Saturday, December 22, 2007

December 22, 2207

Thank you for coming to our abbreviated version of our trip to Mamelodi, South Africa (SA). I have told some of our story here, start reading at the bottom and work forward.

It has been hard to discuss our trip in short snippets during phone conversations, get togethers or parties. This does not reflect our excitement or enthusiasm to share though!! The topic is very serious and personal to us, too intimate to gloss over, yet too amazing not to share in some way. Jim and I are open to talking with anyone more about our trip, so just give us a buzz and we can have you over for some dinner and show you all our pictures!!

We are changed by what we experienced and hope to always remember how fortunate we are to live in the US, have healthy children and a loving community. We are fortunate for friends and family who supported us financially, physically and spiritually. (THANK YOU SO MUCH, again and again!!)

I am continuing my assistance on the IT team. The goal is to establish an online tutoring with SA students. My background as a teacher has given me invaluable skills that I hope to utilize for building an educational partnership with Mamelodi. I will continue this blog for the updates, so bookmark if you want to check out. And I hope to continue raising money through Network for Good on:

Big dreams would be raising money for another personal trip, my new SA friends to visit the US, and expanding the computer system started in SA. Say prayers for me, they do work, see Gladys story below!!

July 13, 2007

Last day in SA. We pack up, go to Jo-berg for a morning at the Apartheid museum before our flight. It is amazing driving from poverty to industry to a real town similar to anything in the US. Then to see the struggle for freedom from Apartheid, was a sobering experience. To think of what George and so many other Freedom Fighters went through, is a powerful proof of overcoming obstacles.
We were not allowed to take pictures (although our defiant Go team member Jen got some good ones) in the museum. Quietly we all boarded our flight, most sleeping first, then becoming more excited as we were closer to home.

July 12, 2007

Last day of work!
I do computer training in the morning. Our friend, Eunice (who we met the first day and has been on Jim's gardening team), comes in for computer help. I get to connect with Eunice and help her search for a business that she can start. She is a willing and eager student on the computer! She also brings me three painted clay chickens. She does not have much because she wears the same outfit everyday, but she has given me a treasure that I smile whenever I see them.

Then the entire IT training team goes out into the Extensions for work. I get to come back with Jim's team and finish the day there. We plant a few gardens, then give out the rest of the seedlings with instructions on how to plant. Then we get to have fun with the children, US and SA.

The US CSM team (high school kids on our trip) came out to our Extension to observe. Jim got to give them a tour of the Extension, answer questions, and show the students what we are doing. They were actually very quiet, respectful and probably in awe at the poverty.

Then we finished our time there talking with the kids and passing out stickers, balloons, and small trinkets. Anyone with items were seriously mobbed. It was hard to keep order, even for a teacher! The kids were starving for attention, and adored a look, a hug or just a smile. You hope you are a shining moment in their lives.

We left that day knowing that we had done all that we could, feeling sad about leaving our new friends.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

July 11, 2007

The third day of work, I got to come out with the Gardening team. It was just like Jim said amazing!!! I loved being out swinging the pickax, getting sweaty, and feeling the poverty. You are out there making a difference, seeing the people, making them smile, giving them hope, I could go on and on!!

I connected with a girl that I called Mababezza (little sister in Sutu). Most kids have not seen many white people and we are scary to them. I would have picked up many more kids and cuddled but they sometimes ran!! Lucky would come around when he found the team. The Extension is a maze of shacks fenced off from one another for "safety", so the kids would not be able to find us sometimes.
In the gardens, we would plant kale, spinach, and lettuce. The ground was rock hard and there was trash everywhere. Jim was the hardest worker, he was a natural leader who guided the group in difficult times. He kept tempers calm, was available for any need, and my true hero. He helped me when things got tough to swallow and was a strong rock whose real character shone brightly whenever I glanced at him. It was amazing to see your husband you love with all your heart, and find a way to love him more!!

Jim, the Gardening Leader and another team member went into a two story (which was very odd in fields of shacks) casino in the heart of the Extension. He said it was just like our bars with drinking, games, and men. Charles forbade me to go in, although I was tempted. The men were curious about the building next to a garden that we were planting.

I learned the hard way that you just can't give out things to others in SA. I was walking to our bus and had some water (with the powdered flavoring) that looked like juice. I knew I would be eating a hot meal in an hour, so I passed off my drink and food to the boy who politely asked in group of boys hanging around the campus. They immediately began beating each other up and fighting over the drink. From then on we were either prepared for a bum rush when passing out things, or we discreetly gave to just a single family.

I gave a bunch of clothes I gathered to Constance (in the middle of Jim and Amanda in the picture above) in Extension 6. She had this shanty that was loved. Her house number was handpainted and her yard (if you can call it that) was immaculately cleaned, she had plants and flowers and took care of them diligently. AND she had her garden tilled to 6 inches. We were used to breaking through hard ground and her garden was the easiest to plant!!

July 10, 2007

Second day of work, start of amazing sights, wonderful experiences and ways to help others.

