• 24Feb


    There’s no photo to illustrate this post because I promised a guy I wouldn’t post it. We spotted a van parked at our flat which was from an organization called “The Mount Frere Police Tea Club”. I took a picture hoping to share this fascinating sight with you, dear readers. Thirty seconds later we were hailed outside our door by the driver of the van, who was upset that we might reveal his secret — that this van exists — to the world.

    So I told him we wouldn’t post the photo. Sorry! Why is everybody even peripherally  involved with the police so opposed to photography? This was a picture of an empty vehicle and the guy was really nervous about it.

    This post is dedicated to anyone who gets arrested in the UK under the new “don’t photograph the police” law.

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  • 19Feb

    School Registration

    This week I tagged along on with Nokonwaba and Phindiwe to do school registration. It lasts from mid-January until mid-March, and we go to the Junior Secondary Schools (JSS , grades R-9) and Senior Secondary Schools (SSS, grades 10-12) that Hlomelikusasa represents to take down information about all of the orphans and vulnerable children in the school. Most of the OVC don’t have uniforms (or very shabby ones) or the necessary school supplies. The children are not always in the Hlomelikusasa system, either. If you can believe it, our office is horrifically disorganized. Sometimes it takes months for a report to be added into the computer (if at all) because Fikiswa is the only person in the office with computer literacy. (Oh, but we’re going to give computer lessons next weekend! woo hoo!).


    Nokonwaba & Phindiwe registering students at a rural JSS

    Here’s what I saw:

    It is a tough process, probably somewhat altered because umlungu (‘white person’ or more accurately ‘interloper’) was there to observe. The teacher at one school complained to me that the orphans were pretty well off, and that it was the children with two parents who had the real problems. I’m sure most children in the rural areas have it pretty bad, but our focus at Hlomelikusasa is to help orphans, and I doubt the OVC have it as ‘great’ as she seemed to think.


    Children in line for registration at a rural JSS

    The kids waited in a line outside to be seen and assessed by Nokonwaba and Phindiwe. The village health worker for each area comes, too, so she can help wrangle the known OVC. Each child came in one at a time to give their vital stats: age (some kids don’t even know how old they are), grade, whether or not they already have a Child Care Grant or Foster Care Grant. The kids were poked and prodded (in a relatively friendly way) to check their size for a new uniform. And then we gave them learning materials–a pencil for the youngest kids; pencil, pen, simple calculator, and pencil box for the old kids.

    Most kids are wearing school uniforms that are either too big or too small, and completely falling apart at the seams. The situation with uniforms is ridiculous. They cost about the equivalent of $20 for a full uniform, but some kids need 2 uniforms (one for special occasions), or also a track suit, or a blazer, pantyhose, scarves… It’s ridiculous to ask for these things from kids that don’t even have enough money to eat. Some schools deny entry if the kids aren’t wearing uniforms.


    Rural JSS. Most schools have solar panels for electicity (most have been stolen, but this school had a nice one, and a TV in the teacher's lounge!)

    The age range is unbelievable. There are kids as old as 18 that are still in grade 6. Most kids are older than you’d think for the grade they’re in, actually. Some of the really old kids are “mentally disturbed” and shouldn’t even be in the schools they’re in. Unfortunately, the special schools are for reeeaaallly disturbed kids, and most of these guys wouldn’t fit the criteria. “Mentally disturbed” is the blanket term that they use for anyone with problems. I may have already mentioned this in another post, but I think a lot of the “mentally disturbed” kids are autistic, and many of them probably have fetal alcohol syndrome. There are so many drunks around here, men and women alike.


    The government has started providing nutrition in schools--used to just be bread 2x a week, but now it is semp & beans every day (I think). Tasted pretty good!

    One little boy was so dirty it looked like he’d been beaten. Nokonwaba made him unbutton his shirt, and what looked like giant scabs was just layers and layers of dirt. The child had no one around to make sure he bathed. It was sad and gross.

    Oh, this was crazy: at one school, a JSS, there was no grade 9. The way Nokonwaba explained it to me, they had eliminated grade 9 because all the kids were leaving to get married. I asked her “Why?” and she just shrugged and said, “I guess they’re parents are into it.” I haven’t met a married 15 year old, but I guess it’s pretty common.


    Very poor rural school. In case you wondered what they do with broken chairs, they put them on the roof to keep it from blowing off.

    Another boy had moved on to SSS but was visiting his old JSS to try to get a teacher to stand up for him to get his birth certificate. I’m unclear on all the details, but basically, when he was a baby, his mother had locked him up in a room for days at a time. When a neighbor found out, they sent him to Mount Frere to live with his grandmother. When the grandmother died, he moved to the grannies sister’s household. Now the boy is 18 and he doesn’t have a birth certificate and he doesn’t know who his parents are. In order to get monetary support from the government you need to have death certificates of your parents and your own birth certificate. The teacher kept asking me what I was going to do about it, and I didn’t know what to say. That is such a common story around here, and there is so much red tape. The kid is already too old to receive a grant, and his great-aunt’s pension is probably stretched between a dozen people at their house.


    As soon as you get the camera out the kids come running!!!!!

    School reg. is a long, exhausting process. There are almost 100 schools to assess, and most of them are very remote. It’s difficult to assess more than two schools per day, and so the kids that don’t get seen till the end will be without uniforms and school supplies for the first 2 months of the school year. It seems like there should be a more efficient system, right?

