Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day Four: Delft Township

After three fantastic and eye-opening days, we went to the Township of Delft.  It was a more rural area and the staff at MaAfrika Tikkun welcomed us with huge smiles.  We took a quick tour of the facility which consisted of several trailer-type structures, some connected to others which can get VERY hot, even on seemingly mild day.  It was a very hot day, at least by our standards.

The home care workers took us to the homes of certian clients that are too elderly to come to the centres.  Mike Hooper and I visited a wonderful lady named Elizabeth Stevens.  (You can see the English influence in the name).  She will turn 99 next week.  She was SO happy to see us, although she really couldn't see that well.  She spoke no English so the staff translated for us.  Other than poor eyesight (cataracts) and some arthritis, she had no other ailments.  I could only wonder all that she's experienced as a black woman in South Africa for the last 99 years, living in poverty.  BUT, she smiled and laughed and wanted to see her "new American children".  We bent down, got very close to her so she could try to see us.  She is not eligible for cataract surgery under the public health care system (like Medicare) because she is too old.  I  believe if you are over 80, you can no longer get cataract surgery unless you pay for private health care which she certainly can't afford.  So, the 20-minute cataract surgery, which would have given Elizabeth 19 more years of good eyesight, isn't permitted in the South African public health care system.  She's just too old for it to be worth it.  Tragic.  As we were leaving, she told us through the translators that she would boast to her friends that she now has "2 new American children". She was very happy that we visited her--just the same as the elderly enjoy visitors in the US and presumably all over the world.  She had pictures of her family on the walls, and loved all of her children and grandchildren.  Heart-warming beyond words...

We then toured a medical clinic in Delft South which  is run by the government.  They partner with organizations like MaAfrika Tikkun who will work at the clinics as their "foot soldiers".  All of us though the clinic was packed, but Friday's are typically a slow day. They treated everything from child immunizations to TB, HIV/Aids, drug addiction ("Tik" is the term for methamphetamine or "meth" which is the most popular drug being abused), and other medical ailments. 

We went back to the centre for some lunch--rice, vegtables and fish.  Betsy and Mike went to peeling station.  Matt and I went into a very hot kitchen, dawned our hair nets and started serving food to the clients. 

All of the clients were very grateful.  For most, they only get fed here.  Some may say that this creates a dependancy.  But, the MaAfrika Tikkun program does so much to foster independence.  Each person or family that comes to the centre has a file,  with an assessment and a plan.  It's a wholistic approach which looks at a child's life on a continuim--not just in the moment.

After lunch, we split off and worked with the kids in various settings.  Betsy and I went to a program called Hero Book in a VERY HOT metal trailer/container.  We asked the staff how much a fan costs, we pulled out cash and said, "we'd like to buy the fan for the room."  The kids were a bit shy b/c of us in the room, so we asked the staff to tell them that we bought a fan.  They smiled, clapped and cheered.  An inexpensive box fan that most of us never use b/c of air conditioning meant the world to these children.

The children sat in a circle with a facilitator and talked through things that make them happy.  Several of them were happy to have vistitors from the US.  One little girl caught my eye.  When I waived, and smiled--nothing.  I made the smile motion-nothing.  Then I tried the trusty "remove my finger trick. 

Her eyes opened a mile wide.  She motioned for me to do it again.  I made the smile motion, asking her to smile.  She cracked a very cute smile.  I kept up my end of the bargain and did the trick again.  They then paired up and went on a "trust" walk--one was blind-folder, the other leading him/her around the centre.  They then talked through each of their roles, how they felt, etc. 

We went into the parking lot area for some group exercise and singing, etc.  Occasionally, particular children will catch your attention for one reason or another.  One girl was strikingly beautiful.  Having just left the building dedication in Alex township where Miss South Africa spoke, I  thought, wow--this little girl, given the chance, could be Miss South Africa.  She has greeen eyes and a smile that would melt your heart. She, by the way, also led some of us in a dance routine that she herself choreographed.  The look on her face, watching ME dance, was priceless. 

Here she is....

We then played cricket with the kids in the parking lot which was a blast.  I've never seen Matt run so fast in my life after he hit the ball.  The little ones were playing soccer around us. 

