Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bears to the Rescue

Another program funded by Keep a Child Alive is Operation Bobbi Bear.  And while the adorable stuffed bear serves as a mascot, it’s also a tool.

The primary mission at Bobbi Bear is to aid vulnerable children, and particularly to address rape and sexual abuse, and the HIV infection that can result.  The bear is used as a statement or evidence in court after the child, working with a counselor, marks it up to show what was done to them.  That bear remains with the court, and another goes home with the child as a protector and friend.  This is tough stuff, but what a brilliant and sensitive solution to a devastatingly difficult situation!

In addition to the bears, the program’s success is also based on relationships with the police, as well as prosecutors, educators and clergy.  And once there is a report, there is urgency, based on the need to get exposed children on medication within 72 hours.

The Bobbi Bear location is 20 miles south of Durban, primarily serving people of Zulu origin who live in rural settlements.  The work is done by a compassionate and loving team that is available 24/7, with several vehicles necessary, as very few of the cases come to them.  And dealing with a reported incident is just the beginning.  In the end, many of these children are orphans requiring placement.  In addition to care at the Bobbi Bear facility, staff members are known to have numerous children in their homes at any given time.  That’s what I mean by love and compassion!

I was there on a Saturday, so I witnessed ‘The Tree’, a weekly gathering in a field, with a magnificent tree as the ‘magnet’ that draws children on foot, or by any other available transport.  It’s support group Bobbi Bear style, and there’s playing, talking and distribution of sandwiches and juice.  This is the highlight of the week for many of the children, and probably the best meal some of them receive.  Many serious things are worked out in that setting.  But it felt to me like a party, celebrating fresh starts and new lives.

I’ve seen so much need during my three weeks in Africa, but I’ve also seen caring people making a huge difference.  I haven’t kept up with the daily news, and I think that’s probably a good thing.  After the Habitat build and my visits to three KCA programs I definitely return home feeling better about the world  .  .  .

Friday, May 16, 2014

Angels in Africa at Blue Roof Wellness Center

I'm in Durban, South Africa, now to see two more programs funded by Keep a Child Alive.  And today I visited the Blue Roof Wellness Center. This facility is very special to the charity.  Leigh Blake had the vision for a comprehensive, holistic care and treatment clinic addressing the AIDS epidemic here.  And Alicia Keys was so moved by the need that she personally funded it.  That was really the start of it all!

A brilliant blue sign stands out against brick walls and razor wire.  And then you enter and see the bright colors and natural light in the atrium courtyard, and you immediately sense that this is a place of hope, compassion and dignity.

Rhona and Tessa work in offices that say 'management' on the door.  But, in truth, these two 'aunties' are the heart of Blue Roof.  They oversee care and treatment for 2,000 clients who are on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), and another 1,500 on top of that.  There is great need in the immediate Wentworth Township neighborhood, but people come from miles away to benefit from this model clinic, and avoid the stigma of being treated closer to home.  And the Blue Roof staff goes out into the community, too, providing educational sessions at local schools, and onsite testing for workers in factories.

In addition to Tessa and Rhona, there are other angels here.  Doreen in the pharmacy focuses on drug delivery and treatment compliance.  And Veronica and Nellie provide all-important nutrition.  They serve up to 90 better-than-mum-made meals a day to Blue Roof clients.  They're hot and delicious;  I can tell you that for sure, because I was treated to a very tasty lunch of mac and cheese, curry chicken, beets and rice.

The most moving part of these visits is hearing the stories of clients who 'put a face' on the work.  In this case that 'face' was Gerard, who told me all about it.  He was very sick and in a mode of self destruction before Blue Roof.  Today the medication is working; he has tremendous energy and enthusiasm for life, and he is so very thankful.  He now works at Blue Roof, and he is a true inspiration and role model.  He's taken-up running, and in two weeks he will participate in the 90 kilometer (56-mile) 'Comrades' Ultra Marathon here.   GO GERARD, you're an angel, too!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Spots and Stripes in Zambia

We saw spots (leopards) and stripes (zebras), but also elephants, giraffes, impalas, buffaloes, hyenas, crocodiles, warthogs and more during our two days of game drives in Zambia.  And hippos visited the grounds of our lodge at night.  I’d wake up to the sound of munching and look out the window.  And there they were, eating greenery within a few feet of me!

Safaris in Africa can be very expensive, but the Marula Lodge in Mfuwe, a bit off the tourist track, was an incredible bargain.  For less than $100 a night in a single room I had a comfortable bed with soft linens, and breakfast, brunch, tea and dinner, as well as two daily guided game drives.  And the food, service and animal viewing were all excellent.  No internet access or TV, but that was fine with me.  It freed-up time to enjoy the pool during daytime, the star-filled sky at night, and the sounds of the jungle at any hour.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Our Job is Done!

The walls are up  .  .  .  the roofs are on  .  .  . our job is done!  You can see the 'before and after' below.  There is detail work to be completed, but two families will move into new homes later this month.

We're very proud of the work we did; there's always great satisfaction at the end of a build.  But the most powerful thing about this project was the time we had with the villagers, and particularly their kids.  These beautiful children were covered with dust, and dressed in tattered clothing, but they were fresh and wondrous and joyful as they played ball, jumped rope and chased bubbles.  And we did it all along with them.  There wasn't much english spoken, but that didn't matter.  In the end, we were told that the villagers will remember our playing with the children as much as they will our building the new homes.

As always happens, our team has become very close, and our time isn't over yet.  Most us will continue-on to see more locals, mostly of the four-legged kind.  Tomorrow we cross the border to spend three nights in a safari lodge at South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Build On . . .

We’re building, and this time the homeowners are even more special.  The two houses we’re working on are for families who care for orphans.  I’m assigned to the home of Agnes, who is pictured here with three of the four children living with her.  And our other homeowner is 80-year-old Mao, who cares for her orphaned 10-year-old grandson.

We’re building right in the middle of a village.  The locals welcomed us with a ceremony that included singing, dancing and drums.  And the village chief is working alongside us.  Children, probably 30 at a time, surround us at break time and at lunch.  They play with soccer balls and jump ropes that we provide.  I brought supplies for bubble blowing, which was a big hit.  And pigs, goats, ducks and chickens roam everywhere as the villagers work at drying and processing their corn, and tending their garden plots. 

The house foundations are in, and we’re building the brick walls.  There’s plenty of work to do.   Family members pitch-in, too, and we take a time to interact, and to learn more about their lives.  

Sunday, May 4, 2014

We're at the Beach?

Wait a minute, this is a Habitat build.  We're at the beach?

The building begins tomorrow,  But we arrived at our lodging today.  And yes, it's in a resort area on the shore of Lake Malawi.

I had to get into the water right away, and I immediately made some friends.  Then we picked teams for a game of soccer.  And my team won the match  .  .  .