Louise Carroll, a 25-year-old teacher from Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada, arrived in South Africa in mid-January 2009 to assist in education programs for six months. She attends Lakeview Free Methodist Church in Saskatoon.
After just two days in South Africa, still jet legged and groggy, I made my first venture into the communities surrounding the picturesque Mount Legogote. Meighan, another recently arrived Canadian volunteer, snapped pictures furiously as our heavily laden vehicle made its way through the winding dirt roads of rural Mpumalanga. Huts and people sprang up unexpectedly between lush mango trees sagging under the burden of their ripening fruit; every person and plant asserting her place in the majestic scene.
Upon entering the community of Daantjie, we encountered a sea of uniform clad children returning home from school. Somehow Kristal, a long-term volunteer, avoided hitting any of them while simultaneously weaving her way up hills, each one more treacherous and impassible than the last. Finally we rounded a corner and discovered the Home-Based Care center Mandlesive – which Vusi, the logistics coordinator for Hands at Work, translated for me to mean The Power of the Nation. Here we found a large group of community volunteers who cheerfully greeted us and helped unload the food parcels that would be distributed to the children coming later that afternoon.I had the privilege of trying out my 3 words of SiSwati which inspired uproarious laughter. At least if they did not serve their intended purpose: to greet, I still got good mileage out of them.
After leaving Mandlesive, we continued on to another HBC in Daantjie called Senzokuhle, or we are doing great things. And indeed they are doing great things! Here we found a group of children already waiting for food parcels and another warm welcome from the numerous and friendly volunteers. It was astounding to me to watch them, the volunteers. I couldn’t help but think of my own church back home where we so often scramble to find people to help. It was overwhelming and perhaps even admonishing to find that here, in the midst of poverty and despair, were not only volunteers, but women and men illuminated with the joy of the Spirit and so willing to squirt that joy all around.
The day ended with a final stop at the HBC in Spelanyane called Thuthukani. Here I encountered a very shy and shoeless group of children who eyed us curiously as we pulled up. After unloading some shoes that had been donated for the kids I discovered they were more than willing to climb out of their shells, and before long the smallest of the group was not only perched on my lap, but ecstatically and playfully slapping my hands. I felt like at any moment I could burst into tears. Not sadness. Not joy. Just this overwhelming feeling like, Oh, so this is the face of Jesus! I got to hold Jesus on my lap. I got to see her giggle when I taught her to give me five. Buhle, beautiful. This little Jesus was at the community center called Thuthukani which means we are growing up. How fitting for little buhle, and for me. Thuthukani - we're both growing up.