Thursday, 29 March 2012

Peace descends

Oh dear I don't think I've got the hang of blogging- I think it's supposed to be short regular updates rather than fortnightly essays! Well anyway, last week was the Germans final week here, so the Village was a hive of activity, with the whole team beavering away from early in the morning until late at night in their attempts to complete the house they have been building for the last six weeks. It's an eco house, and they've done a great job and put in many many hours of hard manual work. I'm not sure whether the bits of grass sticking out of it are there on purpose or not, but it looks pretty cool. The house will be most probably be used to accomodate volunteers and hopefully it will free up some space in the current volunteer's unit. After one final braai/party on Saturday they left in the dribs and drabs over the weekend, and now it feels very quiet.

Perhaps the peace is also more noticeable because last monday there were riots in Grabouw. There were intiially some riots several weeks back over a school for black children, but last week the issue was tension between the black and colored community. The 'blacks' speak Causa whereas most of the 'coloured' speak Afrikaans, and there is a division between the two communities which I'm afraid of oversimplifying by my limiting understanding... but I think part of the mistrust and tension is residue from the apartheid era, where coloureds were given more priviledges than the black community because of their lighter skin tone. The roads were blocked and the police were out on mass, but I didn't witness any of this as we stayed at the Village all day. It was oppressive knowing that there was violence going on down the road from us, not because we were worried for our own safety (because the Village sheltered at the top of the valley, and is protected by gates, and by God!)but because of our concerns for the people of Grabouw. Since then there hasn't been anymore trouble, but it once again raises awareness of the fragile relations between different races. Riots such as these reinforce the idea that the townships are dangerous and crime-ridden, but the reality is more complicated. Many people smile and wave as you drive through the community, and they are just ordinary people living out their lives. There's a family who we drive past every week when we pick up the children for Rainbow Smiles, who sit outside their house playing dominoes!- mum, dad, aunties, uncles, children, grandparents, and friends. The townships are vibrant, buzzing, close communities, and as with any other community, there lies within a minority of people who express their frustration through violence. The violence and crime is more prevalent and noticeable however because of SA's history :-(

Since then it has calmed down, and the Easter holidays have arrived. The children are off school, so we're trying to keep them entertained with easter activities and some outings. Yesterday they made bunny ears which they enjoyed, although the little ones weren't so keen on wearing them and one little tot accidentally sat on hers. Squashed bunny ears. This morning we took the children to an indoor play area which they loved. I put one of the baby boys in the ball pool and a minute later I could only see two round eyes peering back at me over the balls! Last week Grace and I also took the Rainbow smiles children to the country club, where we played some games and spent time together, which was fun. We're still bumbling along with the club as best we can, but the children really enjoyed last week and we're trying to make it fun for them.

There's now just six volunteers as Lance and Travis, the two Canadian guys who were here for a month, left on Monday. I'll really miss those guys as they felt like brothers- brothers in Christ, and brothers on an emotional level. Homesickness has also often hit me quite hard these last few weeks- sometimes I long for familiarity, and to be able to see my friends and family. I find myself thinking of English fields, little yorkshire pubs, sheep, and drystone walls! But I know I'm in danger of idealising home, and idealising the past. I'm learning to live in the present, let go of what has gone before, and to accept change as the place where God brings new life and growth. I know I'm very lucky to be able to have this experience and I want to be able to make the most of it.

Anyway, another long blog post. For now I'll say bye bye xxxx

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Madness and mayhem

Just to clarify, the title is not a description of the Village of Hope! It's more to give a flavour of the busyness and variety of the week. Last weekend the six of us 'youngsters' (as we are now called) went shark diving. The phrase wasn't one that inspired me with hope to be honest, and I was probably the most dubious about going. I think the correct phrase is 'shark-cage diving', which I wish was the original phrase I'd heard! It was an amazing experience. We had to be there at 8am (can't remember the name of the coastal place), and after a quick breakfast and introduction we boarded the boat and set out to sea. After anchoring about a mile out, we changed into wetsuits and eye masks, and then took it in turns to climb into a specially fitted cage half immersed in the water and attached to the boat, whilst the guides hung shark bait out the side. When they shouted 'Go!' we ducked under the water of the cage and watched the sharks swim past. It was really cool to see them up close, although I still can't say that I really like sharks, what with their massive teeth and the fact that they eat people. But when you're in a cage it's fascinating.

So after an interesting weekend, this week has been a busy one both in the unit and in the sports outreach project. The arrival of first one and then another baby boy added to the unit's numbers, and then towards the end of the week another two boys arrived, although because there isn't enough beds they sleep elsewhere and come to the Village during the day. So that brings the total number of children up to twelve. Adding to that, there's still twenty seven germans scuttling around, feverishly trying to finish the house they're building by next Friday, as well as eight volunteers, the house mums, the dutch sports students and the usual Village team.

