Wednesday, July 22, 2009
For the friends Matthew and I made on the trip; I hope this blog serves to connect any missing dots or memories in a sort of chronological order. In my past travels, events and days have blended together unless I write them down. The account is by no means exhaustive or all-inclusive, and I could have probably written, re-written and edited it forever. It has been a long labor of love. If any of our mission friends have pictures or experiences you would like to add, please feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org with your information. I will be more than happy to add them in an effort to paint a comprehensive picture for all. My apologies for any ommissions or misnomers. Read from the bottom (first post) up (to the last post) for a chronological order of events.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Mark Campbell, Carl Eifert, Dan Richardson,
Terry Caddo, Bryan Welage and Russ Jenisch
Dave presenting Tina and
Frikkie with a gift
Jackson, Moses (w/Paul's uekelele, me and Derek)
The morning began with Russ taping interviews capturing everyone’s thoughts and emotions surrounding the week’s events. The impact of our Mamelodi encounter and the changes we experienced were undeniable as similar thoughts and sentiments echoed from one person to the next. As we gathered for final pictures and packed our baggage into the vehicles one last time, the reality and sadness of leaving South Africa and my dear friend Tina (and family) were beginning to settle in. I did my best to keep those feelings at bay as we all headed to our last group experience.
Derek, me and Matthew after bartering
We headed to an artisan marketplace for bartering and buying. Stone and wood carvings, placemats and pictures fashioned from banana leaves, bongo drums, native instruments, beaded jewelry and animals, slingshots, bow and arrows and pottery were situated in huts and shops one next to another. The artisans beckoned my attention by offering the ‘best deal’ they had. ‘A special price for you today ma’am’ was another tactic employed to garner my money. The 30-minute time allowance was a good thing for most of us I think, as the deal makers were fairly relentless.
Our final destination for the week was Lesedi - a cultural village where the customs and cultures of the Zulu, Sashoto, Xhosa and Pedi tribes are presented in a real life like setting.
Debbie's cute little Lukie
who took the tour with us
and loved the baby chicks
in the Lesedi theatre
Our tour guide was a joyful and funny young girl who engagingly taught us about the different cultures.
We learned that Nelson Mandela came from the Xhosa Village off the Eastern Cape of South Africa, that the price for a bride in some villages can fetch as much as 10 to 12 cattle, and that the Pedi people decorate and waterproof the floors with cowdung up to three times a day. Real cowdung - and we watched a stinkin’ demonstration (pun intended.)
A War Dance
(spots are from the
Our tour ended with a ‘Giant Ingoma’ showcasing traditional dances of each of the tribes. We were treated to over 30 minutes of war dances, mating dances, marriage dances, dances for the success of crops and dances heralding the event of a young boy passing into manhood.
All joining in for the dance
We were all invited to join in at the end, and the music was so inviting it was impossible to resist. It also happened to be Mattie Koen’s 10th birthday and the tribal dance leader held Mattie high and we wished him a happy birthday. His reaction was tough to read. I wasn’t sure if he was happy or quietly thinking ‘put me down!’
Our last feast in South Africa was definitely not our least feast. We had a lunch at the village fit for a tribal king and made of traditional South African fare. In addition to the things we had tried this week such as babooti, pop (corn meal dish) and mulva pudding, there were new things to try. Matthew and I both ate ostrich (which tasted like pork, not chicken) and was absolutely delicious. We also tried crocodile which was chewy like calamari (not chicken) and somewhat tasty. We ended with a delightful koek sister – a yummy donut/cruller-like pastry soaked in golden syrup, which my husband and I had long-ago deemed ‘the food of the gods’ the first time we ate them.
Tina and twin sister Debbie
One last picture of 'the guys'
As we headed for the airport I knew I would soon be awash in tears as I said good-bye to Tina, but was also looking very forward to seeing Doug, Joey and Mark again. Matthew and I were also extremely excited to be heading back to our beloved U.S. of A. for which we now have a newfound appreciation. We were looking very forward to driving on the ‘right’ side of the road, courteous drivers, street lights on the highway, toilets that flush the first time, toilets that flush, cell phone and internet access ad infinitum, heat (ah warmth), carpeted floors, the feeling of a lawful society, ovens in Fahrenheit (not Celsius), mph not kph, power steering, 117 different choices in the cereal aisle (not 4), American candy (although Tina would argue this point), 24-hour stores and gas stations, ‘normal’ electrical outlets, and an overall sense of security.
I will also miss some things about South Africa, the Koens, of course; Mamelodi and the wonderful kids we met there, especially Swahelia, Precious, Ouetu and sweet little Angelo; the people and children from Bambino Day Care; Moses, Derek and Jackson; the different birds and their calls as well as the foliage; the mountains, sunflower fields, culture immersion, and the experience of being with a mission group. Most of all, I will miss the opportunity to be in a situation to directly and positively impact the underprivileged, an experience I will always consider a great gift from which I benefitted, rather than mission I undertook.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Our entourage returned to the Bambino Day Care in Lusaka we visited the day before. Our teacher faction Mary Kirk, Carol Ryan and Amy Crockett, having met with the folks from University of Pretoria yesterday, were glad to have an opportunity to be with these children. Mary and Carol brought donations of Frisbees, balls and jump ropes from the States. When they arrived at the Day Care, everyone in our group handed out the goodies to the children who were jumping up and down and excited to see their friends back, and thrilled that they brought gifts. Two responses to this event left some in our group dumbfounded. One of the children, having never seen a football before, took a bite out of it thinking it was food. The children, and even the teachers, looked quizzically at the jump ropes. Not one person in the group knew what to do with them. I was shocked to learn that this simple, yet quintessential childhood toy of American culture was an anomaly to a teacher and a small child, as it is, most likely to anyone in Mamelodi. As halting as this revelation was to our teachers, the children’s excitement surrounding the balls and Frisbees escalated.
