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.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


For the past few weeks Mum and Dad have been out in South Africa visiting me in the Village of Hope. It was lovely to have them here with me, although very surreal at the same time as I've been used to seeing them only on Skype with thousands of miles between us. They really embraced South African life and had an amazing time exploring the beautiful landscape, as well as getting to know the children, staff, volunteers, and the project leaders and their friends and family who also came out over Easter.
On Tuesday 3rd we took the children to the Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. There ended up being 9 children and twenty five adults, and I don't know who was more excited! The children loved seeing the jewel-bright fish flitting through the water in all their different sizes and shapes, and it was a great interactive place for children with lots to see and do.

One of the little girls entranced by the fish!

Add caption

During the rest of the week the girls did some other Easter activities with the children, making little Easter baskets and eggs which were then filled with chocolate on Easter Sunday!

Easter festivities!

A very shy bunny

The idea was to 'ration' the chocolate that the children received, as there was loads, but unfortunately I think the spirit of frugality wasn't exactly embraced! It rained all of the Easter Sunday, so we had a very wet braai which Tim prepared in the wood shelter and which we all ate in the children's unit.

Another highlight was the Thembacare service which Tim, Maz, their family, friends, Kat, Pauline  and me, Mum attended, alongside the usual group of Themba nurses who gather every Wednesday afternoon for worship and prayer. Thembacare, if I haven't already explained, is another Thembalithsa project, and is a medical unit and hospice for people in the community suffering with TB, HIV and cancer. The women hold such a deep musicality within them, when they praise God you can feel their souls and the Spirit of God reverberating in the room.  It was an honour to gather with them to worship.

On the first Saturday that Mum and Dad were here, a group of us visited Robben Island. After a pretty choppy boat half and hour boat ride across the to the island we were taken on a guided coach tour around the main sites, before joining our tour guide around the Maximum Security Prison, a man who used to be an ex-prisoner on the island in the 70s. Robben Island is closely associated with Nelson Mandela ofcourse, who was an inmate for nearly two decades, but it functioned as a prison from the 1600s when the Dutch settlers arrived. It was used to isolate severely marginalised groups who posed a risk to society such as those suffering with leprosy, the mentally ill, and in more recent times, political activists. We were shown the solitary confinement house; the limestone quarry where the prisoners were forced to work, and which later became known as 'The University', a place where the men pooled their ideas and where their visions and aspirations were fed by their shared fight against racial, political and economic injustice ; the tiny cells, barely 8 by 7 feet, which until 1975 contained no beds.

Nelson Mandela's cell

South Africa's political history over the last fifty years is a myriad of racial prejudice and tension, most of which I can barely apprehend, but from living in this country for several months, it's clear that there is so much more work to be done. The vision that many of the political prisoners were working towards  was one where there would equal economic opportunities for all- where skin colour would not determine the opportunities a person has in life. I believe it is only God who can bring this vision to the 'Rainbow Nation' in it's entirety, and He is already doing so in many ways. However, the change that is required needs everyone, and not everyone is willing to change!