That evening we went to dinner in downtown Cape Town as an authentic African restaurant, the African Cafe.  We were fortunate that Catherine and Geila from MaAfrika Tikkun could join us.  We shared with them our experiences.  They were most thankful to us for not just "visiting", but rolling up our sleeves, working hard and immersing ourselves into the centres, the cause, the children and the families.  During our dinner, it was emotional at times, as we reflected on so many things.  I asked Geila how much cataract surgery is under the public system.  Geila is involved in a Lions Club that assisted with glasses, eyecare, etc.  It was $80 US dollars under the public system.  I told her I wanted to pay for Elizabeth's cataract surgery.  Mike wanted to chip in, so Geila promised to try to make that work.  If not, we told her to make it happen for some other elderly client.  For Mike and I, it didn't matter if Elizabeth left this earth the day after the surgery--if it meant she could see the smiles on the faces of her children and grandchildren one more time.

It was the perfect ending to another extraordinary day. 


Friday, March 4, 2011

Day Three: Mfuleni

Our third day was spent in the Township of  Mfuleni.  I think the M is slient.  Interestinly, each township has it's own feel.  The center at Mfuleni was smaller than the others, but wonderful.  This was the first time that we left the gated confines of the MaAfrika Tikkun centre and ventured into the streets of the township.  Part of the services MaAfrika provides is delivering services to the homes of the aged, sick or others that cannot get to the centre.  I can tell you that these streets can be very scary.  We, as you can imagine, cannot blend in.  People will stare at us, wondering why we are here.  Some associate us "whites" as people who are here to help.  They smile and wave.  Others do not.  Rather, they simply stare and wonder whether we are here to take advantage of them, as in the apartheid era.  We visited the home (it was a shack) of a lady who had two children, a boy who was 18 and a girl who was 16.  The girl dropped out of school in the 7th grade when she had her baby.  She does not know where life will take her because she has HIV/Aids.  She thinks she would like to be a nurse.  We talked for a bit, then played with 4 children.  One was the  child of the daughter, the others were other "clients" of MaAfrika Tikkun.  As a side note, the word "client", to me, denotes respect which I find really neat given the socio-economic status they hold.  We brough toys and played with the children--leggos, a Disney puzzle (Belle).  What's the chance that any of these children go to the real Disney World?  Zero. 

As we were walking back to the centre, the director told me that's in unfortunate that we have to take the toys away--they never really get a chance to learn from them, solve the puzzles, grow in their motor skills, etc. b/c there are not enough toys to give away.  So, for about 30 mintues, these kids got to play with some simple toys before we left.  I told the lady that I wish I could box up all the unused toys in our playroom and send them to these children.

As we walked through the streets, I  saw a lady charring sheep heads and feet.  What may seem grotesque and incomprehensivle, they call survival. 

As we walked back to the centre, we  saw day care facilities with kids beaming with smiles and waving to me.  On the front of the day care facility, there is a Bible inscription:  Matt  25: 34-37.  These people are a people of faith, praying to God, thanking Him for the little they have, and relying on Him and His grace in the most seemingly insurmountable of circumstances.  The verse is right next to the lady in the doorway.

We got back to the centre.  Mike Hooper and I helped ladies, well over their fifties, in the garden. We tilled the soil and raked it.  The "soil" is mostly sand, and the compost needed to grow food is very expensive.  The ladies were VERY proud of the garden and worked SO hard.  They kept a keen eye on us, making sure that we did it right. :)

We hepled kids in the computer lab.  We were told that unless kids can get to the MaAfrika Tikkun centres, they may never see a computer until they finish high school and then, only if they go to college.  Can you imagine any child in the US not touching a computer until they are 18?  As a side note, the girls were looking up High School Musical, giggling and whispering, just like any other girl their age. 

We washed dishes, played sports with the kids, and really tried to connect with the kids.  It was a great day. Thanks to the team at Mfuleni for such a warm welcome and allowing us to be part of your day.