The new soccer field was calling them to come out and play with their toys. Coach Dave showed the kids how to dribble a soccer ball, while other children threw their Frisbees and mini footballs. Carol, Mary, and our soccer guys taught the teachers how to throw a Frisbee – another classic childhood toy that had escaped their youth experience. The boys on the soccer team were really struck by this event, I was told, and how much of an impact they made on the children’s lives.
The soccer crew then travelled to Kenton High School for a rematch with the S.O.S. Children’s Village team. The game ended up in a tie, but the real story happened postgame when our U.S. team gave the S.O.S. Village players soccer cleats donated from home. The keeper from the Village team asked if there were any gloves. Brendan Utrecht was moved by this boy’s inquiry and perhaps by the Holy Spirit as well. Brendan removed his own gloves and handed them to the boy telling him they were his. Brendan’s gesture of kindness moved Frikkie and Mary to tears, and the hearts of all there.
Marnus, helping with the education pillar this morning, took Dr. Mary Kirk, Prof. Carol Ryan and 1st grade teacher extraordinaire Amy Crockett to one of the High Schools in Mamelodi. There they met with a deputy principle, and they were thrilled that she took a lot of time with them to tour the school. She shared with them that since enrollment has increased so much over the past two years their science labs had to be converted to classrooms, leaving them with inadequate facilities for their science program. Carol later shared that she and the other teachers were amazed to that the staff, principals and teachers were extremely dedicated despite the limitations of their situation. They were also amazed at the good attitudes and smiling faces of the children under such challenging conditions and the fact that they were so dedicated to their studies. Mary and Carol also made some great connections with University of Pretoria officials, which they hope will materialize into an exchange program with both students and teachers from the University of Pretoria and NKU.
The ladies then went to AmaJobJob http://www.ehubs.co.za/amajobjobweb/ama_index.html in Pretoria. Operated by Marnus’ cousin Vivienne Schultz – the organization trains jobless South African women with skills to help lift themselves out of poverty. The women also go through a learning process of behavior change and take away their new skills to become entrepreneurs. AmaJobJob is situated in an old U-shaped firehouse, which is rented from the government. The building showcases art made by many of the women on its walls and is currently housing a group of students from Germany.
Bula-Dikgoro Primary School
Tina, Matthew, Josh and Mattie and I went to Bula-Dikgoro Primary School. One of the first things we saw at the school was the mural on the wall below. Matthew and I were both struck by the things these kids long for and how difficult it is for them to come by.
Things we take for granted
Like many schools in South Africa, Bula-Dikgoro Primary School is constructed in such a way that the doors to the classrooms open to outside courtyards. When Matthew and I first arrived here, the children were changing classes and we were nearly mobbed by the many kids who wanted hugs and to shake hands in the Mamelodi way—shake once, hook all four fingers with your partner’s, snap your thumb with theirs, then shake once again.
Matthew doing 'the shake'
The kids there followed the protocol that took shape at the previous schools without even knowing it. The order of events included the children excited about seeing a keyboard, some for the first time, and anxious to touch the keys. A frenzied chaos transformed into calm yet excited attention as David began to do ‘his stuff’. Right on key, the children immediately responded, eagerly learning the words to the songs David taught them and they sang with vivacious spirit. They love the attention, interaction and engagement. Each grade was reluctant to return to their classrooms, and I can’t imagine that they will be able to concentrate on their studies for the remainder of the day.
David demonstrates a penny whistle
Once again singing "I Can Do It"Meanwhile, Josh, Moses, Mattie and Tina went for a walk to the soccer field near the school. On the way back, Josh was accosted by a guy who tried to take his wallet. Thankfully, Moses stepped in to fight off the assailant, saving Josh from a stolen wallet or worse. Until that point, we had not encountered even a hint of danger in the township. I can’t imagine how Tina must have felt, but I’m sure relief and gratefulness were in the mix after it was all over.
After our time at the school and the boys' re-match at Kenton High School, most of the group went to another Confederation Cup playoff game - U.S. vs. Brazil. After a huge loss for the U.S., everyone headed back to the resort for a great South African braai (BBQ), we sat in a big circle. Dave Kisor shared a funny song he wrote about jogging and a few of the soccer guys shared a rap song they composed detailing the funny hilarious events of the week.
Paul Crockett and his sister Amy sang a song for us while Paul played on his ukulele, which was very sweet. Paul – our photographer extraordinaire (everyone is an extraordinaire at something if you haven’t noticed) – played his ukulele throughout the week providing soft sounds for everyone’s listening pleasure as we drove around (and around) or waited (for one thing or another.) He is very talented on both fronts. He snapped about 6,000 photos throughout the entire week (no joke.) We are all hoping to see those photo someday Paul – at an online photo sharing site perhaps?
