It may sound strange but after 48 hours with 'AIDS babies' as many people refer to them, though 'he's positive' or 'she's got the dragon in her blood' seem to be the lingo in Grabouw, I left feeling blessed, hoping I can do something for these kids and the wonderful organization I volunteered with, all the while knowing how easily we forget once back home in our warm beds and busy lives.
The informal settlement in Grabouw is 65,000 (est. population 40,000-50,000 plus the townships etc.) of which there is a 34 percent HIV rate. 34% of 65,000 isn't a number to take lightly, especially when so many of them are children. The three week old baby I held for my last 2 hours in Grabouw didn't ask for this. She hasn't done anything wrong. Yet life for her will likely never be normal and carefree as most of us know it. I grew up in a clean home with four walls a warm bed, two parents, two sisters and haven't gone to bed hungry a day in my life.
People tell me how kind I am, what a good person to give part if my holiday time to these babies instead of parading around South Africa on safari and visiting all the cheap shopping destinations. I know better. Two and a half days of my life is nothing to them.
One more person to miss.
Another American girl who loved them for one day then left to head back to England where the water is clear and the football pitches don't have a spec of glass on them.
I texted my mom on day one to see if she knew if I'd been immunized for TB...to which she wasn't happy "great time to think about this! Make sure you're wearing gloves and not touching bodily fluids." My mom, like many of you obviously hasn't been to Africa. Gloves? No fluids? This is real life not a hospital room. These six babies are 13 months - 6 years old, with the addition of the 3 week old in my last afternoon at the Village of Hope. They are kids - they have runny noses, bloody noses, they want hugs, kisses, to sit in your lap. They just want what every kid needs: love. And in my short time here I hope I was at least able to give that.
I knew before I came that in 48 hours I would receive much more than I gave and I was definitely right.
I arrived Sunday evening in Grabouw at the Village of Hope where the volunteers and house Mommy's gave me a warm welcome. I met the six bambini, toured the house and after answering many questions about why I was there and who I was they told me all about the town, the children, the life, the problems, the people and prepared me for my time there.
Monday morning started with their daily 8:15a meeting. Where I was just one of the team. They got right to business. What happened last week? What does everyone have on for this week? Who is doing what today? I must say from the minute I arrived I was thoroughly impressed with the Thembalitsha organization and their projects. Everything was so well thought out. Run like a business founded on hope and love. It runs through everyone you meet. They are a Christian based organization but its not in your face, it is ingrained in the walls and the hope but non-religious are welcome as well. It isn't a mission trip to drive home church rules. Many Africans are quite religious anyway. It's a mission to bring hope and to teach the children stories which will help them overcome the many hardships they will likely face in the years ahead.
In my short time there I didn't say much. They must have been so curious about me. This random girl who came from out of the blue for only two days. But what could I say? It was just so much to take in. The sights, the stories, the diseases, the brown water but most of all this group of people giving their lives to these projects.
On my second day in Grabouw I had the pleasure of meeting one of the former Village of Hope children when I went with the home carers on their daily rounds to one of the local townships, you can hear his story and more about the organization here: Celukhanyo
If you've made it this far as you want to know more or you want to donate as I plan to start fundraising asap please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my justgiving page: justgiving.com/AshleyMarieHG
I can say from past volunteer experiences this is absolutely a 'Village of Hope' rightly named and well led. It's a place without corporate overhead where volunteers pay their own way and all of the money goes directly where needed. I'm also happy to give the address if you want to send clothes, toys, books, sports supplies or anything you'd be willing to share. Hand me downs accepted :)
Let's fight the dragon together...
About the Thembalitsha Foundation:
The Thembalitsha Foundation was established in 1997 with the vision of restoring hope to the needy of South Africa by developing them to the point of self-reliance through the provision of healthcare, education and training.
The organisation focus on social development and we help to establish pre-schools, adult training programmes, health care services and education programmes. It also assists in the rehabilitation of vulnerable youth through education programmes. The Thembalitsha Foundation helps to build responsible individuals who are equipped and willing to contribute to the life of their communities and to the economic and social well-being of South Africa.