• 13Aug

    Attack of the Orphans!

    No, no, don’t be alarmed. It’s just that we finally got around to making our South African zombie movie! Potato Riot has gone international (well, it already was, but I guess now it’s gone bi-hemispherical!!).

    I don’t want to give away too much about the amazing storyline, but the general premise is orphans-turned-zombies. Sounds intriguing, eh? And as usual, we managed to collect an eager cast of friends and colleagues to dazzle the screen! Everyone had a great time making it — zombies and victims alike.


    Zombie orphans!!!

    Almost as memorable as the high-octane action sequences was watching the dailies with the cast and crew when we stopped shooting. It filled my heart with happiness to see the orphans at Mrs. Tshalana’s house watch the tiny LCD screen on our crappy digital camera. None of them had ever seen video footage of themselves — and this was no ordinary footage! They were evil zombie monsters with a lust for blood! And they were superb.


    Andy showing the kids footage of themselves.

    Stay tuned for the world premiere, some time this winter.

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  • 04Aug

    Garden visits with Nokulunga


    Nokulunga & me carrying pumpkins after a visit to a VHW garden.

    ASAP has funded over 90 permaculture gardens with the village health workers of Hlomelikusasa. “Funding a garden” means providing an intensive course in permaculture training with our one and only expert: Nokulunga Mzobotshe. After 2 sessions of week-long training (which covers nutrition information, gardening techniques, and methods for a sustainable organic garden) those village health workers are supplied with gardening equipment, fencing, tools, seeds, and the much coveted item: a water tank.

    We’ve been to a lot of gardens recently, and I wanted to give you a taste of some of what we’ve seen. Bare in mind: it is winter, and winter is the dry season. Some areas have not had rain in over 2 months, and their gardens struggle as a result. But some are great. Along with the pictures, I’m including Nokulunga’s brief reports that she sends in to Priscilla.


    Nomagcwanini Mbasane's garden

    Nomagcwanini has a very beautiful and interesting garden with spinach, beetroot, cabbage, carrot, turnip, onion, parsley, and peas. A mulch pit has been put in the garden, compost heaps, and an organic tea made up of chillies and water to chase away the insects. She has also done intercropping throughout, and there was an extended area in the back of her garden in preparation for potatoes.


    Eggs from Flora Mcosini's chickens.

    Flora’s garden is very poor because of drought. Her cabbage is lousy because it has been eaten by chickens. There were also poor tomatoes, spinach, onion, turnip, and chillies. For medicinal plants she had cancer bush, vertiva, insect repellent, comfry, and tanzy. She has chickens, also, and they were producing eggs, but not very many. I told her to get the laying mesh for her chickens to help them produce more eggs.


    Alexandria Longalo in her garden

    Alexandria had a very beautiful garden. It was a very green garden. Every vegetable was mulched, the seedbeds were prepared. She is not cooking, just assisting a child headed family with vegetables. Her produce included spinach, cabbage, carrot, chillies, peas, pumpkin, strawberries (which have stopped producing now because of the drought). She is using grey water from the kitchen to help keep everything green.


    Vivienne Nongqotho w/ Nokulunga and lots of cabbages!


    Mountains of beans!!!

    Vivienne had a marvelous garden with cabbage, spinach, carrot, turnip, onion, parsley, potatoes, wild garlic, pumpkin, melon, fruit trees like lemon and orange. Also, fantastic harvest production—there were mountains of beans inside her home. There were a lot of eggs from her indigenous chickens, but they are her own, not given to her by Hlomelikusasa, as well as ducks and geese. She is not cooking (for any OVC), but said that she gives the vegetables to the families in her area. I suggested that she teach them her methods so they may try to duplicate at their own homes.

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  • 24Jul

    Poor Sylvia!

    A few days ago, Sylvia came into the office. (You remember Sylvia—the star of our somewhat-shelved docu-video series?)