To end the evening, Frikkie gifted everyone with a hand-beaded pin fashioned with the American and South African flags. The pins were those made by the women at the Bambino Day Care center, which we had visited the day before – although at this point, it seemed like the week before. It was the perfect symbol and keepsake of our trip. In addition to being a product of Mamelodi, it symbolizes the coming together of our two countries and created in a manner that Bridge to Cross hopes to foster – a positive outcome resulting from a learned skill enabling someone to help themselves and their family to a better place. Frikkie went on to kindly acknowledge the contributions made by the entire group for the week and thanked everyone for their hard work and efforts. I think we were all in agreement when it was said that we were grateful for the opportunity to share in the experiences Bridge to Cross provided on our amazing mission trip.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Riding through the township we are witness to car and busloads of people leaving for work for the day, kids walking to school, and the makeshift shops like we saw on Monday. But, something catches my eye that I will never forget. It is an orange piece of paper taped to a pole; an advertisement flyer with take-one phone number tear tabs across the bottom. Across the top in capital letters it reads: ABORTIONS. Incredulous, I thought I must have misread it. My lingering doubt sadly disappears as we pass one after another of the same flyer taped to poles and tacked on fence posts. Life is fragile at every stage in this township; from conception to AIDS orphans, from child-led households to lives taken by disease. My mind goes numb with sadness.
Typical barbed wire fence seen everywhere in the township.
Gates – again, just like at the S.O.S. Children’s Village, and they have barbed-wire. As we approach the Bambino Day Care, the gate is opened, we safely enter and park. Theft is so rampant through the township that those who can afford to protect their property build fences topped with barbed wire. They are barriers that separate. They are everywhere, and they loudly announce the problem without saying a word. As we exit the van, we are greeted by lovely Sophie who is so welcoming and eager to tell us about ‘her’ daycare center. A faint smell of dead chicken lingers in the air as she begins to speak.
Each day, she and a few other women care for 120 children from homes with working parents from 6am to 6pm. After school another 145-150 kids with learning disabilities, some of them HIV/AIDS orphans come for help. As I look around, I wonder where they all go, or sit, or stand for that matter. The entire area we entered (school, plus parking lot) is no larger than a UDF (or 7-11 if you’re from Michigan.) We gather around the back of a pickup truck, which for some reason is parked here taking up even more of the scarce space. Five feet and directly behind us is a small hut where two women sit intently working on beading projects. To the right, beyond our van are two more small buildings meeting to form an ‘L’, creating a tiny courtyard which serves as another ‘learning center’. In front of us, behind Sophie, is the Bambino Day Care ‘center’ housed in a medium-sized tent one would see at a festival, or at least the remnants of one. The top has numerous large holes, the sides haphazardly held in place by skewed poles. The holes in the top aren’t even holes really, but openings to the sky above because the ceiling of the tent actually consists of flaps of fabric still attached to the sides.
Day Care Center tent
Sophie shares her story of stress with us when last week the rain poured in and turned the floor of the entire center into mud. The tent and few buildings of the daycare center are situated on a medium-sized lot of uneven, sloping dirt.
The biggest need at the center is, of course, money. Sophie also tells us they also desperately need puzzles, CD players and manipulatives—blocks or large beads for stringing. The beginnings of a new school building are erected across the street, however; just one brick wall stands complete because funding has run out.
As some of our group go in to sit and play with the preschoolers, I am introduced to Nati DeKock. Nati and her husband are both ministers from nearby Hartfield Christian Church in Pretoria, and have a huge heart for the children of Barkah and the people in the surrounding Lusaka area (of Mamelodi East). She and her husband are passionate about serving the people of Mamelodi. Their church’s Kholofelong Ministry http://www.kholofelong.co.za/index.htm provides in-home nurse visits to those living with chronic disease or in poverty and are partners with the Barkah Center. Their Abba ministries find abandoned and HIV babies, provide health services for them and place them in foster homes. I am also thrilled to learn that they offer abortion alternatives and information to women with unwanted pregnancies. Tina will, I’m sure, forge a strong partnership here, as her heart has always longed to help the AIDS orphaned and vulnerable children.
Nati then shares an unthinkable, incomprehensible story with me and Tina. Kholofelong Ministries has volunteers called OVCs, numbering about 150. One or two at a time, these people go through the small communities of Mamelodi searching for abandoned babies. Tragically, and often, many babies are left to be cared for by one adult; someone who takes the task upon herself, or a grandmother caring for a grandchild, and willing to take in more. It is difficult if not impossible for one woman to feed, clothe, care for and monitor such large numbers of small children; sometimes groups of 10, 12 or 15 at a time. Without the necessary resources, these women resort to desperate measures. Babies and young children are gathered and locked in small shacks. These children rarely see the light of day, have no exercise, are malnourished, and by the time they are discovered by an OVC, they often have scabies and lice. Some are AIDS babies, some have diseases. This is a common occurrence in Mamelodi. The OVCs rescue the children, get them proper medical care, provide temporary shelter and ultimately help place them in foster homes. Again, I am just numb with sadness. Nati tears up as she tells the story.
On the Bambino Day Care property, in one of the smaller buildings, is the ‘nursery’, which cares for the wee little ones each day. I peek my head inside and am privileged to see 12 little angel babies sleeping side by side by side on a couple of ‘mattresses’ on the dirt floor. In the States, we would call them cushions. The sight is so precious, and I’m dying to take a picture, but my heart just can’t ask permission. Such an intrusion to me would make them seem more like a display or spectacle, rather than the precious little individual souls that they are. Next door, two more women are learning beading. Their craft will soon help support themselves and their children.
