August 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
Images of the April 2012 trip can be found on our Facebook page.
April heralded the first trip of 2012 for TWOWEEKS to Lily of the Valley in South Africa. Our team comprised of Jennifer Tomlins, Mimi Hou, Davinia Powell and myself Karen Patten. Ying Teo was to join the team a week later due to work commitments.
We arrived on the Sunday and by Monday the team was getting stuck in to their planned activities. As ever, it is always a pleasure going back to Lily of the Valley and seeing the children there. However, on this trip I was struck how some of our ‘sweet Lily babies’ have now grown into young adults. This was especially noticeable when I showed some pictures to some of the volunteers and we saw how small the children had looked when I first went to Lily in 2005. Back then our focus had been wholly on reviewing the health of the children and ensuring that all medical complaints were identified and that those with HIV/AIDS were on the correct medication. Well, with the hard work and dedication of many volunteers, staff at Lily and also in the associated hospitals and health centres in South Africa, the children at Lily are now much healthier and living longer. In fact, hearing that a child has died at Lily is now a rarity and we all rejoice in this change. However, with this development comes a new challenge in that Lily and the extended Lily family need to prepare these children and young adults for the time that they will leave. We not only want our Lily children to survive, we want them to flourish.
This is not an easy thing. 130 children need food and clothes and a solid education to equip them with skills to earn a wage and pay those bills. However, they also need other training and skills like learning how to cook, how to buy a pair of shoes, how to open a bank account. When you live in an orphanage you do not ‘pop to the shops’ or bank with your mother or father, things are brought to you, given to you and there is little insight into how the process of acquiring and working for these things has occurred.
So with this in mind, Lily has now developed their school and extended the classes and age groups they teach. Lilyvale School http://www.lov.org.za/our-work/lilyvale-school/ now teaches Grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 10. They have a dedicated headmaster and teachers who originate from the UK, South Africa and Zimbabwe and it is truly wonderful to see the great work that this dedicated team do.
Davinia, who works in marketing, has skills in mentoring and doing workshops and her focus on this trip was to work with the older children at Lily, preparing then for life after Lily. She worked primarily with Grade 10 youngsters who are between the ages of 14 to 21 (yes, 21 years is the oldest ‘child’ at Lily now – an amazing achievement!). She held classes and workshops for the children and I was privileged enough to sit in on a couple of her sessions. For one of them, she asked the class to draw and develop ‘vision boards’. A vision board is where you put all your hopes and dreams on a poster. It’s your vision of what you would like to be, do and acquire in your life and the focus on how you will achieve them then follows. I will always remember the speech that Davinia gave before she talked about doing the vision boards as she spoke about her father and where he came from in Jamaica. How he worked hard to save and travel to England and start with very little to get a job, a home and provide for his family. She explained that whilst he may not have acquired all he had hoped for regarding his life, his vision was not just about himself, but he was thinking of the future for his children and one day grandchildren and now as his daughter, Davinia had received a good education, has a good job and achieved many things in her life all because of his hard work and ambition in taking this initial step. It reminded me of the sacrifices that my parents had made as well and I think it showed the children that success does not begin and end with them, but is an ongoing process for generations to come.
The children then set about drawing and developing their vision boards and as I walked around the class, I cannot lie, tears came to my eyes. Some of our children drew fast cars and fancy jewellery and similar luxury items. Others stated that they wanted to become lawyers, businessmen, teachers and one was most specific regarding their future chosen profession and wanted to become a cardiothoracic surgeon! But many of them drew simple houses, with a family outside, their family. Wherever we come from, we seem to all have the same dream – a family a home, a place and people to call our own.
I am not sure how it happened but I also got roped into doing some teaching with the older children at Lily. I was asked to do some classes on childbirth and pregnancy and other health-related issues including diet and hygiene. One of my favourite classes was when I taught on the different parts of the body and asked the children to draw where they thought they were but on a live subject called Pete who is a long-term volunteer at Lily. The session on childbirth was also great fun and trying to show the children how women give birth was a particular highlight as I could not show any gory films so used a very willing male assistant from the class. He loved stuffing a jumper under his t-shirt to mimic being pregnant and the actual delivery was an event in itself! It caused a lot of laughter and we all had a lot of fun that day.
