Volunteers Help Children in Africa
by Cheryl Goodenough
The orphans and vulnerable children have been greatly impacted. These rejects of society feel so important and worthy to have had a group of important overseas visitors just give them the time of day. Just merely being spoken to makes them feel wanted and important. The hugs and having their photos taken made them feel like movie stars. You have made a great difference by just treating them as worthwhile human beings.
These words are contained in a letter of appreciation written by the principal of the Dunamis Christian School in Welkom, South Africa after Charmaine Wheatley, who was born in South Africa, visited with a team of Australian volunteers recently.
The seed for the initiative was planted when Charmaine attended a Rotary meeting in Welkom during the time the Victorian bush fires occurred last year. I was amazed when a 66 South African rugby player stood up with tears in his eyes and said that they had to help their friends in Australia. I was stunned because the unemployment rate in Welkom is over 60% due to the gold mines closing down. The poverty and despair in Welkom is overwhelming, yet they were prepared to help us here in Australia.
In addition to poverty and unemployment, the Aids epidemic has wrecked havoc on the already poor community and there are many child-headed households, or children cared for by an elderly relative, usually a grandmother.
When Charmaine, who is married to an Australian, returned to her home in Kiama, New South Wales, her friends and colleagues were amazed at the empathy shown by the South Africans. Friends, family members, fellow Rotarians from the Kiama Rotary Club and members of the local Kiama Lions Service Club decided that they wanted to help the Welkom community. Even the mayor of Kiama, Sandra McCarthy, has been supportive.
Within seven months the Kiama community had raised $21,500 and collected 500kg of educational toys, clothing, hand-knitted jerseys, beanies, soccer gear, books, and medical supplies.
A group of 16 volunteers set off in October last year for a two week mission to Welkom where they were overwhelmed by the sheer poverty and depth of the Aids tragedy in South Africa. In just two weeks they created a library, did medical checks on children, built gardens, provided computer desks, built toilets and basins, taught craft skills and teaching methods and distributed the goods that they had brought from Australia, as well as food parcels.
One of the volunteers, 64 year old Australian Ian Kind, who is a retired chartered accountant, said that while he was measuring up plans for desks and toilets at the school someone gave him a hug around the waist. When I looked down there was a small boy who smiled at me, gave me another hug and then walked away. He wanted to thank us for caring and coming to help them and this was all he could do. Neither of us spoke, but we both understood.
British-born Sue Granger-Holcombe, who has been in Australia for two years, said that she felt privileged to be able to assist the orphans in South Africa. The children live in the most appalling conditions, yet they have such a great spirit and every little act of kindness was rewarded with smiles and hugs that really tore at the heart strings. It was a wonderful experience tinged with sadness at the thought of leaving them behind and that there is still so much more to do.
Australian-born Carolyn Kind said that she will always remember the joyous songs sung by the children. That they could lift our spirits and show how happy they were to see us whilst having suffered such terrible adversity was inspirational. Our short visit was a drop in the ocean, but if only more would do likewise, that drop would soon become a beautiful lake, and would help ease the suffering of these children in need.
Before leaving South Africa the volunteers had already begun discussing the next project. This will include the renovation of a hostel, which will provide a safe place for 100 children living in the Chris Hani Squatter Camp in Welkom. Said Charmaine: Young girls living in the squatter camp are being abused and molested as there are no adults who are protecting these young children. There is no electricity or running water, and temperatures can reach 43C on a summers day. According to Charmaine, an eight year old girl living in the squatter camp was stabbed in her back recently while on her way to buy bread. She was carrying just R2, or about 30c in Australian terms.
Charmaine and her team have already started to fundraise for another visit to Welkom in September 2010.
Accomplishments of the Australian Volunteers during the 2009 visit
Created, catalogued and started a new library with donated books
Completed 260 medical health checks on children
Created six Australian no dig gardens
Built, supplied and designed 56 computer desks
Built, supplied and designed 15 toilets and basins, including two paraplegic toilets, which will forever be known as The Australian Toilets
Donated hundreds of dollars worth of medical supplies to four different child care institutions in Welkom
Distributed 320 new koala toys, 100 new soccer balls, 250 soccer jumpers and 250 pairs of soccer boots
Donated 25kg of maize seeds
Taught new craft skills and teaching methods to teachers
Assisted with the distribution of food parcels and clothing to 150 people living on the top of a rubbish dump on the outskirts of Welkom
Distributed food parcels and sweets to families living in a squatter camp
What can you do to help?
Charmaine and her team are organising a number of fundraising events. They are also asking people to sponsor $20 for a koala visa that will enable a child to receive a koala soft toy and assist with the feeding, clothing and education of the child.
Larger donations, which are tax deductible, are also welcome and are paid through Rotay International.
For more information contact Charmaine Wheatley firstname.lastname@example.org.