I went to the IT room and planned for a day of training. I invited Mpumi to help us out in the lab, since she has a computer at home and skills to share. She was the bright star that came everyday. There was only 2 hours scheduled for people in the computer lab. A lot of folks were wanting to get on the Internet and play games, but there were a few dedicated people that wanted to learn skills. Some people stayed all day and were able to have personalized attention.

Jim was out in Extension 6, the worst of the worst in poverty. The shacks have no running water, toilet, or flooring and are made with wood, metal and cardboard. His first garden he built for the people they were so proud, the next day they built a patio with found bricks, isn't the picture cool. At those moments, you know you are doing the right thing for a person on the other side of the world. Read his personal story about meeting Gladys at:
The Gardening teams each day were groups of 4-5 Americans, 2-4 Mamelodians for workers, translators, and safety, plus the taxi driver. They all would drive out to the Extension for a full day of working building as many gardens as they could in a day. Every day Jim would bring Stephen and Charles (his two buddies, Charles on the right) something of his to wear. Our suitcases were much lighter coming back!

On Jim's team for most work days in the Extension was Eunice, who we met at church on Sunday. It is not a coincidence that certain people are sent to you in life. Eunice was invaluable as a translator and a friend!! We were destined to connect with her deeply through our mutual volunteering and later in the week (read on!!).

Jim immediately connected with a small boy named Lucky. He would follow the team around and try to play at any downtime. Jim got to see Lucky throughout the week and give him stickers, balloons, and toys. Makes you feel like you have space in your heart for 1000 children when you can feel such a connection with someone in another country.

When I met up with Jim after his amazing day, he was glowing. He was telling me about his amazing day and his face was aglow. He could not tell me enough about the his day. I felt his joy and needed to get out there and experience it for myself. That night I talked with the other IT trainers and we made plans for us to take turns to go out into the Extensions.

July 9, 2007

Today is our first day of work. We began with the dedication of the new orphanage. The Secretary of Social Development attended and spoke at the Charity and Faith campus. This was huge deal because he is similar to a cabinet position to the US president. He promised to continue government money for projects at the campus to further our US/SA partnership. Pastor Titus was elated and even wore a handsome suit for the occasion.

During the service, we sat by Nelly and her friends. Nelly is Pastor Titus's cousin who runs an orphanage. We all connected while dancing, singing African songs (that she translated), and socializing. Nelly invited me to come to her orphanage and waited while I checked in for work that day.

I began in the IT room, an old classroom converted with donated computers. The tech guys were still connecting, installing, and setting up the system. They had a hard job of wiring a basic building, engineering the network, and creating two classroom systems 1000 yards from the Internet connection and each other. They could not use my non-technical mind, so I tried to get a pass to go with Nelly. I was not able to go but we were able to chat about her life and work. She is an angel to 16 orphans.

Jim and his team created a beautiful garden around the Orphanage, which is on the campus of the Charity and Faith church. He was a stud muffin with the wheelbarrow.

Jim spent the night relaxing at the hotel. I spent several hours trying to find a computer to use with working Internet and socializing with the IT guys. Amazingly after all the manual labor, Jim was not sore and tired, nothing short of a miracle that continued all week.

July 8, 2007 - Part II

Sunday evening is where we saw the extremes of South Africa, the poorest and the richest. What a mind blower!!!

We were so fortunate to spend the night with Lebo, who we hosted in Cincinnati in May. We got to meet her parents, George and Mpho. More on that amazing couple, later in this blog.

However, the start of our time with Lebo was getting in her car and getting us 30 seconds to prepare to see Vusi Mahlasela, a SA artist who we love his music. As I tried to think of non-stupid things to say, we were ushered into his living room while he was eating and recovering from a cold and a performance the day before at the One Earth Concert in Jo-berg. He was so warm, open and caring with us house crashers!! We told him we love the new album, Guiding Star, and our favorite song was Everytime. He lit up with appreciation and we left telling him that we would love to see him tour the states!! What a gracious host and talented musician!

Next we went to the grandest mall ever (and remember in MN we lived near to the Mall of America) in Pretoria (the capital of SA). This mall had a movie theater, concert place, IMAX theater, comedy club, and a drive in movie theater (on the roof) AS WELL AS stores, restaurants, banks, food courts, etc... We had moccioachinos, a waffle with tomatoes and spinach (YUM), and garlic cheese loaf. Then, we had a fantastic meal at Lebo's house that was a spread for guests.

George and Mpho are wonderful hosts who fed us extremely well. The best part of meeting them was their story. We only had an hour or so during dinner to talk, before heading out to a party of SA hosts. George was imprisoned as a freedom fighter for 10 years. There he found his faith and the glimpse of the that faith was a shining beacon that Jim and I could have stayed in all night. He has such joy when there could be resentment and such belief that God provides that he is an inspiration and role model to Jim and I.

Lebo had organized a surprise party for Amy (who was also hosting with Lebo) since it was her birthday. We had a blast singing, dancing and eating! They really know how to throw a bash!!

We did make it in bed by midnight since the next four days were our work days in Mamelodi!