there. We sang the okie cokie in a big circle, and then the chidren took the lead and sang their songs, and we were all dancing. It was amazing. They clamour for your attention and fight over each other to hold your hand, which is heart-breaking. They just want to be loved.

I came back to the Village, had a hot shower (it's now cold and rainy a lot of the time in Grabouw), put on some warm clothes, made a cup of tea, sat down on the sofa, and read my Kindle, thinking of the children we'd left behind who have none of these things. They inspire and humble me beyond words!

Monday, 30 April 2012

The unexplainable

The weekend just gone has been an extra long one, as there was a Bank Holiday on Friday, and there's another one tomorrow! Today is still a working day, and so I've tried to keep busy and productive as I'm feeling guilty about the numerous days we've had off!

On Thursday I accompanied Grace to Cape Town to get her Visas for her travels. We ended up scuttling backwards and forwards between the South African and Mozambique Embassies, looking very harassed (which we were) as we tried to complete the ridiculous requirements of governmental bureaucracy. When we finally returned, we had a quick lunch before heading out to Sports. We drove to one of the farms, which I won't attempt to try and spell, and played some games with the kids who turned up. Some of them are young adults, and it must be very boring for them at times, because although the area in which the live is breathtakingly beautiful, there isn't a lot to do for young people. The sports team are hoping to join the children from the two different farms where the project works into one big group, so that they can mix and also because larger groups work much better.

The Elgin Valley where Grabouw and the surroundings farms are situated

Since it was a public hoiday on Friday, Grace, Heather, Katia and myself drove to Cape Town and visited the Green Market, before walking to a very long street, called (unsurprisingly) Long Street! After our meal, we were walking back down when a lady approached me, and said that she didn't want any money but could I buy her some food. It's not like it is in Britain, where it's easy to be suspicious of people who ask you for money, because here it's much more likely that someone is telling the truth about being very hungry :-(( We went to the shop and she picked up some groceries and thanked me, but as I was coming out, another man approached me, asking me the same thing. He looked just as ragged and desolate as the first lady, but I felt like I couldn't help another person, partly because I was a little suspicious, and partly because I was worried I'd have a whole line of people next. What made it worse was that he had his little girl with him.

I still find it really difficult living in SA, moving between one extreme to another, and feeling like the two are irreconcilable. We do lovely things on the weekend, like eating out and visiting a beautiful winery, but so many will never get this chance, and I feel guilty, not to mention very aware of my own selfishness at times.The injustice in the world rears its ugly head each time we pass the huge township along the N2 as we drive into Cape Town, where people are packed in like sardines in their little patched up houses, trying to hold onto their dignity and their pride. The truth is that injustice is everywhere, I just notice it more here. What's even more startling is that we're part of a human ecosystem which is saturated in it, and so even without realising we play a part in contributing to wealth of the minority and the poverty of thousands.

I know why we let it happen; because our hearts have dark places where selfishness and greed breed exploitation and discrimination. But I don't know why God lets this happen- there's no one, cohesive, encompassing answer to explain and reconcie a loving God with all the pain and hurt...but when I see Jesus, hanging on that cross, the living God manifest in a living body, I know down in my soul that God is in it all, right down to every molecule of the dirt and sweat, the tears and the blood:

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.

1 Samuel 2:8

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


It's not been a particularly action-packed few days, but I thought I'd try keep up the blogging anyway. On Friday me and Grace ran our usual pick up for Rainbow Smiles, driving through the townships and collecting the various children. The kids decorated some cup cakes that Grace and I had made, boys on one table and girls on the other, and you could tell which buns came from which table!

Assisting running Rainbow Smiles with Grace has been eye-opening, because I've caught a small glimpse into the lives of the young people who attend. As well as going through the usual growing pains of puberty (oh the joys of being a teenager :-s) they are trying to come to terms with being HIV+ positive, taking their medication, and the fear that comes with the condition. But sadly, I've only seen a tiny slither of their lives. As well as the language barrier (unsurprisingly, I can't speak Afrikaans!) there is the fact that my upbringing, schooling and surroundings have been so different to theirs that it's difficult to imagine their day to day lives- what do they do in the evening?; what's their home-life like?; what are their dreams, what are their hopes? It's difficult to reach across that divide, and to communicate openly with them. However, they still seem to enjoy coming to the sessions, and Rejioce, who directs the group, is amazing!

