The plane lands in Durban and I walk outside to a jazz guitarist, playing a lively tune in the sunshine. My heart opens, I know I am home. A shuttle takes me to Pietermaritzburg to Carolyn and Ukulapha. Carolyn and I are similar in that our deep heart work has always been here in South Africa, although we have lived in Canada. Carolyn came home to settle and get involved day to day with disadvantaged communities, I have been commuting for 16 years.
I arrive in Pietermaritzburg and Carolyn and I catch up on the Slangspruit community, our involvement, our learning. It can be a lonely job, as we have these dual identities and we are living for periods in other’s lives, with whom we do not share a long history. Carolyn has chosen to devote her life energy to supporting children who have been orphaned. WHEAT (women’s hope education and training Canada) was started in 2003 to raise funds for projects in Southern Africa and under the umbrella of VIDEA in Victoria BC has contributed to the building of a resource room at the primary school in Slangspruit. My husband Gary and I spent over 2 months in this community a few years ago and connecting again with young friends, some already mothers, in the community was very heart warming. www.ukulapha.org.za
Our home 5 years ago has now been rebuilt!
Khayelitsha Grief Support
Nontobeko has been training facilitators of children’s grief groups now for many years. She was first with Khululeka as a founding member and trainer, and now has formed a registered community project in Khayelitsha – Khayelitsha Grief and Loss for Children that has been doing wonderful work for two years. They run groups for children at local schools. Nontobeko has also been teaching for the last year in a local high school. She has had to reapply at a number of schools and is hoping for a new post. This year her money was spent on renovating her house as it was leaking badly.
You may remember that Nonto visited us in Canada in 2013 and made some good connections. She loved the time spent on Vancouver Island and in Vancouver with Marie, whose students raise funds for our projects. I will be visiting the children and youth but in the mean time I was invited to a meeting of the management committee and the facilitators. They said that these groups fill a real need as there is very little counselling for children in Khayelitsha. It was so heart-warming to hear the stories of growth and healing:
Nontobeko is trusted by the women. She is a very experienced trainer and believes that we can’t help other unless we help ourselves. She welcomed everyone no matter how late they arrived with , “ Hello Sis, thanks for coming.”
What is the benefit to you of doing this training to be a facilitator of children’s grief and loss?
· “Charity begins at home” The training has helped me at home with myself, my family members and children “Death is rife these days”.
· It helped me to open up my heart to my children. Before, I did not really love them that much. Now I do.
· It has been healing for me. I lost my parents when I was a child. Children are not told when their parents or other people have died. The tradition is to whisper in their ear while they are asleep. It is very confusing. Now we give them a chance to talk and we listen. They are talking for the first time about their feelings and what is bothering them. They often cannot concentrate.
· The training has helped me be open with myself and others.
· When I lost my mom and then my brother it was difficult to go on. The training has helped to clear my mind so that I can go on with my life.
· Ever since my brother went missing, I couldn’t talk to his children. Since the training I can talk about family issues. It has brought peace in my heart.
· Healing has come from this. I was hiding before and would change the subject if anyone spoke of my loss. I opened up in the safe environment that was created in our training group. I learned that others have worse situations than me. I am not in the same pain anymore
· Ever since I have been in this field I lost one family member last November and another in December. I can talk to the children because of this training.
· In my family everyone’s sick or dies, everything is in God’s hands.
· The training was very helpful. I understand children’s needs when grieving. I can help my family. I am more aware now. I love the children I can also take care of children in my neighbourhood.
· I always asked, “Why do painful things happen to me?” This training helped me to find peace.
· I have learned a lot from the children. The stories in the training made me realise I am not alone, that helped me.
· We never had death in our family before my mother died. The children in the groups told their stories. I know the stages of grief and I now know what stage I am in. It has really helped me.
· I understand stages of grief and that is so clear to me now. I take note of the kids and I ask their elders if they have told the children about the deaths. It is okay to cry if I have pain, crying is not because I am weak but it is part of healing.
A few stories of children that touched their hearts:
· There was this grade six boy. His dad died on his birthday so every birthday he would remember and cry. After the group he said he felt he would soon be ready to ask his elders what happened to his father.
· This boy never knew his mother had passed on and it was very confusing and difficult. This past January I saw him and he said, “Miss I say whole heartedly, Happy new year because you have brought healing to my heart.”
· A grade 7 boy’s father disappeared and went to live in another area. He wondered why would a father leave you like that? In the sessions, it was difficult, but he realised there is no point in holding a grudge.
