Today was the first full day at Hands at Work for the combined team from Matlosane & Lichfield Diocese. Our time in the community of Share in Bush Buck Ridge, in the north east of South Africa was very special. It is often easy to pull back from situations which we know may cause us hurt or distress - I certainly felt that mixture of emotions ... looking forward to meeting again some of the remarkable care volunteers in Share and the children they care for- but at the same time knowing that I was going to be meeting some children in very difficult circumstances, which would be upsetting.
After a long drive along dusty roads we were able to join with the care team for introductions and worship. It is so good that part of our team comes form Matlosane - since they were able to join in and lead the singing and dancing with great enthusiasm -if we had been all from the UK I think that British reserve might have meant that the opening worship was more subdued. In fact the care centre walls reverberated with joyful African songs and dance with a lovely mix of Tswana, Tsonga and even English too.
After this we split into small groups to accompany the care volunteers on home based care visits, which are a key element of the care for orphaned and vulnerable children which Hands at Work support. In fact the children involved were mainly at school but the care workers faithfully visit the home that the children stay in, to make sure that care givers are both supported and accountable. Being on a care visit feels hard - often it can feel like we are in the way... most of the conversation happens in another language - but experience shows that the care workers know that they are appreciated and valued as we walk with them and try to affirm them in the remarkable work of care that they do.
Each of the groups returned to the care point where some of the care volunteers had started to cook the meal for the children, while the children played in the grounds of the care centre as they arrived from school.
The children seemed to be having a great time... and for the time that they are at the care point they are safe and cared for. This little island of 'normality' is so important as their home situations are often so challenging. All the children who receive care, receive it because they are amongst the most needy and vulnerable in the community- they may be staying with an Aunty, Grandmother or older sibling because of family break up or the death of one or both parents.
The care workers often walk back home with the children, along the dusty roads, so that the children know they are not alone even when they are at home - however hard that may be for them.
Our time today ended with a children playing on tyres (painted and made into a balance game) , skipping and a crazy game of football - in which Rocky, one of the Matlosane team members, showed himself to be a world class goal keeper.
Our journey back was long and dusty but bathed in a beautiful red sunset - we were glad to arrive back at the Hands at Work Hub and enjoy the meal which had been prepared for us... there was then time to talk about the highs and lows of the day before making plans for a return visit to Share tomorrow.
Hopefully we will be able to give our support and encouragement to the children and care workers in the time that we are with them.
(This post expresses the personal viewpoints of Richard Westwood and not Hands at Work, Lichfield Diocese, Matlosane Diocese or the Link for Life Project)