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  • 10Feb

    ASAP/Hlom. video

    filming Over the months I’ve talked with Priscilla about the idea of doing a short documentary/promo video for the organization. It’s going to be a “day in the life” look at one of our Village Health Workers. There are so many incredible VHW in the surrounding rural areas, some cooking for as many as 50 orphans per day!
    Ultimately we are planning to put the video on YouTube and the ASAP website, which means that I really needed to find a VHW with good English. It would be too difficult to read subtitles on a small screen.


    Interviewing in the sewing room

    So we finally chose a village health worker named Sylvia Nqenqa (pronounced N-click-en-click-uh.) She is 79 years old. Several days per week Sylvia cooks for and feeds 14 orphans, in addition to her own son who lives at home, 11 grandchildren, and 1 great grandchild. There are a lot of stories from her 79 years, and she is totally adorable. A little frazzled, and her train of thought gets really wack-a-doo sometimes, but she’s great.

    Mrs. Nqenqa

    Mrs. Nqenqa outside the garden

    Yesterday, Andy and I—along with Precious, our translator—went out to Mount White, Mrs. Nqenqa’s location, about 50km from Mount Frere. We spent about 3 hours interviewing her; touring her house (including a sewing room with 5 sewing machines where she makes school uniforms, shoes, and decorative items); discussing and shooting her large garden full of mealies, potatoes, cabbage, and many medicinal plants; and looking at old photographs.

    young Nqenqa

    Young Mrs. Nqenqa!

    We’ll go back again in a few days/weeks to get footage of the orphans coming to Sylvia’s drop-in center for nutrition. There’s also a big party coming up at Mrs. Nqenqa’s. Her husband died in February of 2008, and so there will be festivities at the one year anniversary, when she will be given many presents, and finally allowed to change from the navy blue mourning suit she has worn for the past year. We’ve even been invited to the braai—and you know I love a good braai!!!


    Medicinal plants in her garden

    PS-After we’d finished the interview and were waiting for Themba to pick us up in the backie, Mrs. Nqenqa’s granddaughter brought us some mealie juice! It’s been offered before, but this was the first time we drank it. It’s basically stamped corn and sugar mixed with water. It was good… kind of.

    mealie juice

    Yumm... and we didn't even get sick!

    PPS-In answer to Chrissy’s question, and for those of you who are unclear: we work for African Solutions to African Problems, which is a non-profit organization that offers assistance to already-existing community based organizations in rural SA. Specifically, we are working with a CBO called Hlomelikusasa, but most of what we do goes through and is approved in on way or another by Priscilla / ASAP.

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  • 04Feb

    Hiring at Hlom.

    Last week we hired a new assistant for our overworked nutrition and permaculture manager, Nokulunga. His name is Simthembile and seems very nice, if a little shy. Andy and I had a few issues with their hiring process–they did not hire the best candidate, but instead chose the poorest. I can understand their sympathy, but it may not have been the best choice for the organization. But, so far Simthembile seems like a nice guy and eager to learn (though, if he’s so poor, how does he have a sweet mp3 player?)

    Next we hired a youth coordinator. There were only two applicants: former SPW youth, who have spent the past year learning to be peer educators in rural communities. We ended up hiring the young man, Siyabonga, and today was his first day. So far, I think he’s off to a really good start. He seems really interested in involving youth groups, making kids aware of all their options, etc.

    One of the biggest problems we’ve encountered is that kids don’t have a clue what they want to be or do. Most kids that are in grade 11, 12, or have finished matric, tell us they want to be an accountant, police, social worker, or nurse. Those are without a doubt the most parroted job ideas. Here’s the catch: most of the kids who want to be accountants have failed maths, or gotten really bad grades. Here’s another catch: they want to be a policeman, but they need a driving license to apply for the training, and nobody can afford to take driving lessons.

    Part of Siyabonga’s job as our new youth coordinator is to help the youth become aware of all their options. Everyone wants to go to university, but if their grades are very low, it is unlikely that they’ll get bursaries or financial support. There are many local technical colleges and business schools that ASAP and Hlom. can support, and we are trying to get the matrics interested in some of the career paths offered at those schools (FET, CIDA etc). So, fingers crossed. Siyabonga seems full of ideas so far, and we’re really excited to see what he comes up with.

    Finally, we are trying to hire a part time social worker to do Child Assessments and follow ups. On a daily basis there are vulnerable youth and orphans brought to the attention of Hlomelikusasa. It is a delicate job, and we need someone with training and experience who can ask difficult personal questions to the children to find out their level of vulnerability and how Hlom. can help.

    This week alone we have had several cases come in. Yesterday, a 16 year old girl came in (one of the kids from our Xmas trip to Port St. Johns). She was crying, and it turned out that her grandmother/caretaker wants to pull her out of school and marry her off to some stranger. This poor girl looked so scared. She came to Hlomelikusasa for help, because social development was too busy and could not do anything for her. There was another girl, also 17, who’s mother recently died and does not know her father. She wants to go to school but cannot afford her uniform or school fees and supplies. She has a 1 year old baby, and is staying with a family friend temporarily.

    We are in the midst of school registration process, and finding children on a daily basis who are not going to school because they can’t afford a new uniform. The principals won’t let them attend if they are not in proper attire. Boniswa found a child this morning who is starving, and begging for food outside the school before class.

    We’re having a hard time filling the Child Assessment position. Ideally, we would like to hire a retired social worker with lots of experience and nothing else to do but that’s not looking too promising. So far we’ve had the flyer up for a week and have had a few inexperienced teenagers come in, and one girls who is actually in her final year of social work training at Walter Sisulu University. She’s our best bet so far, but I hope we at least get a few more decent applicants!!!

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