· There were two siblings whose mother was an epileptic. She had a seizure one night and died. They were only told at the funeral, “Your mother is not coming back”.
The women sang and danced and celebrated this work and one another. They were so grateful to have their transport paid as each person had been given R50 ($5) In a short meeting with Nomonde from the committee she said that they have a new proposal to provide groups for adults in the community, particularly parents and caregivers, so they can help their children. We will meet to develop a proposal next week and submit it to a local trust fund. They are also setting up recreation activities for the children. The first is tennis so are in need of tennis raquets, runners and balls.
So I bring you the love and gratitude of all these women. Thank you for caring about the women and children and the efforts spent in raising funds.
Since my meeting with all the facilitators as reported in the last email I have had the privilege of spending time with Nontobeko and Sitheti the two trainers of facilitators, as well as attending support groups with the children in Khayelitsha. I have pictures and videos of the support groups but the videos are too large to send, we will have to do this when I get home.
Khayelitsha grief support has well over 100 children in the current groups. At the school I visited teachers were saying “what about us the teachers? We need training too.”
I had fun with the children helping them energise themselves when dealing with anger and sadness using body-centred exercises. They get lunch which is substantial, sandwiches with polony for protein and juice. I brought apples which are usually too costly.
At a workshop for adult educators at the university of the Western Cape I was asked by women from an organisation called Equal Education for training for their members and parents in communities. Nontobeko and I are meeting tomorrow to discuss the expansion of Khayelitsha Grief and Loss Project. They are approaching their municipality in Khayelitsha to be given permission to use land near a police station. This will then hopefully be fenced with shelter for children and they will arrange homework support there as well. I am sure we will be invited to be involved.
I again did a workshop for hospice and met with those loving volunteers and staff members. They are interested in a partnership/relationship with the Cowichan valley. Popular educators have met and discussed how we are all working with human rights and contributing in some way to a more egalitarian society and wondering about the way forward…. very interesting and inspiring.
I arrived in Harare Zimbabwe on February 18, 2014. My agenda here was two-fold:
1. to visit Rokpa, Chitungwiza a respite centre for parents of children with disabilities
2. meet with community members from Marunda Village where Ronald had defrauded this community.
I initially met with the team at Rokpa who are overseeing the Chitungwiza project which is a respite day-care facility for children and youth funded by Canadians. It includes non-disabled children who are either siblings of the disabled children or fee paying kids. They shared the progress and also the learning at Chitungwiza. They have completed the buildings, the playground, the kitchen, upgraded the permaculture gardens and put in place a staff of 4 plus parent helpers who come daily and one who works diligently in the gardens helping youth with disabilities learn gardening. It takes time to get teams to work together harmoniously and at the same time appreciate volunteers who are actually feeling like unpaid staff. They are also realising how much more equipment is necessary for the various disabilities.
An after-school club with tutoring to support the learning, emotional and physical needs of local community children is also one of their goals
I was taken out to Chitungwiza a few times with Sabina and Winnie and received a warm welcome with so much appreciation for all who have raised funds and donated to this venture.
At one point they took advantage of me being there to have a staff meeting and I was left with over 20 children (about half with disabilities)….eek!!! It was very demanding with some kids who couldn’t walk unassisted, others lying on the floor, some crawling and others running wild, very excited to be free to play. I took out a bag of storybooks I had brought with me and within a few minutes they were all on the carpet looking at and exchanging books. They have very few books.
It is rainy season in Zimbabwe and when the book-reading was waning I suggested those who were able should go outside before it rained. I called for assistance for someone to watch those who couldn’t make it, then headed out assisting one girl who has determination to walk but very little balance. The merry-go-round is very popular and once I had ensured that everyone was aboard I sent it spinning hoping that no-one would fall off (I have a short video). Then the rain came and it was fast and heavy and I experienced the hardship of those less mobile trying to get in from the rain.
We sang songs and played games and I felt exhausted! The carers reappeared after a good meeting. At the end of the afternoon two men came with mbiras and hoshos. The rhythm was fabulous and the women and children danced. Even those children with very limited mobility moved to the music. It would be great to have more instruments so that this could happen every day.
We had time to discuss various money-making projects they are considering for future sustainability:
A peanut butter making machine for the wonderful peanuts grown here
A bicycle fix-it shop
Other ideas included a permaculture visit to a Zambian village for Winnie and connecting Women for Change with the Zimbabwean women from Rokpa. Stanley has soccer teams playing locally who need some equipment. The goal is to teach them to be quality people with caring hearts as well as soccer players. The afternoon club will start a bit later once they are ready and that classroom is already partially built. They have asked for computers from an embassy and are awaiting a response.