Finally, I get to go in the tent and sit with the children who are sitting at plastic Fisher-Price like tables with chairs.I am thrilled to see Matthew attentively sitting with a girl who is building a block tower for him.
Matthew meets a new friend who just adored him.An open chair with a table of three girls beckons me. I sit next to a spunky girl named Ouetu (pronounced ew-a-to), which in French means ‘where are you? This name fits her well, as she seems to be one that would run fast and far if she were given the chance.
Mark Campbell, one of the soccer dads and the pharmacist/medic for our group, is also sitting at the table engrossed in building a block structure with one of the other girls. Immediately Ouetu starts to call me ‘mommy’, and shows me how she can stack blocks of the same color together. She playfully pushes my head away and tells me not to look each time she builds a different colored stack. Proudly she counts them for me when I’m ‘allowed’ to look. She also shows them to Mark and calls him daddy. When I take a picture of her, instead of quietly smiling like most of the children, she makes a funny smiley face and quickly tilts her head from side to side.
This little fireball is the first one to pop up and run over to David Kisor who just brought out his keyboard. All the kids gather around him checking it out. In true David fashion, he calmly gets them to settle down and sit down and then begins his magic. Just as he did at the S.O.S. Children’s Village, he teaches the lyrics with great animation and hand gestures.
During my education at the day care center and in the tent, the boys and men of the group have been very busy building a soccer field. A dirt field, about the size of a regulation soccer field and kitty corner from the Bambino Day Care, is filled with large rocks and debris. Our team has been busy at work digging out the impurities by hand. Through divine intervention, Frikkie, while out on an errand, just happens by a guy in a backhoe. You just don’t see that in Mamelodi. Frikkie pleads his cause and requests that the driver ask his boss if we can rent the backhoe for the day. It quickly became clear that clearing and leveling the field solely with manpower wasn’t going to happen in an afternoon, a day or perhaps even a week. The owner not only agrees to help out, he wants to do it free of charge. ! ! In a matter of 45 minutes, the skillful operator has scooped up the rubble and smoothed out every bump and hole on the field. We all stand and watch in awe and gratitude.
Soccer field excavation
Soccer field dedication
After the game, we gathered the children in a circle in the center of the field, and formed a circle around them. Dave Woeste told the children that we built this field for them and dedicating it to them. Pausing after each sentence, Moses steps in to translate in the children’s native language. The ebb and flow of the two languages breaking the quiet around us was beautiful, especially when Dave closed with prayer. To hear his words, and know that the children were then hearing the same words in their beautiful language was incredible. It was one of those moments where everything is so intense and comes into clear focus while the world around you stops.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Today is National Youth Day, the day we've been waiting for, and we are on our way to Mamelodi for the Hope Cup – a day that Bridge to Cross has been planning for months. Before we even arrived, a biking tournament was held earlier this morning. We arrived at Retabile field (situated on the outskirts of Mamelodi) at about 9:00am, and the place is teaming with activity. A tennis tournament is in full swing, a music stage was being constructed by the bleachers, Bridge to Cross banners flank the main soccer field, five tents house hospitality centers, and a paramedic van is on site as well. American Express and Uhlsport (a sporting goods manufacturer) helped sponsor the event, and their advertising banners are hung field-side.
Amy & Moses watching
the tennis tournament
Three boys taking part in the tennis tournament
The first game of the soccer tournament is in motion; the Umlazi team against the S.O.S. Children’s Village team. Both teams are in full uniform, with the Umlazi team’s jerseys donning 'SONY' on the front. I learn later they have had several sets of donated uniforms, and that Sony had sponsored these for the kids. Umlazi is a township near Durban, which is on the east coast of Africa, and a popular vacation spot for South Africans. Neil Daniels, a South African native who now lives in the states, recruited the Umlazi team. Much like Bridge to Cross, Neil (or Scooby as everyone calls him), is interested in bringing hope to the children in the townships of South Africa. Scooby travels to South Africa several times a year to work with the team and volunteers in Umlazi. He and Dave Woeste met by 'chance' in the US earlier this year, and the rest is history.
Watching these boys play soccer is amazing. Their passion, hours of play time and practice, as well as love of the game, show spectacular performances on the field. The Bridge to Cross team from Mamelodi size up their competition as they watch the game unfold. The girls from Umlazi, who had performed the stomp dance yesterday at S.O.S. Village is on the sidelines cheering on their team. Our US/Bridge to Cross team is warming up with Coach Dave and Coach Terry.
Just prior to the opening ceremonies, reporters from the Pretoria News and the Citizen arrive. Marnus does an excellent job detailing the foundational elements of Bridge to Cross and the order of events for the day. The opening ceremony then begins with Dave reading the proclamation from the mayor of Cincinnati declaring June 16 Mamelodi Day in Cincinnati. The morning's cycling winner receives his medal and the Mamelodi girls' soccer team recieve theirs too. The US and Mamelodi teams walked over the bridges and shook hands, Mirka did a fantastic job singing both the South African and American national anthems. David Kisor played his newly written Bridge to Cross song and Frikkie shared some inspirational thoughts about the day.
