Over the weekend there was a break from home based care visits and a chance to spend more time together as a team, This has been a great thing to do - sharing and discussing our responses to the people we have met and the challenges they face. However, today we visited the communities around the 'town' of Oshoek - a border town between South Africa and Swaziland.
So we set out around 8am for a 3 hour driver though stunning countryside with an overnight bag to transfer to Hlumu Lodge ( a one night stopover for us to allow us to stay near Oshoek). The communities around Oshoek are different from those in Share which we visited - each homestead is a long walk from the next - people are spread out over a wide area.... but the need amongst this area is great.
After prayers and games with children at the feeding point our team split up to join local care volunteers to three different areas of the community. Each group met similar challenges... they witnessed the huge distances which the children have to walk to school - sometimes 2 hour up and down mountain paths. They met care givers with whom the children stay (often a grandparent) ... who are themselves at the very edge of getting by - and poverty at a level which we had not previously seen - homes with no water or electricity. The weather is cold, especially at night in this area with beautiful rolling hills, reminiscent of the Lake District in England... which makes the isolation of the homesteads seem even more bleak somehow.
As we shared stories this evening having returned to our base for the night, there was a sense of amazement and sorrow for the situations and people whom we had met... But in the midst of this unbelievably hard circumstances, the volunteer care workers are not just offering a meal after school to these children (which by itself would be good) ... as well as this they are going to visit the care givers in their homes to encourage and support them so that they can keep going in looking after the children who now stay with them. (Usually the children will have moved to stay with this care giver care because one or both of their parents have died). Remarkably, at the care point the children were delighted to play and be with us - their joy a defiant resistance to the pressing needs and challenges which they face daily.
We will be returning tomorrow to see more of the work which the care workers do and be with them at the care point - no doubt there will be some more games and fun with the children too. We are glad to have Audrey and Simon from Hands at Work with us, as they can translate and explain to us the situations we encounter. Audrey's role is to oversee, train and support the care volunteers and she does a great job.
We hope to be able to tell some of the story of the care workers, children and communities of Oshoek in the coming weeks - they need all the support they can get and Hands at Work is making a real difference in the lives of the children we have met. Hands at Work - doing a remarkable job of supporting some remarkable people, Hopefully more to tell tomorrow