Rokpa Chitungwiza’s aim is for this to be a community used facility after school hours so they are holding an open day in mid-March.
I also visited the craft centre where women are creating such beautiful things. They are all mothers of disabled children. They also have a respite centre in their village (not Chitungwiza) for their children with disabilities. They sell through fair trade and their organisation is called Batsiranai.
I played jump rope with some local village children.
As some of you may know a young man defrauded the Marunda Village community of substantial funds from Canada over the last two years. It was uncovered in September last year and a friend Maaianne Knuth from Kufunda village organised for someone to investigate. I met with Ambali the investigator and two women from Marunda village, Annah and Stembile, at Kufunda, a learning village fairly close to Harare airport where I initially met the people from Marunda Village, later going with them to their village. It was a very emotional meeting and very touching.
When I was approached by Ronald to support the widows and children of Marunda Village I was very happy. He was a trusted member of the community, who held a large community meeting in the village to determine what the immediate needs were and how they could become sustainable with income generating projects (this actually happened). After two years of hard work on my part and involvement of Canadian donors and a large trail of reports, pictures and many emails the fraud was uncovered. We were all shocked and disappointed. The community members were sent the trail of evidence ahead of our meeting and met together with their community before I arrived. They are very sad and angry with Ronald.
The way he managed this deceit was to create email accounts for leaders in the community including a school principal, women, teachers of two pre-schools (he was more computer literate than they) and then changed all the passwords so that they could not access their emails, and used them in his correspondence with us. He sent detailed reports, pictures and financial statements as well as entering many conversations asking advice from one of our donors who is a farmer.
Ambali mediated the meeting saying that this was a time for us to hear from one another’s mouths what had happened. I told my story and the women remembered so clearly our connection from 2005 and how they were looking forward to working together with Canadians. Ambali spoke of his investigation that showed that no money had benefitted Marunda village or another village close by. Annah said that the headman of the village and those supposedly in email contact feel their reputations are spoiled in the face of their community members and the overseas donors, and they want Ronald to come back and face the community. They still find it very difficult to believe that Ronald would have been capable of this and the evidence is there.
Ronald’s parents were visited and they did not seem to know anything nor was there evidence that they received any benefit. Ambali will go back to visit all parties and let them know there is an investigation with input from the police and fraud squad. They have no doubt that Ronald will be held accountable. The women are devastated that the community has lost such a wonderful opportunity as they realise Ronald’s actions have jeopardised trust from donors overseas. It was extremely sad. I didn’t realise quite how much grief I had. We met and shared together for a long time and I was invited to come back with Gary, my husband, and the Canadian farmer who was involved (Angie) to Marunda village where the community would like to thank us for our sincere attempts at supporting them.
I was assured that visiting Marunda village was not dangerous at all (Ronald had said this to frighten me!) He tried to intimidate me after he knew that we knew of his fraud. They are hoping we do not forget them and blame them for what has happened.
After our meeting we went into the garden to be with living things so that we could each say what we hoped for in going forward. Ambali said that he felt the depth of my heart in this.
The following morning Annah, Stembile and Ambali met again with me and I ensured they had all the documentation for the ongoing investigation. I felt another uncontrollable rush of tears about them and their loving ways, their community that had lost support and also for Ronald who had lost his way. I was also very tired from all the emotion, but felt a great depth of connection.
Zimbabwe is a country of courageous people living very close to the earth under very difficult circumstances. The land has huge rocks often balancing precariously. There is maize growing in every possible space along roads and highways. This is food security!
It was a very full time both before hand and during my stay. The situation with Marunda Village has taken a lot of energy, but there is a lot to learn and to recover from. I spoke individually with each donor who contributed to Marunda Village before I left on this trip to Zimbabwe). I am hopeful that the community will get a chance to face this son of theirs, who has put himself in an untenable position. The people he defrauded are relatives and long-time neighbours and they are very angry with him. I will not be asking for funds from Canadians for Marunda village and have communicated this to them. Ambali, the investigator will keep us informed.And everywhere we face corruption; people trying to get an advantage even when it depletes opportunities for others. Will I stop supporting people in Africa? Not at all!!!! Will I invest in projects that become too dangerous? No unfortunately not.