Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Unrest in the Masoyi area, near White River

This morning several employees at Mercy Air were not able to get to work because of unrest in the Masoyi area yesterday and today. The protestors are objecting to the slow response of the government to provide adequate water and electricity to their area. Masoyi where the Hands S.A. hub is sited, has a population of a quarter of a million people and is the informal settlement near White River. Unemployment rates are very high as are levels of HIV infection. Most of the side roads are still dirt roads so that accessing them to supply water and electricity is difficult. President Zuma has referred to the service delivery difficulties in his state of the nation address last week. This may have prompted this protest and roads have been closed by the police.

The road to the School of Health department of Africa School of Missions was still open (Peebles Road) though the road is closed beyond that into Masoyi.  Numbi gate is closed which will affect tourists planning to visit Kruger National Park. I assume also that Hands village on the Peebles Road will be affected as the staff there may be unable to visit the communities they support in the local area.

Cathy and her colleagues teach the student nurses at ASM and provide a clinic for local people. People of all ages come to the clinic with whatever medical needs they have. There is no appointment system and people wait to be seen on a first come first served basis. (Unless there is an emergency of course.) The nursing staff refer on to the hospital as appropriate.
At this clinic the student nurses get the clinical experience they need under the guidance of their teaching staff. Most of this year’s cohort come from the local community…Masoyi…..and will probably work in their community when they qualify.

On Wednesdays, medication and medical equipment is loaded into a trailer and is taken to a private farm in the Kiepersol/Hazyview area. Here the staff and students see employees from the farm (a banana and avocado farm) and their families. Anyone in need of anti-natal care, HIV/AIDS advice and treatment or other medical needs can access the service provided they can get the time off work.
It is here that we have met the migrant workers, the men and women who live and work 20 or 30 km away from their families only returning to their families once a month for a long weekend. The housing is very poor and overcrowding is common.
Pre-school children stay with their mothers on the farm and are cared for during the day by child care workers. As soon as the children reach school age they stay with family….if they have any…..back in their home community as there are no schools available for them near the farm. The mother continues to work on the farm; this leaves her school-age children vulnerable in the home community. These might then become the vulnerable children we visit alongside the orphans in the villages.

Last year I met a lady,let’s call her Mary. She was lying on the floor with severe abdominal pain. She had four children living at home in Bush Buck Ridge (about 30 km away) with her brother while she worked on the farm. She had no parents to care for her children only her brother. She saw her children only once a month and she said it was hard. She was in a lot of pain and was assessed by the nursing staff and then an ambulance was called to take her to hospital. We don’t know the outcome as follow up is impossible unless the person can return to the clinic to let the nurses know how they are and this is unlikely.
The mobile clinic is vital for maintaining the health of the farm workers because they would be unlikely to travel off the farm to access the clinics in the town.

Tomorrow, Cathy would normally meet her colleagues at the Mobile Clinic on the farm but if, as expected, more roads are closed, the clinic will have to be cancelled. Not only will the trailer be unable to leave ASM but some student nurses and interpreters who rely on buses and who live in Masoyi will also be unable to get to work.

It is very hot here and we have access to hot and cold running water at Mercy Air but 15km away people are protesting because so many of them have an inadequate water supply. Who can blame them for protesting?

Friday, 10 February 2012

The Gardener

 7 Feb 2012.... Rose writing...

Today I began to see how difficult it is to try to help someone out of poverty.
A friend who lives here recently had a brief conversation with a car park attendant. It is customary here to pay the car park attendant a small amount of money to keep an eye on your car while you are away. He asked her if she had any work for him in her garden. He told her that he was not able to earn enough to feed his wife and two children and needed work. She felt she needed to seriously consider employing him. In deciding to do this she was taking a risk. He was a complete stranger and his story might be false. She risked giving him the opportunity to steal from her home.
She had a number of telephone calls with him and then today she met him at a nearby traffic junction and brought him home to see the garden. She had agreed to take him on for a trial period for one day a week.
I saw him arrive and felt for him so much. He had dressed smartly and carried a small bag containing work clothes and a phone.
He was extremely polite and listened carefully to the instructions. He changed into his work clothes and then worked hard all day pruning and weeding.
He told us that his wife had gone back to her family in Bushbuck Ridge with their two children because he was no longer able to feed them in their family home in Masoyi. He returned to Bush Buck Ridge (about 2 hours drive) each weekend with any money he had earned to feed his family.

At one point he seemed to feel unwell and my friend soon realised he had shingles. She encouraged him to go to the clinic later this week to get help.

