Published: June 29th 2008June 28th 2008
So it has been quite a while since we posted any updates on this blog. It's not that there aren't a lot of things to talk about, but I guess after a few months of being here, things don't seem as newsworthy as they did when we first arrived. I think that maybe we just don't realize how crazy some things are when we are in the middle of them. Sometimes though, a day comes that stands out as newsworthy. Unfortunately that's not usually a good thing.
Sometimes No News is Good News
On Wednesday I was working at the Seed of Hope Centre and was packing up at the end of the day. I was the only one around as Shauna and Karen (a South African missionary) has gone out to visit the family of local woman who was very sick. (She can tell that story later. It was also quite an experience.) All the other staff had just gone home for the day and I was just waiting for Shauna to get back. All of a sudden I heard the sound of screeching tires and the unmistakable thud of something being hit by a car. I looked
The Main Road
The main road snakes through Bhekulwandle as it makes it's way up and inland from the coast.
out the window to see a crowd of people gathering at the side of the road. When I made it out to the road and pushed past all of the people to see what had happened, I was horrified to see a small boy laying motionless on the pavement. It turns out that he is one of the kids that attends the daily kids program at the Seed of Hope, but I couldn't even recognize him in the shape he was in.
His little body had been hit by car speeding down the road, thrown 30 feet through the air and then run over by the same car as it screeched to a halt. Now he was nearly unconscious, bleeding and laying in his own vomit as the crowd of onlookers stared back, stunned. I was totally shocked too. I was expecting to see one of the many stray dogs or goats that roam the area, had been hit. I was totally unprepared to see a six year old child. As a Paramedic/Firefighter back home, I have seen lots of horrible things, but nothing could prepare me for this. At home I always felt like I could do something
Ladies Along the Road
The road is like a sidewalk as most people walk long distances every day.
to help the situation, but here in the middle of rural Africa, with no equipment and an ambulance service that can literally take hours or days to arrive, I felt absolutely helpless. All I could do was rub his back, wipe his face, and keep telling him that everything would be okay. Is it ever okay to lie to someone? I hope so, because as much as I wanted it to be the truth, I knew I was lying to the both of us.
The boy's uncle is one of the few people in the community who owns a car. As someone ran to get him, Shauna and Karen drove by on their way back to the Centre. I flagged them down so we could throw the boy into our vehicle and rush him to the hospital, but just then the uncle screeched up, literally tossed the boy into the car and squealed away. The nearest government hospital is at least 20 minutes away, I can't imagine how long of a drive that must have been for him.
Information is tough to get as everything has to travel through word of mouth and things get lost in the
translation from Zulu to English, but it sounds like the little guy had a ruptured spleen, which they have since removed, a dissected intestine, and head injuries, among other things. He's now in a coma.
If you believe in prayer, this would be a good opportunity to use it.
One of the many things that I am learning here in Africa is that I take a lot of stuff for granted back home. Among the growing list of things are; stable electricity systems, incorruptible police officers, a strong social welfare system, Reece Peanut Butter Cups, and a strong economy. My list got considerably longer this week when I added; a first-world health care system that is free, a reliable and highly trained ambulance service, and sidewalks so people don't have to walk on the road. They say that sometimes you don't appreciate what you have until you don't have it. I'm finding that to be true.
A Few Rays of Sunshine in the Middle of a Thunderstorm
I needed some encouragement, so I started thinking back a few weeks to when our good friends Brad and Lela Olsen, from Australia, came to stay with us. It
The truck disappears into a crowd of waiting people at the first drop off spot.
was so good to hang out with them and involve them in what is going on here. One of the things we wanted to do was introduce them to Wellington Dhlamini and the guys he works with, or "Wellington's Guys" as they are known by around here.