Thanks for checking in...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day Two: Alexendra and Diepsloop Townships

We started our day celebrating the grand opening of the Ronnie and Rhona Lubner Child and Youth Care Centre at Phutaditjaba ("poota di jobba") in Alexendra Township.  Compared to the very rural Orange Farm Township, Alex was the most densely populated townships thus far.  Thousand upon thousands of shacks, side by side, across several square miles.  Astounding.  The celebration was fantastic.  The children of the centre entertained us with song and dance, the opening and closing prayers were wonderful giving by Pastor Rita who runs the Orange Farm Centre.  Miss South Africa was the keynote speaker, and she spoke so highly of MaAfrika Tikkun and the lives it impacts.  Her two focuses are education and teen pregnancy, and MaAfrika Tikkun is a key partner in addressing these very issues.  It was a wonderful celebration.

We departed for Diepsloop Township which was much like Alex, perhaps not as big.  Abject poverty, obscene unemployment, hopelessness, dirty and filthy.  I am sure I am failing pitifully trying to put into words what we saw.  Then, nestled in between shacks was an amazing area--the Diepsloop Centre of MaAfrika Tikkun--children being fed, taught life skills, treated medically and socially, staying healthy with lessons in karate, cycling and other sports.  For many children, their only meals come from MaAfrika Tikkun.

What strikes me right to the core is how amazingly friendly these children are--they swarm us with warm greetings, smiles a mile long and then they stick out their thumb, touch it to yours, pull it away in a twist and say "shop", which means, "everything's all right".  Every single child knows what it means.  All of them want a turn twisting the thumb, saying "shop. Therein lies the irony--the most disadvantaged children in the world, with a semmingly hopeless life, many without parents, living in squaler, smiling and saying "shop"--"everything's ok".  Ok, lump--now time to leave my throat or I will neve finish this entry.

I then worked on math with 3 boys who were 11-13 years old.  Two were named Clifford--one was the other's nephew.  The younger Clifford (yellow shirt below) was a math whiz, all things relative.  He was multiplying 3 digit numbers by other 3-digit numbers.  He was so proud to show me.  He winked at me and smiled--his way of saying "hello".  He has 2 younger siblings--both parents are dead. We had good  fun looking at pictures of my family in Ohio.  I showed them snowmen that we built and they were fascinated.  I  showed them a picture of my 8 year old and 6 year old, hugging in bed, and they were astounded to know that each had their own room.  The younger Clifford looked at picture of my wife and three girls, his eyes lit up and he said, with his native African accent--"Beautiful". 

The older Clifford (taller one on left below) saw my wife's picture, smiled brightly and made some silly teenage boy sound, and saying nothing, shrugged his eyebrows up and down, up and down, smiling even more, knowing that I knew what he meant. 

We then went for a bike ride through the township and the poverty..out on a country road, cars flying past us--easily the most un-nerving bike experience--we walked the bikes a good way in the gravel and sand b/c we didn't want to get run over by the cars.  A bit of humor popped up when I saw the following billboard:

I had fun with the kids, pretending to take my finger off and putting back on.  Silly little thing my dad showed me when I was a kid--all of them wanted me to show them how.  Xonda ("Tonda") is the name of a VERY cute boy who said almost nothing, but said a lot with his eyes and his smile.  He followed us around, more so than the other kids--I wonder what he was thinking.  Take a look...

Yet again, an experience of a lifetime.  The donations that people make to MaAfrika Tikkun go SO far to making the lifes of these children better.  To me, the centres, tucked in the middle of impoverished townships, are the only postive thing I saw. 

Tomorrow we fly to Cape Town to see a two more MaAfrika Tikkun centres.  Sometimes people will say, "Shouldn't we help the children in our own city, state, country?  Why support a charity across the globe".  Children are children are children.  ALL deserve a chance to be happy--a chance to be healthy, a chance to be loved...

Thanks for checking in...