    She came to tell us that her house had blown down. I couldn’t believe it! She seemed sort of resigned to it already. There had been heavy winds the night before, but in Sylvia’s rural location the winds had been so strong that the tin roof of her rondaval blew off completely. Thankfully, nobody was living in that room. In the rural areas, most people have a few separate buildings, as opposed to one house with several rooms. The room that was damaged was a room that had been used for feeding orphans, and some of Sylvia’s craft projects.

    Sylvia’s ability to cope with tragedy is incredible to me. People around here have faced so many horrible things, and somehow they manage to be grateful for what they have, rather than what they don’t.


    The tin roof was torn clean off the building. It rests precariously along the side.

    A few days later, Nokulunga and I decided to go and visit Sylvia’s house. I wanted to take some photographs because Priscilla mentioned that ASAP might be able to get an emergency fund together to repair the damages—especially considering that the destroyed room was used as a feeding room for orphans and vulnerable children.



    What a horrible thing to have happen! Now, I’m waiting for Sylvia to return with a quotation on repair costs. The look on her face when I said ASAP might pay for the damages was too cute. Sylvia is a gem.

    We love you, Sylvia!

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  • 20Jul

    Matric Workshop

    We finally had our first workshop designated for students in grade 12! It was a workshop to make all the kids aware of their post-matric (high school) options. The reason for starting this workshop was because we have had a lot of kids come in to the Hlomelikusasa office having finished high school and with no idea what to do next. Maybe they want to be a nurse or police officer, but they have no idea what the job requirements are, deadlines for training, or courses they would need to study. Through this workshop, maybe we can help kids become aware of all their options.


    Dweba Senior School, Hlabathi

    So, for our first workshop we went out to Dweba Senior Secondary School in Hlabati–almost a 2 hour drive through the mountains! 25 out of 27 students were in attendance, which was pretty damn good. We broke the workshop down into segments: CV preparation; school-leavers options; practice interviews; skits; and a questionnaire about their strengths and interests. Fikiswa and I led CV prep and she was great! She really came alive w/ the group. Made me wish she was our youth coordinator instead of being the office secretary, which, to be honest, she isn’t very good at. We compared good and bad CV’s (people around here tend to put a cover page on their resumes. It is ridiculous and useless, but everyone thinks it “makes a good impression.”).

    Cheesy CV Cover

    Cheesy CV Cover

    Then, Siyabonga, the Hlomelikusasa youth coordinator (who incidentally won’t acknowledge me—because I’m a woman, I guess—but I created this entire effing workshop, and he will only talk to Andy about it if he has a question–it’s infuriating!!!). Anyway, Siya and Andy talked to the kids about “What do you do?” when they graduate from school: peer education, getting a job, going to FET (technical college) or CIDA (a business school that Scilla is really excited about) etc.


    Siyabonga & Fikiswa doing a skit for "Day in the life of a social worker."

    It was all really eye opening. ALL the kids want to go to university, but had no idea of the Why, How, or Where. We asked, and they answered, “I want to go to university because I want to improve my studies.” But nobody had a SPECIFIC clue what that meant for them. “What courses would you need to take in order to become a social worker? or an accountant? or a doctor?” Nobody knew. A lot of kids put a first career choice like Teacher, or Police, and when asked about their backup or 2nd choice: Doctor…. I didn’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but not many people–especially not 20-year-old high schoolers–are going to have much luck if their fall-back career is Doctor.


    Fikiswa leading a discussion.

    Overall, the workshop was a huge accomplishment. Fikiswa, Siyabonga, and Precious (she was in charge of “ice breakers” to energize the troops) expertly engaged the students from start to finish. The kids seemed to like it a lot. Hlabati is a very remote area and the students are extremely disadvantaged as a result. They were grateful for this opportunity and one student said that our workshop “opened my eyes. Before, I was only working to pass matric, but now I am thinking about a career.”


    Precioius (w/ Siyabonga) rallying th troups with ice-breakers!