This week I've just been pottering around, doing bits and bobs. The four of us (me, Heather, Grace and Katia) went into the unit yesterday evening from 5-7pm whilst the house mums and the rest of the team had a staff meeting. It was chaos...with occasional moments of order! We also celebrated Heather's birthday by going for a meal at a lovely lunchtime restauraunt called Fresh, which serves delicious, freshly-produced food, for very reasonable prices.

The other day we returned a DVD to the video-rental store, and as I walked back to the car I spotted a young guy, who I'd encountered the previous week, asking for money. That time, I didn't have my purse on me so I couldn't give him anything, and it was awful because he was very thin, with haunted eyes and his face drawn in misery, and I knew he was very hungry. This time I gave him some money and asked him his name, but as we drove away I felt I could have done more, by speaking to him for longer, and praying for him. What was worse was that we'd just been out for a lovely meal, and so I had a tummy full of food. You always feel, when confronted by the enormity of the problems, that you could do more, but at the same I know I'm not Superwoman, just Jess. It's difficult to know where to drawn the line between being brave enough to reach out to people and help them, and on the otherhand using discernment in how you help them. He's in my thoughts and prayers often.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The swing of things

I've settled back into Village life following Mum and Dad's departure, and I'm enjoying again being with the children and trying to work constructively in the unit. This week I've planned some more weekly activities, including making some sparkly spiders with the children out of pipecleaners, glitter glue and foam. I also tackled some drawers in the unit which had turned into a jungle of papers and random bits and bobs.
On Tuesday, the four of us girls went along to Grabouw Day Hospital to help the Community Policing Forum (CPF), and organisation which Tim is involved with. We handed out soup in the TB clinic, where people come to receive their medication, some daily and some weekly, depending on their reliability to take their pills on time. I learnt quite a lot about TB, such as the fact that if if the course of medication for initial TB is not taken properly, the disease can then progressively degenerate into Multi-Drug Resistant TB, from which there is no hope of treatment or recovery. TB medication is also best taken with food to help the drug to be absorbed into the body, so the CPF is running a soup/food parcel scheme to encourage people to take the drugs with a meal. Grabouw has one of the highest rates of TB infection in South Africa, which is heartbreaking because it is a preventable disease. The Day Hospital now caters for a town of 60,000 people, whereas only fifteen years ago Grabouw only had a population of 50,000. So it's stretched to its full capacity, daily.
The soupy/rice concoction!

An informative flip-chart about TB

After a few hours at the Day Hopsital we still had quite a lot of food left over, so Tim drove up to Iraq, one of the poorest townships in Grabouw, where we handed out the remainder of the food to the children. We dropped in at a creche, which I've been wanting to visit for some time. It's constructed, like the majority of buildings in Iraq, out of corrugated iron, and the walls inside comprise of opened out cardboard boxes. It's approximately 12 feet by 10 feet, and there's usually about 20 children in attendance, looked after by a lovely lady, her grandchildren and another man. It's quite dark inside, and the pungent smell of stale wee and damp greets you as you step through the doorway. But there are also lots of little beautiful, excitable children, with brown shiny eyes, who also greet you, wanting to take pictures with the camera and to sit on your lap.


wooden platform outside the creche

I've tried to be informative about what I've seen, but the emotional and spiritual effects are really what I want to write about. I think volunteering or working for a charity at grass-roots level can sound really quite heroic, but in reality it's different. I've found, to my discomfort, that my emotions have not responded the way I expected them too. The cold, hard, drudgery of poverty and sickness fills me, not with overwhelming compassion or love, but with a helplessness and depression, and above all a bewilderment about how to respond next. To witness the hardships here and then to return home, and for those memories, people and experiences to slowly fade from my memory as time passes and life settles into a more comfortable pattern, cushioned by so many privileges, is not what I want. But faced with the enormity of the problem, it's difficult to know which way God wants each of us who comes here to go, and how to respond. Ultimately it's not our sole individual efforts but the collective efforts of a community working for Jesus that matters, but a community is made up of individuals who each have their part to play. What part do we  play next?! And even after being here for over three and a half months, I still experience a strange feeling of disconnection when I leave the corrugated iron, pots and pans, the bustle of people, chickens, dogs, the dust, sickness, and colours behind to return to the comfort of The Village. God is equally present within both, yet I struggle to reconcile these two vastly different ways of living out life. I expect it'll be even more difficult to do so when I return home. These are the thoughts that run through my mind regularly.