But not all of the sessions were as joyful. I decided to make the last class with the older children a Q&A session as there were often so many questions asked during the other classes. So I thought that it would be a good idea to let them talk about things that they wanted to know. At the beginning of the session Davinia and I handed out blank pieces of paper and let them write their questions anonymously and we then picked them out of a box, reading each one and addressing the question posed. But the first question that I picked up was, ‘I have a disease that cannot be cured, what will happen to me? Will I live?’. The question just stopped me in my tracks and I was left speechless and stayed silent for a while as I tried to compose myself and then took a deep breath and answered the question as best as I could. I was reminded that teenagers have very different things to worry about and with all of the laughter and joking aside, this is what many of them have to live with every day. A sobering thought and a very difficult reality that needs to be addressed as well. Other questions asked were about cancer, contraception and ‘why is life so hard?’. These children have had to grow up a lot faster than others and this session highlighted and reminded us how much they have been through.
The medical side of the team comprised of Jennifer and Mimi, and we were later joined by Ying. They primarily assisted in the clinic at Lily seeing walk-in patients in the mornings and also assisted with the circumcision program that is being rolled out in South Africa. Research has shown that the spread of HIV & AIDS is reduced when men are circumcised so there is a big program to perform as many procedures as possible in male populations in the townships and the take-up has been very good. The team assisted the surgical team that visited from McCords hospital and also did pre-assessment and post-assessment reviews of the patients.
They also went out into the community and did ‘head to toe’ reviews of children in local township crèches and picked up a number of newly diagnosed complaints, recorded heights and weights and treated many fungal scalp infections. We also did community visits in the township and reviewed the equipment that had been donated to the clinic and sorted through this checking what would be useful and what had expired. So in short, they were very busy during their time there!
Luckily it was not all work and our team were blessed with particularly good weather during their stay and so many an evening was spent sat around the fire pit outside our accommodation sharing life stories and listening to the sounds of Africa all around us as we were staying on the borders of the Tala game reserve.
Before we knew it, our two weeks were coming to an end. We had many good times, a few challenges and even more memorable moments that we would carry home with us and keep for years to come.
However, as is always our vision and hope, the work with Lily and TWOWEEKS does not always need to stop when volunteers return home. After working with the Lilyvale school and seeing their needs, Davinia returned to the UK and contacted the Pearsons office in South Africa and a consignment of very valuable school books were sent to the school which were much appreciated. This is testimony to the vision that even though a volunteer may work for two weeks at a partner organisation like Lily, things do not have to end there. It can actually be the beginning of another initiative or development of a program to help. The possibilities to help are endless and so we continue on.
Once again, thank you all for your help and support and please join us on our mission to raise money for our TWOWEEKS Lily home and for us to continue doing our trips to help the many disadvantaged and needy people in South Africa.
January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
Our Trip to Lily of the Valley in November 2011 was full of emotion, challenges, successes, trials and appreciation. I feel renewed, refreshed and grateful. We did so much; ranging from piloting a new health program for children in the local communities surrounding Lily, working with local social workers on a suspected case of child abuse, nursing a very sick child with AIDs and conducting medical examinations on children in need. Within seeing 20 children, Samina and I had picked up two heart murmurs, two urinary infections, one likely case of diabetes and three children with HIV/AIDS. And that was just one class in one school. The possibilities to identify more cases of illness and disease is immense! We are proud that we were here at the start and that from our past efforts a bigger program will be rolled out to this district and perhaps even the whole of Durban which would be fantastic. Because of the huge need, we were told that our volunteers would always be needed with such a program.
We had a lot of meetings to establish links with old and new institutions, NGOs and people who TWOWEEKS need to work with in South Africa and who are related to the new ‘regime’ at Lily. Our trip was not free of sadness. One of the reports I completed was on a three-year-old girl who I reviewed in a school in a district adjacent to Lily as suspicions of child abuse arose due to her behaviour when examined and further medical tests undertaken. We made sure that we sought advice from social workers, psychologists and Lily before proceeding as it was a sensitive issue that meant potentially accusing innocent parents of child abuse, which we knew would not go down well with that community and news would spread also.
