My name is Jarna McLaughlin and I recently went to South Africa with a team of 18 people from my church (President Avenue Community Church) and some interstate friends to volunteer with Hands at Work in Africa. While in Africa our main task was to kill the worms through the de- worming program. Amazingly worms can take up to 30% of children’s nutrition so you can understand the importance of this program. You know how Jesus fed the 5000 with bread and fish. Well we fed 500 orphans with peanut butter sandwiches, chips, really strong cordial and a de-worming tablet. We typical Aussies make a competition out of everything. So the ultimate peanut butter buttering race happened every night.
There are so many sad and inspiring stories I would love to share but, as this is an article and not a short novel, let me tell you about one 5-6 year old girl who particularly touched me. We were in the Joy community doing the de-worming program. On this little girl’s back was a baby almost as big as her, who I assumed was her sister. I watched as this girl try to play whilst piggy backing her little sister. I remember my cousin Chantal and I looked over at her and decided that we would relieve her of the responsibility of minding the baby. As I was taking the baby off her back so she could play the games I could see the relief and excitement in her eyes. Sadly as soon as I took the baby off her back the baby began to cry (smooth… first day in and I was already making babies cry) I quickly placed her back and the crying stopped immediately, the amazing part of this story was seeing the way this little girl had no resentment toward her younger sister. In fact, it was quite the opposite. She was so happy and bubbly. I could not believe the massive responsibility she had. I was not sure whether she was the full time carer or if she was from a child-headed household. All I knew was that this is why Hands at Work is so important. In this instance it provided this girl with an opportunity to just be a kid, even if it was only for an hour.
The community in particular that touched my heart was the small community of Cork. Here I met the incredible volunteers who introduced me to their world of Home Based Care. These two ladies walked us around their community for three hours, sharing with us the amazing stories of the different Cork members. Prior to this I had been told of the extreme poverty and the impact of HIV and AIDS but, honestly, I didn’t understand it until I saw it face to face. My parent’s generation was noticeably absent through out this community so many have been claimed by AIDS. I still cannot imagine the life these children live. Even though I could see the sadness and fear of the unknown in their eyes, the most vivid memory from this day was seeing how happy they were and how excited they were to spend time with me. This brought me to tears. That day made me realise that I have nothing to complain or worry about by comparison to them.
Although it was heartbreaking to see the struggles that these people and the children, have, being able to serve with the Hands volunteers gave me a glimpse of hope. I believe Hands at Work has some genuine answers to the complex problems of Africa. This experience has taught me so many things that I hope I have applied to my life.
Now back in Australia I feel that God has used the trip to change me in so many different ways. Before it was all about ‘things’ and wealth. I thought these would make me happy. But it’s obvious in Africa that this is not the key. So after lots of prayer I decided to commit two days of my week to fundraising for this amazing organization until the end of the year. Through this I hope to help provide necessary infrastructure which will contribute greatly to the support of orphans. So far we have managed to raise sixteen thousand dollars which is very exciting.
In conclusion, I can see the dream of Hands at Work in Africa ultimately becoming a reality. It was my great pleasure to play a small part in it. I thought by going to South Africa I would change these people’s lives. What I didn’t realise was that they would not only change my world, but also my heart. My heart does throb for the African people but this just reminds me to pray for Hands and to remember the most important work is sharing Gods love around.
If you’d like to be part of a short or long term mission trip to Africa, either as an individual or a team, contact us on (03) 9716 3057 to find out more.