On Saturday the Village organised a 'Sports Saturday' for all the children in the townships who regularly attend the sports sessions every afternoon. A lot of the volunteers were busy organising the day with the two sports students for the second half of the week, drawing up scoreboards for the teams who'd be playing, assigning roles, collecting resources and trying to ensure the day would run as smoothly as possible. Which it did! It was held at the country club, and the kids had a great day. There is a sense of tribalism which is tangible between the children of the different squatter camps, as people identify themselves closely with their own territory and there are divisons between the different places in the townships according to race and language. Saying that, I don't believe there was a hostile atmosphere, only healthy rivalry. The girls teams played a netball tournament, whilst the boys played football matches. The upside was that after a day of rain on Friday, it remained mostly dry on Saturday. The downside was that we all got a bit burnt, as none of us expected too much sun.

Another interesting event this week was a fundraising fancy hat tea party for Graceland pre-school, another of Thembalithsa's projects. It was held in a lovely hotel in a beautiful, lush valley, just up the road from the pre-school, and purely from an onlooker's perspective you could easily imagine it to be another priviledged hotel function of South Africa's wealthy, with everybody wearing summer dresses and ornate hats, drinking tea and eating fine food! However, it's cause was to raise money and awareness of Graceland's project, and the hotel had hosted the fundraising event for free! We didn't have a chance to buy any fancy hats, so we made our own fascinator thingies. I got a bit carried away with mine as in the excitement of ribbons and tissue paper and glitter I forgot that I would have to wear it the next day, lol!

Some of the thoughts that have been running through my mind recently are about the immensity of God. Almost daily I think of the verse 'I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.' Grabouw is surrounded by beautiful mountains, and when I feel heavy with the sight of people living in discomfort and dirt, and when instead of the stirrings of compassion my heart feels small, guilty and selfish, I look to the mountains and remember that God is mighty and it's His mighty heart that will change lives and instill hope, not my little one. He is so much bigger than we can ever imagine! I've come to one, relatively small part of South Africa where I'm seeing Him work in a totally new environment, but it's amazing to think that God is working in thousands, millions of communities, villages, towns, and valleys all around the world, and in the hearts of billions of people. And yet although the towering mountains raise my eyes up to the sheer size of God, at the same time Jesus points to the unbreakable intimacy which God has created between us and Himself. He came to earth and lived in dirt and dust like the poor of Grabouw, and in fellowship with other people...just like us.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

They've got the joy..

I've been quite busy as usual at The Village of Hope over the past week and a half. A week ago, Grace and I visited one of Thembalitsha's other project's called 'Bosom Buddies' in Somerset West. The project makes and provides goodie bags for new mothers who have just given birth. The bags contain items that we often take for granted but that for these mums are very useful and not so easily accessible: a baby gro and a little hat, nappies, baby wash etc. Volunteers go into the hospital and talk to the women who have given birth or are just about to give birth. New life is not always something that is celebrated in the local communities, and women often go into hospital alone, so part of what Bosom Buddies does is to affirm these women as new mothers, and to celebrate their baby's arrival into the world. There were some tiny tiny babies, so I was in my element. Didn't get to hold one though!

On Saturday, Grace and I ventured east over the moutains, and were confronted with a starkly contrasting landscape to what we've seen so far. The Elgin Valley, where Grabouw is situated, is very lush and fertile, with green forests and vineyards, framed by mountains. Over the other side of the mountains however, the land is pale, yellow and dry, with mile after mile of flat fields and the mountains crowned against the sky in the distance. It felt like we were in a different country. We visited what I can only describe as a cafe in the middle of an antique/food/homeware/vintage/clothes shop. It sold the most random assortment of practically everything: jam, cheese, spices, teddies, chandeliers, pots, pans, doorknobs, clothes, hats, shoes, wine, stationary, jewellery, tables, chairs, tins, woven baskets, you name it! It was amazing!

On Sunday, a group of us attended a little church in the township called The House of Prayer, on invitation from one of the Thembacare nurses. It was held in a room at the bottom of a house, and the six of us comprised about half of the congregation. The electricity was down, so the band couldn't use the keyboard, but I've never heard worship like it. The women sang with such power, rawness and intensity. They welcomed us and involved us in the service, asking us to give our testiomines about how we gave our lives to Jesus. The presence of the holy spirit was overwhelming in that place of worship. Materially these people have a lot less, but spiritually, they have the unspeakable, deep joy of knowing Jesus, and of being released into the abundance and fulness of life which He brings. They are poor in the worldly sense, but so wealthy in the Spirit! You rarely witness this in Western culture. It's not that they are simply happy- happiness is dependent upon circumstances, and their circumstances are often difficult. Instead, it's the fact that their hope is rooted in the unshakeable love and grace of God in Jesus Christ, and this instills a joy within each person which is unchanging, and which radiates from them :-)

This week I've helped the house mums implement the 1:1 development activities for the children, spent time with the children and have prepared with Grace for the Rainbow Smiles club on Friday. There are now nine volunteers, as the weekend brought the arrival of Katia, followed a few days later by Heather. We're all the same age, and all sharing one room. It's quite a squeeze! But so far it's working well. I forgot to mention that I borrowed Emily's fairylights a while ago, so our room is so pretty! My bunkbed is splurge of pinkness, although thankfully no one seems to mind.

Anyway, I could write more, but I'll save it for my next entry as I've got the school run soon. Love xxxxxxxxxxxxx