Dave Woeste reads Mayor Mallory's Proclamation
U.S. team and Mamelodi
team crossing the bridge
Cycling winner being awarded his medal
Victorious girls Mamelodi
soccer team receive their medals
Three metal bridges, forged in the states, are front and center of the ceremony. A black one, a white one and a red one are arranged in a row with the red one in the center. The US boys walked across all three bridges beginning on the black side, the Mamelodi team did the same from the white side. When they met in the middle on the red bridge, they shook hands signifying that we need to cross the bridge from black to white and white to black and form relationships that will positively impact, not only the lives of the children needing help, but our own lives as well.
Later in the day I am privileged to meet Mamelodi Stars tennis Coach Solomon who regularly mentors over 100 kids in his tennis program. In today’s tournament, 60 kids from the tennis club are competing. Many children are here to watch their friends in the competition, and are very vocal when a good shot or a miss takes place.
An awesome and generous lunch was served up by Tina and Frikkie for the Bridge to Cross crew. They also fed a slew of kids in attendance of the event – over 600 children in all. Phenomenal. After lunch, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Mirka, South African recording artiste and star, whose husband Michael I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year while he visited in the states. She did a fantastic job performing throughout the day. When she met Matthew, she immediately invited him to perform with her on stage to perform, and they sang three songs together! Mathew was thrilled and I was so proud of him. Mattie Koen also got his time in the spotlight, playing some awesome drums on stage.
Mzwake, Angelo and Matthew
Next, Mirka took the stage and wowed the crowd with her amazing voice and stage presence. Her arsenal of songs included some old favorites familiar to all and a collection of some of her own beautiful compositions, many of which are on her most recent album; Still Standing. She graciously invited Matthew up on stage and they performed three songs together.
Mirka rocks it out
Matthew joins Mirka to
rock it out together
Afterwards, Mirka announced the Mamelodi Idols competition near the end of the day. Some kids eagerly signed up, while others were interested, but needed a little encouragement. In all, I think 15 kids sang. There were a couple of good performances, but I think Simon Cowell would have had a field day on these kids – no pun intended. The kids from the S.O.S. Village won hands down, but we’ll have to wait and see what Universal Studios thinks.
U.S. team on the field after their victory
All soccer teams in the tournament; our U.S.A. Bridge to Cross team, the Bridge to Cross Mamelodi team, S.O.S. Children's Village team and the Umlazi team fought tough and hard in the tournament throughout the day. Our U.S.A. team was victorious in the end beating the S.O.S. Village team in the final game with a score of 1-0. The scores of the first three games were; 1-0, 2-0, and 1-0. They were unstoppable.
Dave & crew proudly hold
their trophy up high
In the closing ceremonies, our U.S.A. team was awarded a special first place Hope Cup trophy; a wood carving made by a local artisan (see photo). Second place medals were awarded to the S.O.S. Village team by the US team as each passed over the bridges and met in the middle (see photo). The real victory won today is the mark Bridge to Cross made on the Mamelodi community and acting out their mission statement; bringing hope by connecting people.
Killian awarding an S.O.S.
boy a 2nd place medal
Monday, June 15, 2009
Today is our first day in Mamelodi. As we near the township, everyone is quiet in anticipation of what we are about to see. Just before the township limits, you literally have to ‘cross a bridge’ as you go into Mamelodi. On one side of street is Mamelodi west – a developed city with infrastructure and decent housing with middle class occupants. On the other – the township. As far as the eye can see lie squatter houses and makeshift shacks made of every imaginable building material. The mosaic stretches ahead of us and next to us on vast, flat land for at least two miles to the foothills of the mountain.
I expected only to see houses in the township, but it has its own little ‘infrastructure.’ Shops and services thrown up in makeshift cubbies and storefronts offer the township people haircuts, a car wash, a shoe repair shack, used tires stacked up in towers, as well as many odds 'n ends and crafts. Some people sold their wares on a blanket on the sidewalk, working their craft while waiting for a customer. Just as on Sunday, barefoot young men were hawking oranges. A health 'clinic' hung a shingle offering ‘surgery’. Both the structure and the sign resembled something young children would construct in their backyard during summer vacation. Chickens stacked in cages sat near the edge of the road awaiting their unknown fate.
There is garbage strewn everywhere, barbed wire fences protect properties and businesses whose owners are most likely not citizens of the township. Hundreds of people also walk in the street, next to the street and across the street. Women are washing clothes in tubs. Perhaps most surprising - cars in the township, as well as a legitimate gas station and pharmacy at one intersection. A muffler shop, motor mechanic and driving school were set up in tiny shacks near the gas station. One could also purchase cell phone air time - a real shocker. A small shop with a sign offering 'prepaid electricity' had me wondering how that might work. On one corner a man decided he couldn’t wait to ‘go’ in private, but was considerate enough to turn his back to the street.
Children roamed everywhere; with other kids, alone or with their mother and siblings. Many women carried small babies on their backs, secured within a large blanket fastened at their bosom. The strewn garbage is piled up in large amounts on some corners, lining curbs at other points and stuck within fences. It is both old and new; a lot of decaying trash with a fresh layer on top. No one seemed to care, notice or be bothered by it. I am dumbstruck at the irony of an old man using a wisk broom to sweep out the dirt floor of his ‘shop’; a structure looking something more like a portico. Exactly what he was selling was not obvious. One small shack stood out like a beacon of hope and example to others with three thriving colorful rose bushes in front and a neatly kept entrance. Most dwelling spaces are no bigger than a common-sized public restroom. The township has no heat, no electricity and no running water. We did pass evidence of progress, mostly structures built by Crossroads Community Church in Cincinnati. There is a hospice, orphanage and a school. All are well kept with the the recent addition of a newly laid parking lot.
