Friday, 16 June 2017

Bhandeni, Swaziland - Revival night, Tues 13 June and a long Walk to School, Wed 14th June

A panorama view from the Care Point in Bhandeni
 Waking up in the natural beauty of Swaziland on Tuesday 13th June was a remarkable privilege.  The border with Mozambique was a few hundred metres from the care point and the stunning sky of the night before only added to the amazement that many of us felt.  It was so beautiful here, and yet so broken.  There are many causes of Bhandeni being such a needy place- but for the people who live there, the luxury of analysing the problem does not exist.  They simply have to deal with it - they do not have the power or abilty to challenge the causes of their struggle.
The most remarkable people here are the care volunteers - who are themselves, by any standard, poor and needy.  Yet they find energy, concern and love to visit the families and homesteads of vulnerable children.  Hands at Work in Africa support these people - help them to help each other within relationship groups where there is prayer and care for one another.  Hands at Work provide food and resources to help the care volunteers feed the most needy children  - which the care workers do every day as the children return from their monster walk from school.

The remarkable care volunteers of Bhandeni
As we woke in Bhandeni and enjoyed a cup of coffee, it felt like a luxurious thing. Perhaps it is in that context!  We met with the care volunteers as they arrived at the care point - shared needs with the help of Vusi, Lerato and Lebo and then prayed for one another.  We sang and danced to a Siswati worship song and prepared to go with the care volunteers on holy home visits.

We split into two groups, each with a care volunteer and someone who could translate into English for us and walked on the dusty, uneven roads in the hot Swaziland sun.  Both the visits our group went to had a similar setting, a compound gated with a makeshift fence of wire and branches pushed into the groud as fence posts, leading into a homestead where several groups of the same extended family lived. At the second house the three children of the home were away fetching water - a long walk with a wheelbarrow from the borehole which supplies the whole village.  The mother of the house was so pleased to see us and presented us with a plate of cooked cassava to share... this was all the more generous as earlier in the conversation we had talked about how the harvest had been for her and she had said it was not so good, and pointed to the hut which served as a grain store.  Her generosity and welcome was so humbling to receive.
Dusk at Bhandeni

Returning to the care point, we found a number of children had already arrived and were collecting their food in turn and joining in with play activities.  Some of the children were less withdrawn and less and were uncertain of us than they had been the day before, and after a while they were happy to join in with the games with the care volunteers and the rest of us. 

After the children had eaten, we too shared the  meal which they had enjoyed, rice, sugar beans, beetroot and cabbage - all eaten with fingers and all delicious.

Waiting for Revival
As the light faded and playing with a ball became pretty impossible, we moved inside the care point - which was now lit by candles and it had a carol service fell about it.  As time went on we were joined by what felt like most of the village, who came to join in Siswati worship songs, prayers and to hear a talk given by Rosanne -about how Jesus calls us to be light to the world in a dark place.  Rosanne encouraged us all to love as fully as we can, to love our neigbour and in this way to be what Jesus has in mind for us and the world.  This was all translated into Siswati- the singing and worship led enthusiastically by some of children who had been fed at the care point that same evening.
We headed for bed, knowing we would be up early to walk to school with the children from their homes to their nearest school.

Some of the children after the revival night
The next day we rose at about 4.15am while it was still fully dark to get ready and walk to meet some of the children at their homes and walk with them to school.  The rough mountain track which we had driven up two days earlier became our path, and for two hours, we walked at a very brisk pace, set by the children, to cover the approximately  10km (4 mile)  walk to school.  We were all stunned by the distance, and the terrain, and the dark - and we were doing it by choice, for one day.  The children, some as young as seven years old, do this walk every day in the dark and then, do it again in the heat of the afternoon, up the mountain track.  After leaving the children at the school gate we continued on to the Police compound where we had left our mini bus, and ate the left overs we could find in our food box, in the pick up truck which had carried out packs down the mountain.  Hungry, tired and in admiration of the children of Bhandeni, we rested before setting out for the Hands at Work hub in White River, South Africa.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Bhandeni, Swaziland - Monday 12 & Tuesday 13th June

After and excellent, but very full, weekend with the young leaders of the community of Oshoek in South Africa - we needed to get ready to go to Bhandeni in Swaziland.  Before we could prepare though, we needed to transport the young people back to their home areas.  This was eye opening.

