Sunday, 15 September 2013

Old Friends and New Friends


Back in October of last year, Byron and I did our very first community stay in a South African community called Oshoek. We spent four days and three nights in the home of a Gogo (grandma in Siswati) and her six grandchildren – getting to know them and experiencing life the way they do. Click here to read about our experience the first time around. The family is from the country of Swaziland, the border of which is about a half hour drive from Oshoek. With the desire to put her six grandchildren through school, Gogo made the decision a few years ago to move her family to South Africa, where school fees are much cheaper than they are in Swaziland. Since then, she has been fighting tirelessly to put food on the table and to make ends meet. Life has been difficult. They are isolated, tucked away in the hills of Oshoek, with little to no support from anyone. 

Beautiful scenery in Oshoek, South Africa
A few weeks ago, Byron and I had the opportunity to visit our family again and to stay with them for a night. This time, we had our friend, Sibusiso, with us, a fellow Hands at Work volunteer who was born and raised in Swaziland. We felt grateful for the opportunity to spend time with our family again, to show them that we hadn’t forgotten about them and to encourage them in the small ways that we could. 

Our friend Sibusiso
Clement, the youngest boy in the family, ran at full speed and jumped straight into Byron’s arms as soon as he saw us – what a special moment!  We were relieved that they hadn’t forgotten us and that we wouldn’t have to battle through the shyness that many African children have towards foreigners. It was almost as though we had never left!

Clement was all smiles!
We decided to go with Gogo to fetch firewood as the girls in the family went to fetch water. Byron tried his hand at chopping wood but that lasted all of two minutes. Sibu and the other two boys did the rest of the chopping while I gathered the chopped wood and Byron pushed the wheelbarrow. 

Wheelbarrow duties never got in the way of Byron being stupid
Observing as the boys chopped fire wood
Gogo
That night, Byron and I slept in our sleeping bags on a foam mattress on the floor. Gogo spent a lot of time preparing our sleeping quarters, ensuring that we had more than enough to be comfortable and warm in our bed and providing us with the best that she had. What an incredibly sweet gesture. The condition of the home was about the same as it was back in October – old, dirty and seemingly on the brink of falling apart. With Gogo so old and away from the house most of the day working, the house is often left a mess with dirt and garbage everywhere.

The room we slept in
Our bed
The front area of the house
Kitchen on the right and a bedroom on the left
Gogo's bedroom
The kitchen with a wood burning stove
We were sad to discover that the two youngest kids have not been going to school for a while (they’re not too sure how long they’ve been out of school for). With the large amount of Swazi citizens illegally settling in South Africa to put their children through school, the South African government often cracks down on the public schools, chasing out any children without the proper papers. We wondered if anybody knew about this, if anyone was doing something to get the children back in school.

Clement and Nonhle, the two youngest in the family
As the day wore on, Byron and I both felt a growing sense of hopelessness. Gogo is old and can barely earn enough to feed the children. The eldest boy, 20 years old now, but only with a grade eight education, is more interested in making rap music than pursuing an education. The eldest girl, 19, is often gone for days on end (she wasn't there when we visited and we suspect she was staying with a boyfriend), leaving the cleaning and cooking up to Gogo and her younger siblings and cousins. The two youngest children have been chased out of school and have no immediate plans to go back. The middle sister, age 14, spends her time hanging out with friends outside the neighbourhood bar where loud rap music blares and guys get drunk. Needless to say, it's not the ideal hangout spot for a young, teenage girl, especially when her little sister often follows her there. Without the intervention of Care Workers and those who can advocate on these children's behalf, what hope do they have? What hope does Gogo have in trying to provide a better life for her grandchildren? This is where the role of our Care Workers is SO critical. If home visits are being done properly and if Care Workers have a deep, parental-like relationship with the children they are visiting, situations like this one would never go unnoticed. It’s our job to advocate for children who have no voice and to stand up for those who are helpless. As discouraging as it may be at times, we will continue to pray for our family and to follow up on their situation.

After a cold, wet night, we said our goodbyes the following morning and continued our journey to Sibu’s house in the beautiful country of Swaziland!

As I mentioned earlier, Sibu is one of our fellow volunteers at Hands. He was discovered in his tiny little rural church after the leaders at Hands at Work, desiring to expand into the HIV-ravaged country of Swaziland, caught wind of a man who had devoted his life to caring for the orphaned and vulnerable children in his community. Since then, Sibu has been living in South Africa at the Hub, learning about Hands and taking up responsibilities as a member of the South Africa Regional Support Team.

Byron and I were invited to spend a couple of days with Sibu in his home, to spend time with his brothers and to meet his Gogo, the woman who raised him and his siblings. Sibu doesn't often get the opportunity to go home to see his family so this trip was a real blessing for him. He also could not have been more excited to show us his home and introduce us to his family. Byron and I were just honoured that we got to meet his family, see where and how he grew up in and visit his beloved church.

All in all, it was a great weekend. It's moments like these that really offer us a lot of perspective and remind us of how blessed we are.

Here are some pictures of our time with Sibu.

Look what we stumbled upon in Mbabane (the capital of Swaziland) ... The food was actually really good!
Sibu, Byron, Sibu's brother and his cousin
Byron and I at the top of the hill we climbed with Sibu
Resting our feet and enjoying the view
Huddling around the fire while dinner was being cooked at Sibu's home
Making breakfast with Sibu's sister the next morning
Sibu's Gogo
 
Sibu and his Gogo
 - Diane