On the initial approach, random women and men are making the trek into the township as far as a mile outside of it. They carry mostly firewood in their arms, or bags with a few necessities. Some women carry enormous twined branches precariously balanced on their head, their backs low with the weight, with arms reaching above supporting the load. They still have far to go. Yesterday, on the return from the game drive, we saw a wide track of thick black smoke slowly traveling low across the highway. Jennifer told us that someone was burning a tire; a common form of heat and a gathering place on a cold night. Today, we see tires stacked 5 or 6 high in rows of two or three for sale by the side of the road.
SOS Children's Village
Two men in uniform open the gates for us as we approach our destination in the township for the day: SOS Children’s Village. Some of the children are orphans, others have been abandoned by their parents; sometimes due to their inability to care for their children, others left their children there because they just didn’t care. SOS Children's Village runs many orphanages throughout the world.
Our 6-car caravan of Omnis and Volkswagon Golfs quickly park as the guards close the entrance to the gated community. First sights of the kids include many of the boys playing soccer with bare feet on a very small dirt field flanked by two metal makeshift net-less goals. Many children are running around the yard. Some run up to the soccer players who scoop them up and put them on their shoulders. I am amazed at how comfortable they seem to be with the children. As we settled in one area of the yard, I feel a nudge on my shoulder and someone grabbed my hand. I turn to see a girl of about 16, who then put my arm around her shoulder and nuzzled in. It was easy to recognize that she was a little slow. Shy and quiet, she does not look me in the eye, and will only quietly answer questions I asked her. Together, we walk to a room where everyone was gathering. She holds my hand even tighter, shyly taking a couple of glances at me. We walk into the ‘auditorium’ and sit down together.
There are times when I don’t easily start a conversation with someone, and this was one of them. As I’ve been praying in the mornings this week (and prior to the visit), I’ve been asking God to prepare my heart for what I would see, and open my mind to what He wants me to learn. Over the past month, and especially this week, I have heard God’s simple reply; 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' When seeking to make a difference, help or facilitate change, we tend to want to see big and immediate results. The work in Mamelodi will not provide anyone such satisfaction. The change will be small and slow, but the impact on each child we connect with them is immediate and enormous. As I sat with this young girl, who so desperately just wants to be loved, I strongly feel the prompting of God’s message.
Me and Swahelia
Our purpose here today is to just be with the children, love on them and watch several skits and songs prepared for us. Like the other kids we saw as we entered the township, they all had decent, yet uncoordinated clothing; a dress from the 80’s, someone’s old t-shirt, very worn tennis shoes, old flip flops. There are two very cute little boys wearing a doctor’s coat and carrying a house call kit – props for the play about to be performed.
They have been preparing for this day for quite a few weeks. Nkele, who runs the music program for Bridge to Cross, guided her group of kids from the township to the stage first. These children attend a nearby school and do not live in the orphanage. They proceed to put on a play and beautifully sing some gospel songs. However; throughout the play performance and songs, the kids in the audience did not pay full attnetion, and talked the entire time. A group from the orphanage then performed a nice song and dance. The talking continued. Lastly a group of girls from the township of Umlazi (which is on the east coast of South Africa), performed an extremely coordinated and somewhat provocative chant/song and stomp dance. Both the boys from the Umlazi and US Bridge to Cross teams watched with intense interest.
The seriousness with which all the children performed was admirable, and their ability to continue despite the lack of quiet was amazing. Most impressive, however, is the joy and talent with which they all sang, particularly the first two groups. I am so touched by their determination and presentations. During the three acts, small children, from toddler to about age 6, sought out a lap to sit on. They are adorable. Many were eagerly scooped up and watched the performance with their new friend. Carol Ryan took two on her lap, Mark Kirk has a sweet child by her, and Amy Crockett sat crouched on the floor for an eternity with a little one on her lap. An overwhelming feeling of sadness, wanting to help, endearment and sympathy worked through me as I sat and watched.
The talking is making it next to impossible to hear the children sing or act their part, yet no authority figure from the orphanage steps in to help bring order. I am baffled by this. Through the last act the chatter continues and I was incredulous and frustrated about it. Then, David Kisor took the stage.
David has an amazing ability and talent to connect with children through music. His work helps young children in early developmental stages as well as youth with disabilities, and empowers children with self-confidence. As he walks on stage, a tall presence with wildly curly black hair, he raises his arms a bit and gives a gesture to indicate ‘quiet down and sit down.’ The noise level noticeably drops. Then he took out his keyboard. After telling the children he is going to teach them a song to sing with him, it was finally quiet. It was incredible.
They immediately pick up the lyrics and hand movements, joining in with great enthusiasm – young and older children alike. The magnitude of what was going on here, what Bridge to Cross is doing for these children, just being in South Africa, and in Mamelodi envelopes me all at once. Dave then taught the children a new and awesome song he had written about Bridge to Cross. I am so overcome at this point with the mission, its affect, the children and our group of volunteers that I completely ‘lost it’, and had to leave for a good cry and breather. A very kind woman from the orphanage sweetly hugged me. Her words were comforting yet sad at the same time. Gathering my composure I return to the 'auditorium', only to leave again for the same reason. Composure finally in tact, I return and visit with Swahelia before our group meets for lunch.