An Entrepreneurial Spirit
Wellington came to South Africa from Zimbabwe about 10 years ago to start a church ministry here in the area. He is one of 25 children from the same father. Imagine the sibling rivalry in that family! Anyway, along with Wellington and his wife Liezel, there are now five other guys from Zimbabwe that live and work together with the sole purpose of running a church and feeding program in the poor areas outside of Amanzimtoti. They rent one side of a parkade which they have converted into a church. The concrete walls don't do much for the acoustics, but you can't beat how close the parking is! For most of the local people here, transportation is a huge issue and so the guys help pay for buses to help people get to church. The parishioners come from very poor areas and there is no way that the
A Line Into the Night
People lining up for food.
weekly offering collection can pay the bills. So it is up to Wellington and the guys to earn their own income, plus enough to pay the rent of the church and all the other bills, including the buses.
Fortunately, these guys are some of the most entrepreneurial people I have ever met! Wellington is an Accountant and he and his wife, Liezel, have set up a Tax and Accounting Business to pay the bills. They have also set up an Internet Cafe in their office. While Wellington and Liezel run the office, the rest of the guys are out all day collecting scrap metal to salvage and sell. The scrap metal business is considered quite profitable, but you have to work hard for it. These guys drive hundreds of kilometers each day in search of scrap metal which they load up and bring back to the local recycling plant for a bit of a profit. The income from the scrap metal, internet cafe and accounting business, helps to keep the bills paid. It also keeps them really busy.
But that's not all these guys do. Each day, Wellington "and the Guys" deliver food to hungry people in the
Mom and Her Kids
As a widowed mom, your kids learn quickly to travel everywhere with you.
community. There is a Toyota factory near here which employs 6000 workers. The cafeteria cooks for 5000 people each day and at the end of the day, they toss all the extra food in the garbage. Or at least they did until Wellington heard about it. He arranged to have the food saved and then picked up at the end of each day to be distributed amongst the starving people in the community. So at the end of each day, Wellington's Boys go straight from collecting scrap metal to picking up all the leftover food from the factory cafeteria. Then they set out in the flatbed truck to deliver the food at numerous "drop off points". A few weeks ago, Brad, Lela, Shauna and I met up with the guys to help out with the nightly food delivery. Words can never come close to describing what we experienced that night.
A Night We Won't Soon Forget
The sun was going down as the boys pulled up with all the food loaded on the back of the flatdeck. Tonight's meal would be rice, chicken curry, tripe (cooked cow intestines), and bananas. There are two routes that they rotate between,
Brad and Shauna dish out the food.
with 5 or 6 drop off points on each. Tonight we would be on Route A, with 5 stops to make, or until the food ran out, whichever came first. We were running late because the scrap metal run had taken longer than expected, so as soon as they arrived with the food we jumped in our car and followed as they sped off out of town, past the reach of street lights and into the darkness of the rural settlements.
A few minutes down the road, the truck pulled over onto the shoulder. We looked around into the pitch black as the truck was immediately engulfed by the crowd that was eagerly waiting at the first drop off. A line of people about 100 feet long soon formed and the food began to be dished out. Here's how it works: Everyone in line brings whatever dish they have for food. Old tupperware, plastic pails, shopping bags, whatever will hold food is used. Each person in line represents a family and the food they take is used to feed their whole household. The average person in line is sharing their food with a family of six or seven people.
Did I Mention It Rained?
People line up beside the truck in the rain.
Many of these households have not eaten since the last time the guys dropped off food here, and they won't eat again until Wellington's Guys return again.
When the line finally disappeared, we took off down the dark road towards the next drop off location a few kilometers away. As we pulled up, it started to rain. I have never seen rain like I have here. There is no such thing as "spitting rain". It is either dry, or a complete monsoon. And it can rotate between the two in a matter of seconds. To make matters worse, we realized that we would not have enough food for all five drop off spots. A quick phone call was made to someone, somewhere to relay a message to the people at the last two drop off points that they shouldn't wait any longer. I can't imagine how many people were standing there in the rain waiting for food, who had to turn around and go home with nothing.
