Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Mercy Air and the Banana Plantation

On Monday our time with Hands at Work came to a close.  As with each group, we had a de-brief with members of staff here, which included sharing our thoughts and experiences from the last 10 days.
On Tuesday, we spent time with Mercy Air, another Link for Life partner. Paul and Cathy Middleton are well known to many at Link for Life.  They come from Walsall and came out to Africa for three years - 25 years ago!  They have been working with Mercy Air for around 16 years. 
Mercy Air provide support to those in need by flying in medical support, church groups and missionaries to the most inaccessible areas (mainly in and around South Africa and Mozambique).  Every day is different for them as it depends on the needs at the time.  They also provide accommodation at their base for those coming in from the mission field to debrief and/or for those who are having an early flight.  Usually Link for Life groups stay there but due to it being full, we have stayed at the Hands at Work hub and commuted to them.
On Wednesday, we accompanied Cathy to a clinic on a banana plantation (not fair trade).  Cathy also works for African School of Missions (ASM) who train nurses and provide medical clinics across the area.  Link for Life teams have attended this clinic for some time but it has reduced in the number of patients recently as the plantation management have changed their policy for families of workers living on the land: so there are fewer people to serve. The last time some of us visited the plantation it was full of patients and there were over 30 children who had been left on the park while their parents were out working in the fields. Today there was only about 10 patients in total and only 2 children that had been left on the park. After some coaxing from her mother a third child did join us while her mum was seeing the nurses and it was quite emotional how long it took this child to come out of her shell. It was particularly emotional for some members of our team who had been before as they felt they had formed bonds with children that had now been sent home.  
The morning was busy.  We helped them set up their stations and cleaned the surrounding areas. The building that the nurses are based at is used as a pub in the evenings and was extremely dusty. Cathy explained that there was originally three stations: anti-natal, children and adults. Unfortunately, due to the change in circumstances they are now only down to two and it was hard to hear that due to the lack of patients it may have to go down to one. This is especially heart-breaking as many of the workers rely on this free medical care. We also heard many stories of the patients going to see witch doctors before seeing a qualified medical professional and in some cases this has dyer effects. Before the nurses start their day they always read some of the word to the patients and invite them to Jesus; after this initial start we were able to swap between playing with the children while their parents were being seen and sitting in some consultations including a neo-natal check and family planning.   

As with Hands at Work and Mercy Air, ASM bring so much comfort to those in need and while they all provide individual services they add up to make a big difference.
Tomorrow we begin our journey home.  We arrive back in the UK on Friday morning and are all looking forward to seeing friends and families.  Each of us will take a different story, experience and memory from this trip and hope that when we return we will see that the hope provided by our partners continues to grow and help those in the most vulnerable places.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Returning to Mafambisa

From the moment we finished our last blog, the skies opened and we witnessed a South African thunderstorm, which was amazingly powerful.  

This morning, we joined with everyone else for Fellowship Friday, which is an opportunity for visitors and staff alike to share experiences and news.  We are currently sharing the hub with a large group from Canada, who have arrived at the hub after a week in Zimbabwe and they told us all about their experiences.
It was also a time to celebrate George Snyman’s birthday.   While singing the South African version of Happy Birthday, people lined up to give him a hug: and with around 50 people, it took some time but was a real celebration.  Following cake and chatting with other guests and members, it was time to set out for Mafambisa.
We had visited Mafambisa on Monday.  It was lovely to be back and to take part in two home visits.  Stacy and Christine visited Go-go Alice*, she is a widow who looks after seven grandchildren, all of whom go to the Care Point.  She has not been well, so one of the children has not been able to go to the care point as they have been looking after her.  She was very welcoming and showed us her garden, the house she is building, and we talked about her role within the household.  She grows maize and takes some back to her Mother in Mozambique she can also feed her family for around nine months of the year.  The community around her will share whatever they have with their neighbours in need and when we were there, her neighbours were dropping of vegetables as they know she is unwell.  
Simon and Laura went on a home visit to see a child that wasn’t well. When we arrived the mother wasn’t there because she was working, and her daughter that wasn’t well was feeling better and was back at school. Her son, however, was in bed because he was ill. He is 28 years old and doesn’t usually live with the rest of the family but had returned because he was told at the hospital that he has kidney problems. His mum is looking after him while he is taking his medication but, because she was at work and his sister who should have come over to look after him hadn’t, he was home alone in bed. We spent some time talking with him and made sure that he was ok. We then prayed with him and left him to rest. Next, we quickly stopped by another home where the government were building them a new home to make space for the family of four who currently reside in a small shack that is exposed to the elements. Finally we stopped by a third home because two of the children had not been to the care point in over two weeks and we wanted to find out why, and to check that everyone was ok. We found that the daughter, who is seventeen, is currently unwell and pregnant. She still seemed high spirited but, hearing her story, it sounds as if the father is not going to be able to support them and so her mother is going to be supporting her. The mother, however, had recently lost her job and so she is looking for work and asked for us to pray that she could find work to help support her family. She shared how she is going to struggle to find work as she is originally from Zimbabwe and so has no official documentation to work in South Africa. The reason the other child had not been to the care point was because he had been spending his time going around the community to help people do jobs to earn some extra money to help his family while his mum isn’t working. Whilst he is only young, he is not attending school as the school has started to suspend students that do not have official documentation. He was told how he could still come to the care point to eat and to collect some food for his sister in a container. It was then really good to see him joining in and playing with other children at the care point later on.
When the children arrived after school, it was the usual fun and games, with football being the favourite of the day.  Having helped to prepare the food before the home visits, the Care Workers had cooked a meal of pap, beans and cabbage and then it was our turn to serve it to the children.  