Tina prepared a lunch which we all ate in a separate room without the children. It felt so contrary; one moment we were empathizing and impacting, and the next we shut ourselves off from them to eat a nice meal. Shortly after we begin our way around the buffet, two women from the orphanage bring in fried chicken, mashed potatoes, a common and local dish called ‘pop’ and made from corn meal, and some salads. I was humbled and embarrassed. He we were supposed to be ministering to them, and they were serving us. True that we do all have to eat, but I felt especially awkward when some of the children came to the door of our room and were told that the lunch was for us. I know our mission is not to feed the children, but I couldn't help feeling we were excluding them.
After lunch, Matthew and I venture to a thatched roof pavilion where David sits with his keyboard surrounded by curious children. He sang to the children and also let them play on the keys a bit. One small boy reached up and touched his hair quite a few times, obviously amazed by the different texture unfamiliar to him. The children are lined up on the outside of the pavilion for a lunch that had been prepared for them. It was not near equal to our feast, and left me thinking about the incredible disparity.
Precious on Matthew's lap
A little boy named Precious approaches me and Matthew and showing us a little plastic figure toy. We start playing with him and he is immediately our buddy. He reached to remove my sunglasses and put them on his own face. He laughs wildly at this. Settling in on Matthew's lap, Precious continues his game of putting the sunglasses on his face, then mine. Each time he dons them, he lets out a belly laugh that has me and Matthew cracking up. Many of the other kids want to play the game too. Such a simple thing. It's not the game, but the attention. We take many pictures of the kids and they can't wait to see their image on the screen. Cameras are not common, nor are mirrors, so it's not often they see themselves. How many times do I look in a mirror each day?
As the day draws to an end, we head to the gym for a singing contest. Matthew and I head in, passing a line of contestants anxiously awaiting their turn. The gym is not quite as full as earlier. One by one, singers, most of them girls, belted out their best. Matthew is making paper airplanes out of a ‘say no to sex’ flyer, many of which had been left on the floor or strewn across the grass outside. I’m sure neither the littering nor the airplane making were the original intent of the pamphlets, however; the children are quite pleased. About six little boys gather around Matthew waiting their turn. Between the paper airplanes and the boys checking out Matthew’s guitar, he doesn't know which way to turn. I inherit the airplane making duties so Matthew can show the boys his guitar. They are mesmerized. The contest continues and many of the performers are amazing.
Matthew showing some of the boys his guitar
Matthew then made a friend named Angelo who looked like he was about eight. They talked a bit and he asked Matthew for an American quarter. He was so thrilled when we gave him one. He couldn’t spend it in the Township, he was just thrilled to have a piece of American money. We hung out with Angelo, who had quite a personality and sense of humor. When we left, he gave us both hugs good-bye and asked us when we were coming back, making me cry. I told him that I wasn’t sure we were, but that I would send him the pictures we took together. He asked me to send two, so he could share one with his friend. Awww. Topping off the end of the visit, Marnus shared the news that the Pretoria News called about our news release and would most likely be at the Bridge to Cross Hope Cup the next day.
We make our way out of the township as it is growing dark. It was a little scary, people were everywhere, some men drinking beer out in the open; random fires set here and there, another man ‘putting out a fire’ like earlier, and a very long line of vehicles making their way into the township. Adults from Mamelodi are returning from a day’s work outside the township, each car and van packed to capacity. As they return to the Township, we make our way to Johannesburg for the first game of the Confederation Cup; US vs. Italy.
We arrive at the Pretoria Sports Arena; a park and ride lot where a nice cookout is waiting for us – set up and prepared by Marnus’ wife Julia. When we arrive, we realize we were one less car than we started out with. David Kisor and his car of passengers were lost – again. He did not have a cell phone, or know where we were meeting, so we were quite worried.
Upon entrance to the stadium, our entire group – 32 or so of us, are shouting U-S-A, U-S-A and waving an enormous America flag. Camera men numbering in the 20s gathered around from the press area and took photos of the guys for about five minutes. TV cameras also shoot the action. Shortly after sitting down, Stephanie Woeste sent a text message from the U.S. saying: “tell Dave to put his shirt back on.” She had seen it on TV from the US. During the middle of the first half, the US team scored the first point. Our shirtless, spirited spectacle got up in formation, ran down to the main floor, and began to circle the ring around the field chanting, U-S-A, U-S-A. Heading the group was Bryan with the flag. Russ trailed behind them, capturing the action on video. Half way around the stadium, the FIFA police intercepted the guys, guiding them up the stairs and out of the stadium. They were almost ejected! The police told them they must wear a shirt and stay in their seats. Most of the guys had their jackets around their waist and were OK. Dave and Terry had to purchase a t-shirt on the spot. They were then escorted back into the stadium the same way they were ushered out. As they started to run back to their seats, the FIFA police ran in front of them waving their fingers in their faces. When the guys started coming back again, they were walking. You could almost see the tail between their legs. The police told them to get dressed and walk, not run – too funny. Tough regulations.
We found David Kisor and group shortly after we arrived at the stadium. Unfortunately, they missed the walk in. We feared the mothers of the lost travelers would be watching, see the ‘painted boys’ and question the whereabouts of their sons. Thank God they arrived safely. They actually were there the entire time, had just parked in a different lot, and needed to find us for the tickets. Marnus spotted them just outside the stadium – no small miracle, as there were thousands of people there.
