LaSER South Africa 2008 Hayley Cruikshank
The last year and a half have been incredible: exciting, busy, emotional, stressful, happy and wonderful. Last May when I applied to “find out more” about Region International Opportunities, I never imagined that I’d actually be invited to lead a trip, let alone lead a Region trip to help pioneer the Region’s Centenary plans in South Africa! London and South East England Region (LaSER) has formed a partnership with God’s Golden Acre, an NGO working in KwaZulu Natal and 2008 trip was the first phase of the project.
In October 2007, I was thrilled to meet and start to get to know the team of 14-18 year olds from across London and South East England who had been hand-picked to be part of the project. Suddenly the reality of the opportunity dawned. I was one of four Guiders from across the London and South East Region who led the trip.
God’s Golden Acre (GGA) was founded in 1994 by Heather Reynolds. GGA works in rural areas within the communities of Kwa Zulu Natal. They provide food, education, clothing, medical care as well as providing opportunities to those most in need. Before we departed for South Africa I was part of a team of Guiders who developed a resource to take with us and to use throughout the South Africa project 2008-2010. The programme resource became known as the POP Kit – ‘Programme on a Plate’ as it contained many activities that could be picked up and used without a huge amount of preparation. The POP Kit contained activities and sessions on a variety of different topics including healthy lifestyles, self esteem, team work, morals and values, spirituality, gender equality, respect, photography, drama, poetry, sports, art and craft. To run the activities and sessions we had to source our own materials. We created a wish-list of equipment and distributed it to Units, Guiders, friends, businesses who were able to donate items to the project. South African Airways kindly gave us 20kg of free luggage allowance which allowed us to take out everything we needed. We also went armed with an extensive list of simple action songs and parachute games to share with the different children we would meet. As a team in the year leading up to our trip we had 3 training weekends together which we spent getting to know each other, planning our time in SA, organising ourselves and our kit. Some of the team attended one of Girlguiding UK’s peer education scheme trainings, where the girls learnt how to plan productive peer education sessions and to deliver them successfully. To participate in the trip everyone had to fundraise to cover costs. We were grateful for the support of so many different sponsors. Part of going on a big trip like this is enlisting the help of others at home around you, so that they can support you and experience the project as well.
God’s Golden Acre
When we finally arrived at God’s Golden Acre the excitement was almost unbearable. We were met by one of their long-serving volunteers who showed us to our accommodation and helped us to settle in. The following day we met with more staff that gave us an introduction to GGA and showed us around the site. There was so much information to absorb and take in and they were thrilled that we were going to volunteer. We were warmly welcomed by staff and other volunteers as well of course by all of the children (and animals!) that lived on-site. Volunteers come from all over the world to stay and work at GGA and I felt privileged to be invited to join part of their international family. Our time at God’s Golden Acre was to be spent doing a variety of things. We were given a rough outline from GGA as to how we’d spend our time and we were given the opportunity to run our POP Kit activities with 3 groups of children at different locations – Crafcor nursery and Pre-School, Mophela Primary School and on site at GGA Khayelihle.
The children at the Crafcor nursery are aged 3-6 years old. The pre-school opened a few years ago as part of GGA’s outreach programme. They now accommodate 70 children in 3 different classes organised by age. The main aim of the pre-school is to offer a safe place for the children to come and receive appropriate stimulation and education so that they can progress into Primary School when they are ready and able. The children are fed one meal at lunchtime, which for many of them is their main meal of the day. Most of the Crafcor children have lost one or both of their parents often to HIV/AIDS and are being raised by grandmothers or other extended family members. Many of the children are left to be cared for by older siblings, not much older then themselves, and are vulnerable to abuse.
The young people we met at Mophela Primary School were aged 8-13 years old. The teachers divided the children and we were given groups of approximately 20 young girls to run 2 hour sessions with daily. Spending time at Mophela Primary really gave us the opportunity to work with the POP kit. The team planned and delivered sessions to the different groups. The groups of girls were all keen to learn, even though their English and our Zulu wasn’t very good!
The school building was a very bumpy, off-road 20 minute drive from the GGA base. The classrooms were literally shells, with the occasional desk or bench. Many of the glass windows were broken and just the frames remained. There were no resources, textbooks, paper or pens to use, so when we arrived with what seemed like an endless supply of stationery and craft materials the children were surprised.
We spent late afternoons and evenings with the 70 children who lived on site at God’s Golden Acre. The backgrounds of the children that live here are extraordinary. They have been orphaned or abandoned as a result of the HIV pandemic and/or violence. Some of them have physical or emotional disabilities, some have been victims of abuse or trauma and so can’t be cared for in their communities. As a last resort, the children are taken to live on-site at GGA. We heard many individual stories of children who had been incredibly poorly and had been taken in by GGA and who are now cared for in a loving family home.