We left as the children were leaving and drove to the local supermarket (Pick ‘n’ Pay) to buy food for the weekend and snacks for the mini-bus as tomorrow we go to Kruger National Park. On Sunday we are planning a trip to Blyde River Canyon.
We will blog again on Sunday night and let you know about our weekend.
*names changed for safeguarding purposes

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Three days in Swaziland

On Tuesday morning we set off for Swaziland.  Our mini-bus was full to bursting as we also took along five members of the Hands at Work team, two visitors to Hands, food for three days, sleeping bags and overnight bags.
The journey takes about three hours in total, with the Care Point (Msengeni A) about 45 minutes from the boarder.  When we arrived, we were greeted by the children and the Care Workers, and we helped to serve the food.  After which we played games including ‘Red light/Green Light’, ‘River/Dam’ and a game which included following the actions of a one of the group while someone else tried to work out who we were all following.

Then we drove to Shoka House, the accommodation that Hands at Work use in Swaziland.  It is set in a very remote location, part way up a hill which overlooks a wide valley.  To get there it is a bumpy ride long a single track road for about two miles (avg speed 10 mph).  There is no electricity or running water and the toilet facilities are known as a ‘long drop’ (we’ll let you figure that one out).
The next day, we were all up early (there was a very lively Rooster nearby) and set of for the Shoka care point which was the other side of the valley.  The roads in this part of Swaziland are dirt tracks with deep red African soil, and are not really suitable for a mini-bus, but with determination we made it to Shoka in good time (Christine was driving). When we arrived at the Care Point, we helped prepare the food and then accompanied the care workers on home visits. A group of us walked down to the community well at the bottom of the hill and filled some buckets of water.

The home visits are an important part of the Care Workers role. Seeing the most vulnerable people in their homes helps them to assess what their needs are.
Christine and Simon visited a Grandmother whose husband and children had died. She looked after the grandchildren, but they have now left and are working away.  She is very lonely and drinks to fill the void (alcoholism is a big problem in Swaziland). It was incredible to see the Care Workers, by just visiting and spending time getting to know the person they are raising their self-esteem and seeing what their needs are.
Later in the day, we returned to the care point as the children started to arrive. We played some games together, sang songs and prayed together. The children then received their meal of pap, with some soup and beetroot. We then left and returned to Shoka House. When it became dark at 6.00pm we enjoyed watching the sunset over the hills and enjoyed spending time outside looking at the stars. With no electricity and only our torches for light, we became tired really early and most of us ended up in bed by about half 8. 
We spent our last morning at Shoka house packing up the mini-bus and having an emotional debrief from the day before. We then drove back the Msengeni A where we helped the care workers grind nuts, wash up, cut cabbage and prepare the food for the children. After group introductions and prayers for the care workers we split into three different groups to complete more holy home visits.
Simon and Stacy had the pleasure of going to visit a Gogo of a boy that they had actually become well acquainted with two days earlier. While there, they were able to meet the Gogo’s sister who also had come down to visit; they were also offered some beautiful tasting sweet potatoes that she had been cooking. The Gogo made a special request for them to pray for the safe return of her son who had moved away to work – we have found that many Gogos are particularly lonely and very few of their children visit, this is something that I feel that we can learn from in our own lives as visiting grandparents can often be a chore for many of us and it is the little things like spending a bit of time with them that can mean the most.

Monday, 20 August 2018

The Link for Life Trustee Team's first day in Community: Mafambisa

Today was an early start for us all but so Simon as the Men’s Prayer group met at 7am.  We then all came together 8am for the regular Monday morning meeting which include introductions of new teams, visitors and news.  In small groups, we then prayed for three of the eight countries that Hands support these were the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Zimbabwe.  George Synman had recently visited the DRC and had provided a prayer list to help.

We then met with our hosts for our orientation and to talk about the week ahead. 

The service centre team then joined us to make up our team for the day. We had to go via the pharmacy on the way to the care centre as many of the care workers are ill and in need of medicine. Unfortunately, we can easily forget that these care workers have their own problems, whether health or other, but still manage to come to the care centre every day to look after the most vulnerable children in their area. This is the epitome of the sort of work that Jesus advocated for – helping others before yourself. 

