At breakfast, we met up with our partner team from Russia – Edward, Tatiana, Alexander, Andrei and Irine. Our day started with a visit to the John Wesley School that educates children aged 2 to 12 (Daycare through 6th grade). The John Wesley School has more than 550 children and has a goal to educate and embody the whole person. The school provided a presentation as well as a tour of the entire facility. We also met many of the children attending the school. The school is preparing to expand the campus and hopes to have 200 additional students enrolled.
Our second stop was at Pine Town Methodist Church where Gogo’s (grandmothers) learn how to sew and cook. Sewing can be a two level program and is designed as a way to make the women independent and to educate and to train them to be able to feed and clothe the family living with them. Cooking is a way to build better minds and bodies and to allow them to lead a more meaningful, healthy and fruitful life. If a participant commits to becoming a seamstress, the center finances a sewing machine that they can pay off over a period of time. The center is able to buy the machines in quantity and then resells them to the students at a reduced price. This ministry is partially funded by Church of the Resurrection.
There is also an annual Olympics for the Gogo’s in which teams compete against each other, learn to laugh, rekindle their love for life, community as well as self-esteem and to help the children as well as themselves to learn to cope with the senseless tragedy of AIDS.
Our next stops were at the Hillcrest AIDS Center. We enjoyed lunch and learning with the Gogo’s Community project. We were greeted as the local women greeted us with song and dance. We were uplifted by the experience of seeing women who have suffered family loss being healed through song, dance and love. Lunch and dessert followed where we had a short amount of time for fellowship.
During our next stop at the AIDS Center, we were enlightened on South Africa policy, politics and a review of apartheid. AIDS is a devastating disease which spares no one and is especially rampant in the very poor and uneducated communities. There is a drug regimen that does not kill the disease but can stop the process of succumbing to death but the regimen must never cease or an auto-immune response can occur against the drug regimen. In the very poor there is great pride in the Zulu men to not admit to the disease, however, the women will seek help and have been successful against a decline of lifestyle and death. While the men typically do not cope with the prospect of AIDS and will typically end up as a statistic.
The Hillcrest AIDS center trains, teaches and helps men and women prepare for a job that utilizes their skill sets. They market and sell their merchandise at local stores. Both the center and the patients need donations. The sale of merchandise creates about 25 -30 percent of the funding. Annual budget gifts have increased dramatically as the center is not seen strictly as a charity, but an assistance to those who are working toward maintenance and self-determination.
Our group noted that each of us had a sense of peace, gratitude, thankfulness and love at the center. Patients are not treated as “lepers” but as humans who need love and care. Medical gloves or masks are not used when dealing with the patients and the staff is encouraged to touch, massage and interact with the patients as they themselves would like to be treated. However, at the same time cleanliness, sanitation and infectious disease control issues are of utmost importance. The center has found that with these simple changes in protocol, patients show less anxiety, live longer and better lives and tend to discuss, talk and learn of their disease out of need and curiosity rather than as a death sentence. Lives, both living and deceased, are celebrated and honored. They have a wall of remembrance where each person has their name on a keepsake wall where their life can be celebrated in respect and joy.
At the end of the day, back at Vuleka, we enjoyed two additional presentations concerning education of children. We learned of the many languages of South Africa, including English. The children are taught in their native language until the fourth grade, then all teaching is performed in English. They have recently been working with tutoring these young children on a one-on-one basis, three days a week with their own tutor. The tutor reads a book to the child while the child follows the words with their fingers. They have found that through this method, children are better-equipped in later education to cope with the realities of learning in English.
One surprise has been that many students have gained a better grasp on the English language and have begun to correct the teachers. It is their hope that this study will help turn the tide on education in this county.
The second presentation focused on empowerment, choices and fulfillment of. The presenter is on staff with the Hillcrest Methodist Church and has mentored and started “The Nyusa Project” for uplifting young people. The program challenges young black youth in high school and is presently designed to be implemented with 16 people in the program. The program has been so successful that the government is looking to model the program for students and educators.
Dinner was a traditional braai, or barbecue of steak, chicken, lamb chops, salad, fixings and desert. All grilled outside to perfection by Allan.
At the end of the day, we found our hearts full and our emotions being tugged at. We had a day that challenged us to wrap our arms around the unemployment statistics, understanding apartheid, listening and understanding the AIDS epidemic and associated tragedies not only to the person but to the family and the generation of death but yet feeling hopeful when our last meeting was talking about the children and the education.