A couple of miles up the road seemed a straightforward drive, but we then needed to turn off down dirt roads in the fading light to remote homesteads and houses.  A 20 minute drive, off road, underlined to us what a struggle these children have to get to school, and to the care poitns where they receive support from the care volunteers, including Nesta and Anita.  The care point is also where they are also the givers of support to the children who are younger than themselves. 

As we gathered at the end of the weekend we were tired and slept well - thankful for a warm sleeping bag and a good shelter - Oshoek is a place of rolling mountains and hills and the temperature drops at night.

Oshoek Dawn
An early start on Monday 12th allowed us to see a beautiful sunrise before crossing the border into Swaziland.We had been joined by Vusi, a wonderful South African worker for Hands at Work who had been doing the very hard work of forging new partnerships with needy communities in Osheok and in Swaziland.  Along with Devon, a Canadian volunteer, he had been helping to set up home based care in the community we were about to visit. So our team was a real mixture now- the blended team was now twelve... nine from Lichfiled and Matlosane Diocese plus Devon (Canada), Vusi ( South Africa) and Lerato ( a young female volunteer from Johannesburg).

  The temperature rose as we travelled east towards the border with Mozambique and the border town of Lomahasha.  We left the mini bus and trailer in a police compound for security and transferred to 4 wheen drive trucks. One of which had been driven from Oshoek by Vusi, the other was gnerously driven for us by a local young man in Lomahasha.

With our gear packed in and around us, we began a journey up and over a number of substantial hills, with  the road more like a wide mountain track.  There was no way that a regular car would have made the journey.  The journey took about 20 minutes and as we went on and on, we began to realise why Hands at Work in Africa had begun to work with the community in Bhandeni.  It was so far from any main area of commerce and 'development' and as we went further along the difficulties for the people living there became more obvious.  Living in Bhandeni, must feel like the country and the world has forgotten you.

Zodwa (one of the care volunteers) cleans the cooking area
When we arrived at the care point we were met by some smiling but tired care volunteers, cleaning pots and making a fire to cook the evening meal for the the fifty children who would come to the care centre, for a meal, care and play... after their two hour (!) walk back home from school along the same roads and mountaintracks which we had driven up in a 4x4.

After introductions and a shared sandwich lunch we went into the community to walk with the care workers to do Holy Home Visits, the format of which were now familiar to us... A greeting, and unhurried conversation, with he care volunteer seeking to be open to prompting of the Holy Spirit as to what the needs of the children in the family might be, perhaps practical, emotional or spiritual... but always with a view to encrouage and support - and always ending with prayer for the family.

Some of us were able to visit the son of one of the main care volunteers - Xholani (* not his real name).  He was 32 and was in bed, painfully thin, and had been suffering with an unknown stomach complaint. He had spent a week in hospital and been discharged, but was clearly still in pain, and the medication he had been given had run out and the family could not afford any more.  Sheila (who used to be a nurse) listened to his symptoms and thought he had suffered from some kind of hernia of the bowel

He was glad of our vist and brightened as we talked to him with the help of Lorato who translated for us.  We prayed earnestly with him that God would heal him and as we left could not help thinking of how any of us from the UK with similar ailments would have received good medical care through our NHS and would not have had to worry about whether we could afford the hospital stay, or the cost of transport to the clinic.

Playing in the sand and dust at the care point in Bhandeni
As we arrived back at the care point,  children had begun to arrive from school and were being fed. We chatted with them with the broken Siswati phrases we had learned and there was a mixure of delight and concern as we played with them in the fading light of the beautiful mountain setting- knowing that their need of affection and care was so real.  This was a community that seemed to have been bypassed by the improvements of life which many of us take for granted. 