    Now that we’re getting so close to the end of our time here in South Africa, it really made us feel good to do something that might have a positive outcome. It is going to be an ongoing series, hosted by Fikiswa, Precious, and Siyabonga. And we already have our second gig booked for next weekend!

    We finally had our first workshop designated for students in grade 12! It was a workshop to make all the kids aware of their post-matric (high school) options. The reason for starting this workshop was because we have had a lot of kids come in to the Hlomelikusasa office having finished high school and with no idea what to do next. Maybe they want to be a nurse or police officer, but they have no idea what the job requirements are, deadlines for training, or courses they would need to study. Through this workshop, maybe we can help kids become aware of all their options.
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  • 18Jul

    Happy Birthday!

    Today is Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday. Congrats, Madiba!

    Free Mandela poster

    Free Mandela poster

    The special day was celebrated in many ways, surely, but the die-hard patrons of Kings Tavern (the bar across the street from our flat) celebrated by starting a fire and burning the grass surrounding the building. No need for alarm, in winter people burn dead grass on a regular basis. The man who was in the long-drop toilet right outside, however, had quite a shock when he had to burst through the flames to get out.

    Burning the grass outside Kings Tavern

    Burning the grass outside Kings Tavern

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  • 14Jul

    Plate makin’

    A few months ago I went for an art visit with the OVC at Letticia Tshalana’s house. Mama Tshalana lives in a rural area called Njijini, which is a huge pain in the ass to get to, but worth it every time. The kids are so adorable! And they love doing art projects with me.


    During the last visit, I took Make-a-Plates. I didn’t really explain what they were, just gave the kids blank sheets of round paper and special pens, and told them to draw whatever they wanted. The kids are all nervous at first, but once they get going, they really loved drawing–some more abstractly than others. When I left, I explained that I needed to borrow their drawings, but would bring them back soon.


    "Scribbles" by Lizeka


    Make-a-Plates for everyone!

    We had the finished plates sent to New York, then brought them back to Mount Frere with us, and recently we went back to Mama T’s with the final product: real plastic plates that they can eat off of forever (I still have make-a-plates from 1983, so I can vouch for their life-time warranty).


    The final product.

    The kids were SO excited and happy to see their drawings transformed into plates. The idea was that they’d leave them at the drop-in centre, but of course they all wanted to take their plates home–can you blam ‘em? They promised to bring the plates back every day for nutrition. We’ll see about that.


    Kids love having their pictures taken, but they weren't necessarily holding a plate they'd made.


    Make-a-Plates for everyone!

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  • 10Jul

    Three minutes

    Andy and I (emphasis on Andy) have been working on a grant application for the past week. It was a grant for home-based care and training from the health department. Grant writing has been an uphill battle with the staff here. Questions like: “How do you make your services known to beneficiaries?” continually get answers like “We make our services known.” It’s exasperating. Not only that, but there was a legal document that we needed to submit with the application–something that Hlomelikusasa should have had, but didn’t–and Andy and Boniswa drove almost 10 hours to get it (4 hrs there, + getting lost and redirected, and 4 hrs back).
    We were really down to the wire. We needed signatures from 2 board members, plus several things printed, and then to drive 1 hr to Kokstad to hand-deliver the proposal. We told the woman who’s signature we were waiting on that she had to be there by 9AM on Thursday, and around 9:30 we finally got her on her cell and she said she wasn’t coming. AND then there were printer problems and it took ages to get the thing finished.
    So, finally at 10 on the dot we hopped in the car w/ Boniswa and high tailed it to Kokstad. As we drove, Boniswa said, “Oh, so the grant is due today? At 11AM?” Andy nearly had a cow, because we had told her a thousand times. AND it is her job as project manager to be on top of details like that. We were really cutting it close, and when we got to town, we realized we didn’t know where the Health Department buildings were so we took a couple minutes weaving through streets to find it. I finally pulled up to the gate and Andy jumped out of the car, ushering Boniswa to do the same, and they ran to deposit our grant application.
    But we were too late. By three minutes.
    It was 11:03 and they closed the box at 11AM. No exceptions. So Hlomelikusasa lost out on the opportunity for over $40,000.