Learning About Joy and Selflessness
When we pulled up at the third drop off point I expected there to be mass chaos, but I was wrong. As we pulled up,
A couple umbrellas emerge from the crowd. One in each hand.
the people swarmed around the truck and began to sing. I'm not sure if you have ever heard someone sing out of pure joy and thankfulness, but that is the only way I can describe it. Someone emerged from a shack with an old umbrella and held it up over the people dishing out the food. It's interesting how some people, no matter how much they are struggling to meet their own basic needs, will still think about others needs. I wonder, if I was in that place, hungry and in the rain, would I be able to pull myself away from my own situation and think about putting an umbrella over someone else's head? I don't like to think about the answer to that. I'm learning that 'selflessness' is a common trait among the people here. Soon, a second umbrella emerged from the crowd.
"What Do We Do When the Food Runs Out?"
I was getting nervous as the food was running low. It's hard enough to think of the faceless people who were waiting at the final two drops who went away hungry, but it is even worse to think that we might run out of
Riding in Style
Shauna and Lela hold on as the truck races to the next drop off point.
food in the middle of the crowd. That would be really tough. Luckily, with the help of a couple cases of Ichiban noodles, the food held out just long enough for everyone in line. A couple ladies from the area took the empty food bins away to wash them out and returned with them a few minutes later. While we were waiting, we took a quick detour to visit one of the families living in the area.
Like so many things here, words can't describe what we saw. A family of seven living in a tin shack, 10 feet by 20 feet, if that. No electricity, no water, just a double bed, a small table, a couple rickety chairs and a candle burned down to the last inch, all on a dirt floor. These are the people that Wellington and the guys are feeding every day. People who have nothing, but the clothes on their back. It is hard to imagine and just as hard to describe.
Dry Clothes - A Luxury Most Don't Have
We said good bye and the four of us headed back towards home and the comfort of a dry pair of clothes.
People waiting patiently in line for their food during a short break in the rain.
It's a luxury that everyone else we met that night didn't have. Have you ever gone camping in the rain? It is almost impossible to get your clothes dried out. It's usually not until you get home that you get warm again. Well, imagine living like that each and every day. Your shack leaks, you only have one or two sets of clothes, and the warmest place you can find is next to a candle. It is hard to imagine. Sometimes I find it easier just not to think about it.
But here in the midst of it all are Wellington and the Guys. They work all day, scouring the countryside for scrap metal, working in the office, doing whatever they can to earn a few bucks, so that they can be out every evening, dishing out food in the rain. I told you that being selfless was a common trait here, but these guys take it to a whole new level. We served food to roughly 200 people that night. Each of those people will take the food home and feed 6 or 7 family members. The math is astonishing. These guys fed 1300 people today, and another
Service With a Smile
Shauna dishing out some food into a lady's plastic container.
1800 will eat after tomorrow's run.
Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.
Shauna and I are big fans of community development and giving people the resources they need to help themselves. Handing out food on the side of the road each night doesn't fall into that category at all. In fact, it's about as close to "giving a man a fish" as you can get. But then again, it's pretty tough to "teach someone to fish", when they are starving to death.
There comes a point where the situation is so dire that you need to just roll up your sleeves and dive in to meet people's needs where they are at. That's what Wellington and the guys are doing. If it means working hard all day long, loading scrap metal, and then spending each evening dishing out food in the pouring rain, that's what they do. They are the first ones to admit that what they are doing won't solve the bigger issues. But then again, when you haven't eaten in days or sometimes weeks, are there any bigger issues?
It certainly changed my perspective on few things.
Anyway, thanks for listening to what is on my heart this
Some Kids Can Sleep Through Anything!
Check out the baby, fast asleep, strapped to her mother's back with the blue blanket.
week. I sometimes think that I am writing more for my benefit than anything else. I mentioned at the beginning that Shauna had a few stories to share and so hopefully we will get those posted in the next week or so, once we both have a chance to process them a bit. Until then, I'll leave you with a simple prayer:
I pray for Wellington, "the guys", and the hundreds of people that they feed everyday.
I pray for an understanding of what it means to be selfless.
I pray for a little boy that lies in a coma, and for his family who sit by his side waiting and hoping....
And I pray that after all that we have experienced, that we will never be the same again.
I was having trouble loading more videos onto this site, so I loaded them onto "YouTube" instead. Check out http://youtube.com/user/ShaunaandScott to watch two videos about the Centre.
There are more photos below