We discussed the situation and our suspicions with the head of the local social worker division and followed her advice to report our concerns to the headmistress of the school. She confirmed our suspicions and said that this child was always sad, withdrawn, never played and always sat alone in a corner. However, she went on to say that she would not do anything as there would be repercussions to herself, family and position at the school. “I know her stepfather”, she said, “and it would not be good for me.” Despite our protestations, the Zulu nurse attending this meeting with us explained that this is a real concern and retaliation is commonplace with situations like this. Needless to say we left that meeting very upset, confused and disappointed but in truth I do not live in this lady’s shoes and therefore cannot pass judgement. However, we could not abandon this child and so we are now handing over our concern to the social workers for them to help this little girl. We need to protect our children and sadly abuse if rife in South Africa – a bewildering and unpallatable fact that needs to be addressed.
Another sad situation arose when we tried to help a 12-year-old girl called Thobeka who had come to Lily about three months ago. She had full-blown AIDS and fell ill three weeks after arriving at Lily. She was admitted to hospital back in June and had remained there ever since. She had previously suffered with meningitis and as a result had paralysis on the right side of her body. But she made progress and picked up whilst admitted in hospital. However, South African public hospital care is very different from that in the UK and on the ward children are jampacked in together with all ailments (contagious or otherwise). So she not only had a low white cell count (i.e. AIDS) to deal with but she also caught TB and then meningitis again. Her immune system was just too weak.
Samina and I were asked to review her and find out if there was any way to improve her situation and prognosis. We went to the hospital that was a good 40 minutes drive away and spoke with the resident paediatrician in charge of her care. On our first visit he expressed hope and a determination to fight in her corner but as the days passed and she deteriorated further, it became clear that her chances of survival were fading fast and so we tried our best to get her transferred to a palliative care hospital as the care she was receiving at this particular hospital was abysmal. In South African public hospitals, parents are only allowed to stay with their children if they are being breast fed, so most of the children there stay alone. And even though Thobeka was an orphan, the Lily volunteers and staff at the village and clinic tried their very best to see her as often as they could in that small window of visiting hours, which was between 1-3pm each day. When we visited, Thobeka was often dirty, lying in soiled sheets and the nurses showed no care or attention. Her lips were cracked and sore and she often cried and moaned when we were there. Bless Thobeka. It was so hard leaving her when we visited and although we bought her cuddly toys and things to brighten her bed situated in a dimly lit area of the ward, it was not the same as a touch of a hand or a stroke of her brow which she appreciated when we were there. The Lily long-term volunteers also did what they could and two even took a guitar and sang to her. Whilst sitting with her I thought about all the people who ask, ‘What can I do in two weeks?’ Merely having a volunteer sit with this little girl each day and perhaps with the other children on the ward would have made such a big difference to her suffering.
We tried so hard to help this little girl but money was always the barrier. To move her to a semi-private hospital would have cost £100 a day and we tried to think of ways to raise the money; phonecalls, emails etc. We just needed time. With the global economic downturn, NGOs and charities such as Lily and TWOWEEKS have all felt the effects of reduced donations and cash flow and if you take £100 a day and give it to this one child, you take it away from helping the remaining 129 children who live at Lily. So we tried to think of ways to help little Thobeka and we even went to a hospice and asked for their help. A plan began to develop that if they could accept Thobeka in a side room and Lily hired a nurse to sit with her (a far cheaper option than transferring her to a private hospital), then she would be cared for and be nearer to Lily so that more people could visit. We just needed more time. But sadly on the 30th November we learned that Thobeka had died that morning. So sad. And whilst her suffering is no more, I just wish we could have made her final days with us more comfortable and surrounded by love. Lily now plan to build a small hospice facility to care for children in situations just like this and we hope to support them with this aim. Poor little Thobeka, she had such a hard struggle and who knows how her life was before she came to Lily. I pray she is now at peace.
Kamal did some stellar work at Lily and focused her time on working with the older children who will one day grow to adulthood and have to leave Lily. Most of them have lived at Lily for most of their lives and so the concept of leaving and having to fend for themselves is quite foreign to them and now being addressed in a big way. Kamal did a workshop on job interviews with the children to get them thinking about the process of looking and securing a job. She also worked a lot in the IT class which is situated near the clinic in the community projects that Lily has developed. She taught adults and children from the local community how to navigate around the net, search for things and jobs and produce a CV and covering letter. It was really touching as on the last day a couple of her students that she had taught from the community came up to her and said thank you and took pictures with her. It was smiles all round and I felt very proud of her as it was clear that she had made a difference to these two ladies who expressed their appreciation so warmly.
So that was our trip. There is still so much to be done but we are on the case.
Words by Karen Patten