This situation made me realise that my friend’s responsibility did not end once she had paid him for the day’s work, she also needed to help him with his medical needs and he was happy to accept this help.
She had taken a risk but he seemed trustworthy. He is desperate to do a good job and put her in touch with someone who would give a good reference and showed her his ID.
My friend has shown compassion and has made herself vulnerable. She has reached out to a stranger and has decided to trust him. She will need to continue to be wise as she gets to know him. He too has taken his responsibility as a father seriously. He could so easily have cut off all contact with his family and turned to stealing to feed himself. I hope this agreement works out for them both and that he can begin to rebuild his family life.
Rose 7.2.12

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Our last few days at Hands

When we arrived back at Hands Village after our few days at Hluvukani, we were able to enjoy a few days’ rest. Richard went immediately on to Klerksdorp but Andrew, Sam and I stayed at the Village to rest.
Hands Village is made up of about a dozen or so small one story houses. Long term volunteers live in these houses. Short term visitors like us stay in four bedded rooms with shared male and female toilet and shower blocks. We share a kitchen and dining room which is also used as a meeting room. We are allocated cupboard and fridge space for food.
There are not many short term volunteers here at the moment so our part of the site seems really quiet. More visitors are arriving soon and I believe the rooms and the farm (Sanderson House) are fully booked later on in the year.
Even though we would only be staying at Hands for a matter of days, we were included in the invitation to a barbeque (braai) to celebrate a birthday party on Saturday.
We joined the other long term staff at a small lake a short drive from Hands. The sun was hot so we stayed in the shade eating and talking while the boys fished in the lake.
The conversation was very interesting because the Hands volunteers come from all over the world and so inevitably conversation turns to the differences between the cultures and the words used for things.
These people have all been called from their lives in their own countries and have found themselves living together. They work as a team or as a body to seek out the neediest children and to facilitate the local community to support them so that they can continue to live in their own homes.

Our family and the members of the teams we bring out each year are also part of this body and though we don’t work daily with Hands, we have a responsibility to be advocates for the children so that their voices can be heard.


Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Richard – 1 Feb 2012 - Visiting the forgotten ones - Hluvukani

Tinyika, Audrey, Hector and Richard

 It was clear as we woke this morning that today was going to be really hot.  So after breakfast we lathered ourselves with sunscreen and insect repellent (who needs chanel?) and set out for Hluvukani.

We met with Audrey, Tinyika and Hector- (all Hands at Work area co-ordinators for this region) and then went to visit the homes of orphaned and vulnerable children.
But our first call was to Elsie’s home, who is the leader of care volunteers for “Clare A” (one of the villages of Hluvukani).   We were welcomed in to her home and introduced to her husband Thomas- who was unwell and off work.  He asked what we were doing, and Audrey the care co-ordinator answered in Tsonga (the local language) on our behalf.  She explained that we had come to see the great work which his wife Elsie was doing in the community, and that this work was what we believed the Bible says we should do.  Thomas was impressed and said he gave his permission for Elsie to carry on doing this work.  Though we often feel helpless on home based care visits, this was one occasion when we might have helped one care volunteer receive “licence” from her husband to carry on her work.  Yesterday we heard how some husbands of care workers are angry at their wives spending time out of the home, but not bringing in any money.

In the homes we visited there was often a grandmother figure (a “Gogo”) who tried her best to look after the children’s needs. But often they don’t have the resources themselves to provide the food (and money for school uniform) which children need.  Hands@Work provide the volunteer care workers with funds so that they can give each orphaned and vulnerable child a hot meal (Mon – Fri)  and also help with uniform.   It seems that without this help from Hands@Work many of the children would be forgotten.  In this village (Clare A) 86 children are visited by volunteer care workers and receive help through the feeding programme, when it runs.  Hands@Work does not have the funds to help all the time, so when the money is not available, the feeding programme stops.

As we walked (slowly because of the mid afternoon sun) between homes, the children were turning out from school.  It was heartbreaking to see some of the orphaned children amongst their peers.  We could sense (and sometimes see) the difficulties they face each day.  How many of them go to school hungry, because there is no food in the house?  Some have no “Gogo” and so there is no-one at home.  This makes them even more vulnerable?

The questions about all this tumble out of my mind… and even though I have seen these things before, I am stunned at the fractured and fragile nature of many of the lives of the children we have met.   Why is the church not doing more?   There are churches aplenty- with good attendance?  Perhaps it is a blind spot… and I guess that a visitor to our churches and communities could point out to us our blind spots too.

Perhaps the best thing I/we can do is to let others know about these children and to speak up for them, and give to Hands@Work so that these sort of care programmes can grow and thrive so that the children can too.  That is for the future though, not for today’s visit.

I may seem that our coming here seems to do little to relieve the situations of these children.  But I believe that it does at least one tiny thing- it does let them know that they, and the volunteer care workers who help them, are not forgotten.