We found out the next day that our boys were on MSNBC and ESPN. Their photo made numerous websites, and ESPN showcased their picture in the show opening. They also made the paper the next day! The second page of the Pretoria News sports section showed Mattie Koen front and center in an enormous full color picture in the sports section. He made the point that over the last three days, he had been on the radio and TV and in the newspaper. Mattie, you’re the man.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Random, small flocks of goats, a few donkeys and guinea fowl are sprinkled on both sides of the endless highway at different intervals along the drive. Suddenly, a flowing sea of yellow jumps into view, breaking the vast flat grassland - sunflowers! Rows and rows as deep and as long as you can see. Their little faces are perked up to the sun and resemble a baby looking up at its mother waiting for a response or a smile. They actually seem that alive. On our drive back, their little heads sadly lowered their faces to earth as the sun set and they went to sleep for the night.
The sunflower fields graduate back into flat grasslands as squatter shacks haphazardly and precariously set here and there giving off great color. Corrugated metal 'houses', broken down cars, hanging laundry in colors of bright turquois blue, pink, brown, yellow, black, red and green dot the landscape with complete disorder. Children in mismatched outfits, most with bare feet, run about. A woman balancing a very tall cylinder something on her head walked with purpose carrying her bags, while her upper cargo never moved or teetered. Women wearing white and blue dresses; a cross between a prarie dress and a tunic don white heavy cloth chef-like hats. Young girls dressed the same, walk with men and boys dressed in their Sunday best as they head to their Zionist church for worship. Barefoot teenage boys dangled oranges and nuts in netted bags at every 4-way stop - assertive, yet friendly as they try to sell their goods.
Very close to the park, we stop in a strip mall for water and apples. Guards with night sticks survey us as all seven cars pulled into the lot. In fact, everyone surveyed the minorities as we pulled up in our mini stick shift vehicles. They are curious where we were from. In this parking lot, along the highway, in fields, and at the intersections, South Africans were walking, talking, doing and living in an outward and unreserved, yet civil fashion in such a way that you would never experience in an American city or suburb.
Entering the game park under a thatched roof portico, we drive past several vendors selling bowls, wood carvings of all shape and sizes, beaded jewelry and tapistries. In a nearby lot we board two safari vehicles. Our group has the distinct pleasure of having Gift as our driver - a most knowlegeable and funny guide who skillfully navigated any bumpy, narrow, muddy, rutted stretch of road we encountered. http://www.pilanesberg-game-reserve.co.za/
A two and a half hour tour on roads in excess of 320 miles yielded quite an array of wildlife; wide rhinos, black rhinos, hippos, 2 giraffe, an elephant, many zebras, 2 kissing klip springers (think deer with cute round ears), 3 lioness, impala, waterbuck, wildebeast, a crocodile (huge - sunning himself), gazelle and one very mean baboon.
Gift even stopped the safari truck at one point to pick up some extremely oversized elephant dung and broke it open just to give us a closer look. He details the different plants the pachyderm had eaten over the last day or so while displaying the specimen for us. At the end of the drive, we witness a rare sight - seven or eight baboons chasing each other and quickly climbing up trees. A baby baboon is being groomed by its mother. One very mean male baboon however; has some business with us. Walking along one side of the vehicle, he jumped up on the small wall of the bridge next to our vehicle. If animals are capable of giving dirty looks, we witnessed one right there. I could have reached out and touched him, he was that close. He let out calls demanding we leave his territory, and we wisely obey - thanks to Gift. They were our last prize of the day as we bumped along back to our vehicles.
Passing by a soccer field on the return from Pilansburg prompted a pullover by the front car in our convoy. Several soccer guys realize an opportunity for an impromptu pickup soccer game with some young boys playing on a field just off the highway. We circle back and the boys quickly piled out of the cars, running onto two fresh green soccer fields, which had been laid only days ago – a rare gift for children of any township. The young boys, from the nearby township of Tsitsing, were just finishing a tournament game. They eagerly lined up to receive their medals – true motivation for these kids who rarely receive any such rewards. They couldn’t have been more excited.
Dave Woeste and crew introduce themselves to the coaches, and before they could finish the conversation; the coaches, boys and Dave are on the field showing their stuff. Serious competition swept over the field. One field over, Josh, Mattie, Moses and a few of our athletes initiate a pick-up game with the some boys from the township who are not part of any formal league, but were spectators from the previous playoff game. The local kids won – a score of 3 to 1. I can only imagine how they felt.
The real story on the field, however; was Samba Soccer. Ronnie Caro, a Brazilian, started the organization just three years ago. He and four other friends, along with a gentleman from Ireland, began the dream remotely from their home countries. After many trips across the Atlantic, all five men made the move to South Africa and now live here full time working with the children. They have grown from a idea to an organization with over 10,000 kids in the program. They work in many villages with one full-time staffer and many volunteers. Samba Soccer also encompasses karate, net ball, rugby, and track (which is called ‘athletics’ here.) The men exchanged their stories and business cards. The similarities and possibly synergy between the two groups is full of promise. In future Hope Cup days celebrated on National Youth Day, I’m sure Samba Soccer will be at the top of the invite list.
Arriving back at the hotel, we are greeted by Tina’s lovely sister Debbie and her husband Adrian who had prepared and delivered a meal of homemade soup and rolls. What a welcome sight and treat that was! Everyone eagerly grabbed a bowl and headed for the soup line. It was absolutely delicious. Thank you so much Debbie and Adrian for another great meal and all your help. You have been such a blessing to our group. Thank you.