RUSF - food supplement packs
 There was no electricity at the care point.  Drinking water needed to be collected from a borehole a good distance away, and many of the children were barefoot.  For the first time in any community I had visited with Hands at Work, I saw that some of the children had been given food supplement packs - provided by Hands at Work follwing hte severe drought whcih the community had suffered in 2015/16 . 

Rosanne gives a cuddle

Our heads were spinning at the questions as to why it was like this.  A mountain setting like this in Europe, with a warm climate such as this, would be a prime sight... but here was a community which had been forgotten until Hands at Work had asked in the neighbourhoods about where the most vulnerable community was.

Val makes friends

We ended the day sharing in the delicious food [Pap(maize porridge), beans, and cabbage] which the care workers had prepared for the children using ingredients provided by Hands at Work.  As we prayed together to close the day we knew we were prvileged to be amongst this fragile community as, with the unique help of Hands at Work in Africa, small but significant help was being given and change brought about.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Saturday 10th & Sunday 11th June - Oshoek Young Leaders Training

On our journey to Oshoek
 This weekend the team participated in a weekend for potential youth leaders in Oshoek. We set out bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6am to make the three hour journey across stunning landscapes to Oshoek. On arrival we were welcomed by sixteen enthusiastic youth, four care workers and a number of Hands at Work volunteers who would be leading the weekend. As we entered some of the youth were huddled around the stove fire eating jam and peanut butter sandwiches and a hot drink. Our first session was a fun game to learn names and with much hilarity followed by beautiful lively worship. It amazed us how fantastic worship and praise could sound with only voices and clapping.

The purpose of the weekend was to encourage servant heart leadership in youth from the local communities and care workers who serve at the local care points. The Hands at Work volunteers who delivered these sessions did this through interactive play, activities and drama. It was a privilege for us the UK/Matlosane team to come along side the youth and observe their insights on what they see at their care points and ideas of how to improve situations. The focus on the Saturday was on building relationships with one another. While the focus on the Sunday was exploring Jesus' model on servant leadership through Matthew 20:28.

Oshoek youth leaders, the Hands at Work team and us
Some games for learning trust...

One of the highlights of the weekend was witnessing how quickly the youth engaged and expressed very considered opinions on the change they wanted to be and see in their communities. For example, when a youth expressed their challenge around lack of equipment to play games and a team leader modelled a game that could be played without equipment for all ages, it was wonderful to see their eyes light up at the possibilities they could take back to their care point. In addition, it was a real revelation to see all the hard work that the care workers put into providing meals for the youth in their care. And again, being involved in preparing and cooking the food taught us cultural differences on how we cook the same vegetables e.g. cabbage, beetroot, butternut squash. In fact we're hoping to put some of the recipes on the blog at a later date.

Do you trust me?
Also it was good to see the youth unpack servant leadership qualities which were written on paper leaves that were then stuck on a tree that had been prepared by the team earlier. Later on in the day, the youth had an opportunity through role play showed how they might exhibit such leadership qualities at their care points. They further had discussion groups around situations which encouraged, challenged and confused them. In the final session the youth made commitments to how they will be the change in their care points and there was an opportunity for their care workers to pray for them and commission them in service, this was a very powerful moment with a true sense of the holy spirit moving. This was a weekend packed with lots of drama, fun, laughter, learning and fellowship. And, our prayer is that these youth and care workers will use all that they learnt and experienced over this weekend to grow in Christ and become the servant leaders that God has called them to be.


Friday, 9 June 2017

Friday 9th June

Friday 9th June

Today began cool and cloudy - a good preparation for our time in Oshoek over the weekend which is apparently going to be freezing!!