The children at GGA are often referred to as the ‘Khayelihle Kids’. They are put into foster families with several adults acting as parents or careers. Each cluster foster family has a Gogo (Grandmother), Aunties and a House Parent who is responsible for overseeing the general care, welfare and education of each of the children in the family. I was amazed at the amount of love and kindness within these families. The Gogos and Aunties are all from the local communities who have chosen to care and live at GGA with the children. At GGA, the children are encouraged to maintain connections with their Zulu roots. They eat traditional Zulu foods and communicate in their native language. They are disciplined in the same ways they would be if they lived with their families in the valleys of KwaZulu Natal. During some of the school holidays, where possible children are sent back to stay with their extended families, grandmothers or siblings so to maintain links with the children’s biological families. When this isn’t possible children go and stay with their Aunties or Gogos in their family homes for a break from GGA.
Child Sponsorship Programme – Food parcels
Towards the end of our time at GGA we were invited to help with the Houses of Hope project and the Food Parcel Programme. GGA runs a Sponsorship programme to provide food parcels for the poorest families in the valleys. On one of our last days in South Africa the team worked really hard and packed 300 of these parcels to be delivered. With rising food costs it was shocking how little GGA were able to provide to families who are so desperately in need. Many of the quantities of items had to be halved as costs have risen so much. The photo on the left shows an average monthly food parcel for a family of 8 or 9 people.
Houses of Hope Project
The aim of the Houses of Hope project is to build homes for orphaned families and upgrade homes that are simply not habitable. During our stay we visited 2 Houses of Hope. We were driven into one of the valleys nearby and shown one of the sites that the GGA Building Team was currently working on. The home belonged to a grandmother and her 8 grandchildren, whom she cared for on her own with only a minimal state pension. The Rondavel (round circular hut) they were living in was poorly made. The walls were made of clay type mud and wooden branches and the roof was simply corrugated iron that had been attached to poorly aligned beams. It was falling apart. Typically, Zulu families in this area would cook in the Rondavel and then live in the rectangular building outside (pictured right) but this house simply wasn’t suitable. During the rain the roof would leak and we were told there were strong possibilities of collapse as it just wasn’t structurally safe. When we visited the next House of Hope we were able to get more involved and actually help to finish it off, ready for a family to move into the following week. The house belonged to one of the first young girls that GGA had helped and had been burnt out by members of the local community. The mother of the family was dying of TB and so the children were being cared for by their elderly grandmother. We painted the house inside and out and the family moved in shortly after we left. As part of LaSER’s Centenary Project, the ‘KZN Passport’ will be launched to raise awareness of the issues faced by those living in KwaZulu Natal. This Challenge will be distributed to units across the Region in early 2009 with the aim of raising enough money to build a House of Hope.
Touring South Africa
We spent 3 weeks in South Africa, the first of which was spent touring and sightseeing. Highlights included hot air ballooning, Safari at Ntshondwe National Park, visiting Lesedi Cultural Village and the Apartheid Museum. We also visited a Lion Park just outside of Johannesburg where we had the opportunity to get up close to some lion cubs. As well as sightseeing we spent time visiting different Guiding units in Johannesburg, Pietermaritzburg, Katlehong and Durban. We ran activities with Teddies, Brownies, Guides and Rangers as well as playing games, using the parachute and singing songs. We visited 3 very different Guide units in South Africa. The first was run by teachers after school in the township of Katlehong. The second was run in a very rural area just outside of Piertermaritzburg and the third was run in a built up area of Durban. Despite the obvious differences between the 3 units, all of the girls and Guiders were very proud to be part of such a huge organisation.
I look back on the last year and a half and I’m so happy that I was part of the beginning of such an exciting and worthwhile project. I’m proud to say I was part of the first stage of the LaSER and GGA Centenary project. HIV/AIDS has had a huge impact on the KwaZulu Natal area of South Africa and the Centenary project is there is raise awareness of this, to develop resources to educate, to fundraise and to send teams to develop programmes similar to the one we delivered this summer. Personally I’m incredibly proud of the girls that were part of the 2008 team. Seeing them grow as individuals and as a team over the last 18 months has been immensely rewarding and has made all of the hard work and time involved in such a big trip worth it. I hope that some of them will stay involved in the project.
When we were at GGA we met and spoke with Heather Reynolds, the founder of GGA, about the work that they do in South Africa, which ranges from caring for the children on-site to making food deliveries to school sponsorship and building Houses of Hope. The underlying message that she gave about the work that they do is that God’s Golden Acre are just “doing the right thing”. To be doing the right thing as an individual was great but to be doing the right thing as part of a dedicated and enthusiastic team on behalf of so many others in Guiding was an incredibly amazing feeling.
Many thanks to those whose kindness helped me to participate in the LaSER South Africa 2008 Project.
Friends and familyLaSER – www.girlguidinglaser.org.uk
GLK County – www.glkguides.org.uk
‘Hazel Harrison’s Memorial Fund’ Sussex East County – www.girlguidingsussexeast.org.uk
1st Brede Brownies
1st Blackfen Guides and Brownies
The staff and children of Staplecross MCP SchoolEwhurst and Staplecross Bonfire SocietyRye and Winchelsea Rotary Club
Leslie Sell Charitable Trust
Tracesmart Limited – www.tracesmart.co.uk
Michael Foster DL MP
Seamstress Limited – www.playchutes.co.uk