As mentioned earlier, it was a jammed pack week with so many new experiences to update you on! Our first week of orientation was comprised of information sessions, either at the Hands Village or in community (some of which we have written about), socializing or getting to know fellow Hands volunteers, and visits to some of the communities Hands operates in.
The sessions we have attended have been a mixture of learning about Hands (its structure, how it operates, the core values), learning about HIV/AIDS and how it has affected this continent (and South Africa, in particular), devotions, group prayer and testimonials from local Hands volunteers. As you can tell from our prior posts, these sessions have been truly mind-blowing and so informative in helping us understand what Hands is really about. It has been a total confirmation of the conviction in our hearts and our decision to journey this next year of our lives in Africa with this organization.
During our first week, we had the opportunity to visit 4 fully operational Community Based Organizations (CBOs), which are locally operated care points for vulnerable children in the community. At the CBOs, children learn, play, eat and receive basic care. While visiting a CBO, we typically have the opportunity to spend some time with the kids and help with a feeding. Afterwards, we usually accompany the Careworkers on their home visits to families within the community. This is what we both consider to be the most memorable part of the week.
There are two types of home visits: 1) Child Visits; and 2) Patient Visits. During our home visits, we set out on foot and are usually able to visit 3-4 homes in the span of 2 hours. Many of the homes we visit are child-headed households or households where a single gogo (grandmother) is caring for the children. The goal of child visits is multi-faceted:
1) To see firsthand the child’s home and family situation and to ensure that the child is not in a life threatening or overtly dangerous environment. For example, one home that was visited was a child-headed household where the eldest sister was only 17, caring for her 7 younger siblings, the youngest one being only 2 years old. The Careworker could see that the single room hut that the children stayed in had a broken-in door, hanging off its hinges. The girls mentioned that recently, men have been trying to break into their hut at night. In a house such as theirs, people don’t try to break in to steal anything – there’s simply nothing to steal. To put it bluntly, the men are trying to break in for the girls themselves which, unfortunately, is all too common in South Africa. Imagine just how vulnerable these children were! After this was identified by a Careworker, Hands provided the CBO with the necessary resources to reinforce the door with extra posts and padlocks.
A statistic that we heard the other day was that 1 in 4 men in rural communities in South Africa have admitted to raping. That only includes men who have admitted to it! That number is likely so much higher, which sits heavy with us as we go out into the community and interact with so many girls who no doubt have been affected and deeply wounded by this. This is part of the social poverty we refer to which ails South Africa. There is a complete lack of male role models. An overwhelming majority of households know of no such thing as a father. Instead, in many cases, men have become synonymous with rape, abuse and drunkenness. Because of this, Byron has been challenged to be extra careful and sensitive in his interactions in the community.
|Byron on one of his favourite child visits|
2) Another very important goal is to invest in meaningful relationships with these children and their families and to bring a message of the hope and love of Christ. It sounds simple but, in seemingly hopeless situations, when little can be done by way of providing immediate physical needs, the visits from Careworkers and Hands volunteers shows these children that someone cares for them and is willing to protect and advocate for them. They are known by name. They are shown they are valued and that their life matters.
After only a short amount of time in South Africa, we have heard and seen some of the most heart-breaking stories of children. Despite this, we truly see hope in Hands’ mission and its ability to truly transform these children’s lives.
|Walking with Careworkers to do home visits|
|Preschoolers at one of the CBOs. So cute!|
|Byron getting swarmed by the little ones|