Friday morning is a time when the entire Hands at Work family gather together for their 'Going Deeper' session, a time for Bible study, sharing and for deepening their discipleship. This morning we as a team had the opportunity to feed back some of our experiences, with Yvonne, Val and Letlhogonolo giving a word of encouragement to the Hands at Work volunteers. Richard then shared a word on John 6:8-13    encouraging us to consider deeply the Kingdom of God and our part in building this. As the meeting ended our team and the Hands volunteers who are leading the Youth Camp in Oshoek over the weekend received prayer and commissioning.

The remainder of the day was a very welcome rest time - most of us chose to spend this searching for animals in the nearby Kruger National Park! We had a very successful search despite only entering the park at 12 noon. During the following three hours we saw warthogs, monkeys, hippos, giraffe, many species of deer and antelope, and a whole elephant family who stood only a few metres from the minibus, the babies gallivanting together!

Returning to the Hub we dropped in at the local supermarket to pick up supplies for our coming adventure in Oshoek and Swaziland and we are now heading to bed (very early!) as we are leaving at 6am tomorrow to make the long journey down to the Swazi border!

We are not sure when we will next be able to update the blog, but we will be glad of your prayers for the youth weekend in Oshoek and the visit to Bhandeni in Swaziland. 

Rosanne Wilshire

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Share - Thursday, 8th June

Share       Thursday, 8th June

Today was very demanding. We started out in the minibus to Share at 9am and
arrived  just before midday.  The temperature was above 30 degrees.
When we had been greeted with enthusiasm by the care volunteers and we had helped prepare vegetables we all shared a most free and exuberant time of worship together. 
If you would like a taste of it, you can click here listen to the singing of one of the songs we sang.

After worship we divided up into teams; one team remaining at the Care Point and
the others, in teams of two together with a Hands at Work representative to translate and two care volunteers, made Holy home visits.

Sheila and Val went with Floyd from Care (who was originally helped by Hands at
Work and is now training to carry on the work among the communities) and care volunteers, Promotion and Violet.  We visited a young woman called Constance* (not her real name)   Constance has three sons, 17, 8 and 6. Her eldest son was working hard in the garden
Yvonne helps serve food at the care point in Share
while the other two boys were at the Care Point.   We were able to talk to the mother quite easily as her English was very good.  Floyd explained to us after the visit that she had a husband in Mozambique but he was unable to come over because he did not have the necessary papers. At present they are not receiving any financial support from him.  Floyd also told us that she was very ill and that was why Hands at Work were supporting her and her family. All three sons were given a hot meal each day at the Care Point.

Rosanne makes a new friend
At 2.30 pm we joined the care volunteers and the children for a time of worship.  Lebo, one of the team gave a word of encouragement especially for the children from
2 Timothy 3: 10 - 15 exhorting them to hold firm to what they had been taught about the Lord Jesus.  They were then served with their meal which we shared with them and then it was time to leave for our long journey back to Hands at Work

After four days of visits to different communities we are very tired but we are grateful that we have been to see the wonderful work that the care volunteers do, and the vital role that Hands at Work fulfil in supporting them.

Val Cox
Sheila Bott

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Siyathuthuka - Wednesday 7th June 2017

 Siyathuthuka - Wednesday 7th June 2017

This morning the team met with Dan, one of the Regional Support Team, who explained the Hands at Work in Africa "Wall" .......showing the different parts of the care they seek to offer.

We then left to visit the Care Point at Siyathuthuka.  The Care Volunteers gave us a very warm welcome and after introductions shared a time of worship including a word of encouragement for the Volunteers from Debbie and  Letlhogonolo.  The Care Volunteers arrive each day and prepare a hot meal for 81 children.  Today the meal consisted of chicken feet, pap and braised beetroot which we all shared with them.
Before lunch the team divided up into three teams: two of which went on 'Holy Home Visits' and the other remained at the Care Point to play with the children which included ball games, simple maths and colouring in postcards.  The colouring in was a real hit and kept the children engrossed for some time. 