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Our first day

Wow.  Where to begin?  How about the beginning of our day.  We met with Marc Lubner, the CEO of MaAfrika Tikkun.  He shared with us how the charity began, with his father, Bertie Lubner, who was horrified at the post-apartheid poverty in the poorest of the poor communities in South Africa.  He told us personal story of how, in 1976, he and 9 other people, made cardboard coffins, painted black, and marched to the steps of the government to protest apartheid.  As they were traveling to the steps of the government offices, 4,000 to 5,000 people spontaneously joined them in the protest.  He described it as "remarkable".  He was detained by police and then released.  The police changed into plain clothes, found him and beat him.  Upon his return home, the police were waiting for him.  They said the he failed to report for his military obligations, made him get into uniform, flew him by helicopter to the very communites oppressed by apartheid, and was told the suppress the riots--suppress the very people he was seeking to protect in the protests.  He refused.  This small story gave me a peek into the heart and soul of the charity's current CEO, Marc Lubner.

I simply can't do justice to the history of the charity, so please visit  Mark, his family and all of those associates with MaAfrika Tikkun have a passion for helping the most disadvantaged on this planet--poverty that most only read about.  So, we're here to emmerse ourselves into the charity, learn from it, offer whatever help we can offer, and bring back the personal message to our friends, families and co-workers.  Nelson Mandela is the Patron-In-Chief of MaAfrika Tikkun--that'll grab your attention...

Mark and his team briefed us on the various aspects of the charity, but I know we were anxious to go to the communities to see for ourselves the difference we have made as we support this charity with our time, talent and treasure.

We arrived at Orange Township  Here is a map to see where on the globe we were today...

So driving through Orange Township, it was unspeakable poverty--shacks made of corrugated aluminum and/or wood.  Many had no water or electricity, dirt floors and filth and garbage strewn about.  The first picture below can't do justice to the overall picture of the poverty.  The charity builds and operates  "centers" which are gated areas that have buildings for child care, hot meals, eductional activitites, health care, computers, a library, life skills training, athletics, etc.  They serve children from 6 to 18 years old, many of who have had both parents die of Aids.  The center is not a living facility, so all children go back to their "homes" in the evening.  In some "homes", it's kids raising kids.  You may have an 11 year old, both parents dead, living in a shack, raising her 4 year old and 18-month old siblings.  These centers built and operated by MaAfrika Tikkun provide the only "hope" to a seemingly hopeless situation.

I'm trying not to bore you, and words don't come close to explaining the horrific poverty, nor the wonderful blessings that this charity bestows upon those children who use it. 

However, despite the conditions outside the MaAfrika Tikkun community centers, the children inside had so many smiles to give.  They would run up to us, waive hello, sing us songs.  Many were amazed at my skin color--a color they may have never seen before.  The employees of the center were passionate and committed to helping the least fortunate on this planet.  These children taught me more in a few hours than I could have imagined. 

We made our way to a different center called Hillbrow which was in an urban area of Johannesburg.   Less obvious poverty b/c we were in an urban area, but children equally challenged with no parent households and poverty inflicted upon them by simply being born.

...We're all looking forward to digging in deeper tomorrow.  We have 4 more centers to visit in the next 4-5 days.  We're heading to Cape Town Thursday. 

Thank the good Lord for your blessings....More to come...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Check out the charity!!

My Thoughts On Our Trip

As I was reflecting on this trip, why I was going, and what I expect, I was struggling for the phrase that would truly capture my feelings.  Then, the perfect phrase came to mind:  “There but for the grace of God go I.”  Growing up in an upper-middle class family in the western Pennsylvania suburbs, I never “needed” anything.  As children, our parents taught, by example, compassion, empathy, charity, kindness and perhaps most importantly, a sense of thankfulness to God for all that He blessed us with.  We were also taught that not everyone born into this world was blessed like we were. Therein lies the chasm between what I know to be true and what I’ve never truly experienced first-hand.  I think this trip will bridge that chasm-giving me an up-close and personal glimpse into that which I know but never experienced. While I’ve performed charitable work, giving my time and money to good causes, I know I have not truly experienced the poorest of the poor.  I expect this trip will also reveal to me the amazing difference our donations make to MaAfrika Tikkun and the lives of the people it serves.  I know in my heart that there’s a higher calling for all of us—to leave this world a better place.  My faith calls me to help those in need.  “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”  1 John 3:17. 
While my visit to MaAfrika Tikkun will be brief, I trust that it will leave an indelible mark on my heart, allowing me to bring that message to my family, friends and colleagues.