Once the children arrived and were waiting for the food to be cooked, we taught them the song ‘Our God is Great Big God’ and they taught us ‘Shine’.  After a time of prayer, it was time for food.  We helped to serve it but unfortunately had to leave early in order to sort out paperwork and travel for Swaziland tomorrow. However, we will be back at Mafambisa Friday and it will be lovely to see some of the children from there again as they are such a loving and friendly community. It was actually a perfect first day.

Due to lacking basic necessities such as electricity, running water and other amenities this will be our last blog for three days but we will be able to update you all on Thursday night with our experiences from Swaziland.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Our first weekend

After a quiet Saturday exploring the local area and getting used to driving the minibus, we had an early start this morning to visit our first South African church.  We went with members of the Hands team, and their families, to the Lighthouse Church Nelspruit. 

The congregation were very warm and welcoming.  The first part of the service was songs, followed by Biblical teaching.  After second set of songs, the sermon was given by Sister Anne who was born in Nelspruit and is now a missionary in Hong Kong so we had an insight into mission both here in Africa and in China. 

The building is brand new and was completed just a few weeks ago.  Prior to this, the church met in a tent.  One of the Hands team said to us that it is a good thing that the building is small as they are a mission church and want to keep sending people out to spread the word and that a large building would mean that people get too comfortable and don’t want to leave!  There were clumps of building materials around the church so there plans for more buildings at some point.

They asked to send their greetings back to our churches.

After lunch, we met up with the Westwood family and some other members of hands for a game of Frisbee which was the under 20s versus the over 20s.  We are pleased to say that the oldies won by a landslide.

Tomorrow Men’s Prayer starts at 7am, team meeting at 8am and then on to our first official community.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Msholozi Clinic and our final days together

On Thursday 16th August some of the team went with Cathy Middleton from Mercy Air to a weekly primary care clinic in a nearby informal settlement called Msholozi.  The clinic was staffed by a team.of nurses from Africa School of Missions Amd it as very busy

The link for life team members were asked to play with the children as they were waiting to see the medical staff. We had some basic toys, building blocks and some paper and crayons.  We were soon on a large mat on the.floor playing with children who were hapoy to join in with anything we offered them.

One of the streets in Msholozi

The ASM clinic in Msholozi

Space to play

Showing off some careful colouring

Things start to get busy

Ready for our flight home

All aboard!
One of the streets in Msholozi

There must have been about 80 patients waiting to see one of the nurses.  Moat of the folk who live in Msholozi are migrants who have come from Mozambique or Swaziland Swaziland or are South African citizens but do not have the papers to prove it.  This means that health care agencies hesitate to take them.on, or charge a lot for a consultation.  The Africa School of Missions treats their patients for free or a minimal 10 Rand (=50p) fee.
The Link for Life Team stayed for the morning session and then returned to the Mercy Air Base to allow time to pack and prepare for the Journey home.

In the evening we shared our final evening meal together which was a BBQ ( or Braii as it is called in South Africa). We each wrote a letter to ourselves, or things that we wanted to remind ourselves about when we return home.  Rose will keep the letters and post them to us in a couple of months.

After breakfast on Friday 17th we shared a final prayer together and a team photo before Andy, Becky, Pauline, Elisha, Molly and Tina got into the mini bus for the journey to Johannesburg and a flight home.  Rose, Richard, Andrew and Sam are staying on for a further week

Our thanks go to all who have helped, given, prayed or followed in the run up to this visit.  We hope that in some small way you will feel that you have been part of Link for Life and the partnerships we are trying to develop with people in such great need. Our thank also, of course, go to God, for all the mercy and kindness we have received and the people we have been privileged to meet. However challenging this visit has been for us as a.teqm.and as individuals, it is nothing compared to the daily struggles which are faced by some of the people we have met. For them we must make sure that our link with them really is a link for life.

The Link for Life Trustee Team arrive in South Africa

Hello all,
We would like to take the time to introduce ourselves.
Pictured left to right is: Stacy, Christine, Laura and Simon.
We finally arrived at Johannesburg this morning after our looooong ten and a half hour flight. We then headed straight for the apartheid museum.   
The Apartheid Museum tells the history of the segregation in South Africa from the 1890s through Codesa agreement in 1994.  It is a fascinating experience including a mix of exhibitions, films, archive material, art installations and, perhaps the most moving, the recreation of the solitary confinement cells.
Some of the group found the experience overwhelming and for others it was a reminder of the news stories they had seen a child.  However, there was hope through the process of the truth and reconciliation commission and the work that continues today. 
Our driver Bruce told us that he was one of the young boys running behind Nelson Mandela when he toured Soweto soon after his release.
We then returned to the airport to liaise with Chasetown team to wish them a good journey home and then jump their mini-bus for the five-hour journey to Hands at Work. Half way we stopped at Alzu for a quick break where we were able to see a watering hole used by rhinos and impalas sheltering under a clump of trees.
Darkness fell at approx. 6pm and we met up with Richard who showed us the way from White River to the Hands at Work Hub. We were met by Angie (one of our Hosts) who showed us to our rooms.
We do not start our mission trip until Monday officially, so we can spend the weekend becoming accustomed to the area, getting to know the other people here.
Please pray for us in what is sure to be a moving experience.