Walking to a Holy Home Visit
The visiting teams each undertook two Holy home visits:

One visit was to a Gogo (grandmother) Gina* who was looking after  5 year old granddaughter. Gogo Gina's daughter had had a mental breakdown after the birth.
The father had left the family home and gone overseas.  Gogo Gina is caring for her granddaughter out of her meagre state pension and has been trying for five years to get help from the government.  The granddaughter attends the Care Point for a hot meal each day and as she was unable to attend today due to not feeling well a meal was sent to the home.  The Care Volunteer was trying to support Gogo Gina in her efforts to claim help from the government in order to be able to continue to provide for her granddaughter.

A drink for one of the children
Another of the visits was to Priscilla, a mother of 10 children.  Priscilla had been a Care volunteer at the Care Point for seven years but was no longer able to fulfil this role .This caused her great distress and we attempted to support and encourage her. We prayed for her situation before we left.

The children at the Care Point were served with their meal at 2.30pm after a time of
worship and prayer.  The children willingly take part in the worship often leading the bible reading, singing and prayer.  Today we were joined by Pastor Moses who interacted very much with the children in their play and their worship. It was really encouraging to see a local church leader supporting the work of the care volunteers.

The children wash their plates after they have eaten and take part in games, especially football.

Letlhogonolo hard at work washing up
The Care Point is a safe place for the children  who are otherwise in a very vulnerable place both in their homes and in the wider community.  They are able to smile when they are given some attention and love, but it easy to see that behind their smiles are hidden hurts and experiences.   This only goes to underline the vital importance of the work of the care volunteers at Siyathuthuka and of Hands at Work who support them.

Sheila Bott
Val Cox

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Tuesday 6th June - A lovely breakfast and a visit to Sommerset

Tuesday 6 June

To give you a taste of Sommerset we have uploaded a video of some of the worship when we met with the children and care volunteers.  The song is a Tswana song with the meaning  'This is a Happy Day of God'

This morning we were invited to one of the long term volunteers houses where we worshipped and prayed together before sharing a beautiful bring and share breakfast. This gave us the opportunity of getting to know the women at the Hands village and them getting to know us. We then came back to together as a team where we met Nyiko, Patricia and Gugu who accompanied us to the Sommerset community.

The care point at Sommerset
Once we arrived in the community, we undertook a 'Holy Home Visit' to the home of three of the children who attend the Care Point. [A Holy Home Visit is where care volunteers visit a home, adn seek to be open to the prompting of God's Spirit and be His agents of care whilst in the home]. The mother of the children was not at home as she had walked to the clinic with her month old baby for a check-up. The three children were at home with their seventeen year old aunt who lived in the home.

Debbie stirs the pap and Letlhogonolo supervises with Ma Thabisile
We were given permission to enter the house and were shocked to see what little the family had. The Care Worker immediately identified an urgent need as the family had only a single mattress and a single blanket. Having brought my own blanket from home in Coligny in North West Province for our time at White River it was particularly difficult to observe such a level of need, particularly during this winter season. We found it hard to resist the urge to simply donate the money for these items but were reassured that the Care Worker would organise provision through Hands at Work.  
Food is good!

We were concerned to find that the two boys seemed extremely shy and initially anxious at our presence. This is such a contrast with the children we have encountered at the Care Point. There might have been many reasons for this behaviour but we were pleased to see that by the end of the visit the younger of the two boys seemed more confident and happy to be with us.

During the visit we had the opportunity to ask the three children about their hopes and dreams for the future. We were surprised that they had high aspirations, one wanting to become a doctor, one a teacher and the last a geomorphologist! We tried to encourage them in these dreams and we were also encouraged to know that they had these aspirations despite their challenging circumstances.

At the end of the visit we walked back with the children they played with a tennis ball all the way to the Care Centre where they received a hot meal of pap, sauce and salad. This visit really brought home to us the importance of the work that Hands at Work are doing in this fractured community and the hope they bring to its vulnerable children.