    There will be other opportunities … but this was a good one.

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  • 07Jul

    Filming, part III: Qwaqwa

    We wrapped up the filming in beautiful (and freezing) Qwaqwa in the Free State Province at one of ASAP’s partner CBO’s called Kakaretso. Kakaretso is by far the most ‘together’ project in the ASAP family. They have their own office, they have a 4 very dedicated women who each have a specific job description—and they even have uniforms!

    Kakaretso staff (plus Andy & Mois nephew)

    Kakaretso staff (plus Andy & Moi's nephew)

    Kakaretso supports 79 ECD (early childhood development) centres with over 5000 children. We went to a few of the centres for filming, and I was completely blown away. They were incredible! Very well maintained, the children had toys, art supplies, books, tables, rugs, vegetable gardens, a play structure outside, uniforms … even the teachers were in matching school uniforms! The kids looked so happy and healthy. But they weren’t all orphans. Kakaretso supports the entire ECD program, while ASAP directly supplies the OVC with school uniforms and materials.

    Kids on romper-stompers at Sentebali ECD centre

    Romper stompers at Sentebali ECD centre

    Hi-fives with pre-schoolers at Neoh ECD centre

    Hi-fives with pre-schoolers at Neoh ECD centre

    At night we went back to our backpackers–a place called “Karma” in nearby Kestell. It was a lovely place, but they DIDN’T HAVE HEATING. There was snow in the mountains, a windchill factor of 5 billion, and they had NO HEATING! Okay, there was a stove in the living room, but our bedrooms were almost unbearable. They even left the windows open when we weren’t there! Insanity. But it was charming, and the owner made the most delicious jams in the world. I bought melon/ginger and pear/pinotage/rosemary, and I think I’m developing a serious addiction.

    So cold you need a cat on your lap just to get through the day!

    So cold you need a cat on your lap just to get through the day!

    The next day, poor Scilla was sick as a dog and had to stay in bed. We went out without her, but I think we were all a little worried that we might not get the exact shots she wanted! We went to another ECD centre and got loads more shots of kids playing and eating, and it’s hard to go wrong shooting kids that adorable. We shot at the tiny adobe hut of a local gogo and her 7 grandkids. The lighting was horrible, and Linet and I froze our fingers off holding the giant silver reflector, but I think they ended up getting some really good footage.

    Gogo & grandchildren in Qwaqwa

    Gogo & grandchildren in Qwaqwa

    And that’s a wrap! The rest of the crew hightailed it to Durban, and back to Cape Town to finish up the filming at Nyanga, but Andy and I ended up staying at Kakaretso an extra day. Andy fixed computer viruses and got the staff set up with better software. I got some more letters/drawings for the School to School program, and also did a little computer tutoring, as best I could.

    I like to play drawing for School to School campaign

    "I like to play" drawing for School to School campaign

    Overall, it was an exhausting 10 days of filming, but amazing and unforgettable. We all had a great time working together and sharing the creativity and responsibilities. Andy and I learned a lot about filmmaking that we’ll surely put to use on our next Potato Riot production. And I can’t wait to see the final product when Move A Mountain has put the whole thing together!

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  • 02Jul

    Filming, part II: Masupha

    From Mount Frere we drove 2 hours north to Matatiele, our home-base for filming at the Mamohau project in Masupha. We’ve been there twice before and are absolutely in love with the area and the people. We got some great footage of the Mamohau ladies preparing nutrition for the orphans.

    They are such caring ladies and take such good care of the kids, lovingly washing their hands before mealtime and coating their cracked winter skin with vaseline. Elio continued filming during lunch, and we got some great shots of Priscilla helping to feed a sick boy.

    The next day we filmed at a nearby project called Itekeng Batswari. We stayed for a greeting, a meeting, a feeding … and handing out blankets was on the agenda, but the blanket company delivered them to Cape Town by accident, which was a real bummer.