 Lebogang Senatla
Yvonne Twigger 
Cathy Mark

Monday, 5 June 2017

Monday 5th June - Visit to Care Point in Mluti

Monday 5th June

Visit to Care Point in Mluti

As we woke on our first full day here in South Africa we were amazed by the sounds and sights of Africa. We were met by a beautiful sunrise and a sunny warm day.

The day began with a meeting together of the whole Hands at Work family for their regular Monday morning prayer meeting. Between 40 and 50 staff and volunteers from the age of 4 weeks to over 70 filled the room to share news, amazing worship and prayer. Shiela made the mistake of admitting a significant birthday last week which resulted in a 'Hands style' Birthday greeting, which involved much singing and hugging by everyone present!

The main plan for the day was to visit a community care point in Mluti, around 45 minutes away from the Hub. Guiding us on this visit was Dan Waspe, a long-serving volunteer with Hands along with Patricia and Nyiko local volunteers. Prior to travelling to the visit, we met together to learn about the community we would be visiting. We learned that Mluti has some severe challenges such as a lack of piped water supply and significant social problems.

Joyce, Busi and Catherine
Dinner time
On arrival at the centre we met two amazing women, Catherine and Joyce, who are care workers single-handedly caring for 35 children between the ages of 2 and 20 years. We learned that Catherine rises early every morning to set the fire and prepare a hot meal for the children. After they've eaten she, along with Joyce, then walks long distances to visit the children in their own homes. We were overwhelmed by the care worker's love, servant heart and seemingly endless energy for the children.

During our time at the centre we spent time worshipping with the care workers, helping serve the meal and playing crazy games with the children. We witnessed how faith is made very real and relevant to the children, the children themselves sharing and discussing scripture, sharing worship and prayer together before eating.

Fun with bubbles!
This visit opened our eyes not only to the vulnerability and challenges these children face, but also to the love, friendship, and deep relationships shared between the children and the care workers. This really is an amazing place.

Debbie and Ros

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Safe arrival but disturbing news from London

We are glad to have arrived safely at the Hands at Work hub in White River.
Our flight was good and we were really happy to meet Cathy Mark and the two members of our team from Matlosane - Lebogang and Letlhogonolo. They had been brought to the airport to meet us by Bishop Steve Diseko, so we were given a warm Africa welcome as soon as we emerged from the arrivals area.

After a long flight it was good to know that we didn't need to drive, as we were taken from O R Tambo airport to White River by our driver, Andrew... but he told us the shocking news of the London Bridge terror attack.

We are still trying to make sense of the news really - but we are aware that the people who did this must be so full of hate and so closed to love and kindness. Whoever gives them such hateful teaching is as guilty as the people who carry it out.

It has made me think about how we respond to such acts.  We can feel powerless- as though there is. nothing we can do... but this is not true.

We can, and must, choose to live in the opposite spirit to those who sow seeds of hate and carry out acts of violence. And we can do this wherever we are.

Tomorrow we will be visiting some vulnerable children and young people in the community of Mluti,  and we will meet the people who give themselves as volunteers to care for them with the support of Hands at Work. They are living in the opposite spirit to those who discard their lives and take others with them.  I find their giving of their lives an inspiration, the very opposite of the reaction I feel toward those who kill and murder in the name of their supposed religion.

Whether we are in Africa or UK - we alaways have a choice about how we use our lives... let's fight terror by fighting with the weapons of love - of self giving service, of kindness and mercy. It is costly- but it is the way of Jesus... and if we want to follow Him we know that in the end this path is the one which will lead to life not death.

Rosanne led us in prayer tonight for those affected by the terror attacks and we felt, despite the distance, well connected to the U.K.

When we arrived at Hands we were met by Carolyn Snyman and Brenda Rebro- who made us feel very at home.

 The two photos on the right should be  of a message card which each of us found on our beds as we came into our rooms. They focus our mind on why we are here in Africa and why we are here on earth.

With our love and prayers
On behalf of the combined Lichfield and Matlosane Link for Life Team
Richard Westwood