    Mamas of Itekeng

    The mamas of Itekeng

    The kids of Itekeng

    The kids of Itekeng

    We finished with one more day of filming in Masupha. We got a lot of footage of the cemetary tucked away behind the village. Each family has a section where they have buried their dead. It’s a beautiful, chilling spot, and clearly there were a lot of fresh plots. However, the people in Masupha seem very reluctant to list HIV/AIDS as a cause of death. Not only that, but you can’t even get them to say it. “”These diseases” was as near as the project manager would come to acknowledging the existence of AIDS.

    Girl at the graveyard, near her fathers grave

    Girl at the graveyard, near her father's grave

    As usual we were treated with such love at Masupha! And as we left, we were each given a jar of peaches from the Mamohau secratary’s very own trees! We had some the other night, and they were delish.

    Farewell song at Mamohau

    Farewell song at Mamohau

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  • 28Jun

    Lights, camera, Move a Mountain!

    One of ASAP’s longstanding supporters (and incidentally the woman who introduced us to Priscilla) has organized a filmmaker to do a promo docu-video for ASAP. Yes, I was also trying to work on something, but Move A Mountain Productions are real professionals! The film crew consisted of Andy & me, Priscilla, Linet (ASAP’s office manager and all around can’t-live-without awesome woman), Elizabeth (the producer and filmmaker), and Elio (the editor-turned-camera-man). We made a good team! On the first day Elizabeth said we should all throw in our ideas, that there was no ‘director’ which made us a bit nervous. Having made a 1/2 dozen Potato Riot flicks, we know how easily there can be too many cooks in one kitchen. But actually, we all worked well together. While Elizabeth took notes and suggested shots, Elio filmed, Scilla worked with the interview-ees, Linet got forms signed and helped translate, and Andy & I did sound, lighting, and production stills.

    Linet, Boniswa, Priscilla, Elizabeth, Elio, Alex (photo by Andy)

    Linet, Boniswa, Priscilla, Elizabeth, Elio, Alex (photo by Andy)

    The first leg of filming took place in Mount Frere. We filmed at the home of one of our favorite village health workers, Mrs. Tshalana. She invited her sangoma friends, and there were about 30 kids there, singing and dancing when we arrived. The weather wasn’t great–lots of wind–but we still managed to get a few interviews of Boniswa and Mrs. Tshalana in the garden. And Andy and I finally got to try Xhosa beer! It was … interesting. It looked a bit like hot chocolate, and tasted thick and very yeasty. I’m pretty sure it won’t become my new drink of choice.

    Andy tucking into the Xhosa beer

    Andy tucking into the Xhosa beer

    The next day (my 30th birthday!) we filmed at a local JSS to get the “kids walking to school” shot. We then rushed out to another school (which, though it was described as “not very far”, turned out to be almost an hours drive) to interview one of our OVC. He’s one of the kids Andy has been tutoring in maths, and he is such a sweet kid. His English has improved immeasurably since he has switched from junior high to high school. Also, working with Andy has probably helped, too. He was very nervous and tongue-twisted on camera, but he talked about how much Hlomelikusasa and African Solutions has helped him over the years with school uniform & supplies, and helped him to feel the same as all the other kids.

    Filming at Osborne Senior School

    Filming at Osborne Senior School

    Then we had to rush back to Mrs. Lila’s, another village health worker. She is an adorable woman who doesn’t speak much English, but she has a fantastic garden and an uncanny knack for getting the orphans in her area put on child care and foster grants. She’s a saint. And she was a really good sport about the filming. Scilla really wanted a shot of a VHW fetching eggs that had been laid by indigenous hens and holding the egg up to the camera to say “One egg can provide the protein needed for a child.” It took a few takes, but Mrs. Lila nailed it!

    All you need is one egg...

    All you need is one egg...

    Stay tuned for the second installment of our filmmaking adventures!

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