David and Jane Newsome are currently serving as long term volunteers for Hands at Work in South Africa. Read below to find out how they're getting on:
We have just finished our 5 week orientation as long term volunteers with Hands at Work, and are now preparing for our placements in Swaziland next week and Zambia the following week.
The plan is that for the next few years we will spend 6 months in Africa volunteering with Hands at Work, and 6 months in the UK, catching up with our family and advocating for Hands.
Although we have been visiting and bringing teams here for 10 years, it feels very different now that we have committed to being here long term, and we have realised how much we have to learn about the organisation, and how it has changed over the years.
When we first came to South Africa to volunteer for a month in 2006 with what was then "Masoyi Home Based Care", which as many of you will remember was the charity working in the 5 rural communities around its base in a few buildings it was renting from a Bible College. They were then coping with the immediate results of the AIDS pandemic, and much of their work was about visiting the sick and the dying in their homes. As the impact of the pandemic has changed , so the focus shifted to the needs of the orphans and vulnerable children left behind by the pandemic.
Ten years later what has now become Hands at work is now operating in 8 countries across Africa, and has developed a way of working with the poorest of the poor that preserves and develops local community ownership. We have been learning about the structures that have developed over the years to support the work in the communities, and have visited Service Centres and Regional Support teams. We have been impressed by the fact that the needs of the vulnerable children are always at the heart of every decision that is made at every level of Hands, and by the way that Hands has continued to support and develop local leadership.
Developing the Next Generation of Leaders
On our first weekend here we had a phone call from a young man who had heard that we were here and asked if he could come and visit us. The last time we saw him was 10 years ago and he was a teenager in the youth group we were helping to run. Both his parents had died and he was bringing up his two younger brothers on his own. We remember him coming to us and showing us the handful of seeds someone had given him that he planned to plant in his garden to feed his brothers. 10 years later, he has been to agricultural college, got both his brothers through college, got himself a really good job mentoring local farmers to develop their skills , and has a wife and 2 children. He arrived with his gorgeous 18 month old daughter whose name means "I have been heard". It moved us to tears to see how Hands had enabled him to realise his potential. It has been so special to have this longer view and see other impressive young people who are now leaders in the community and who were part of that same youth group.
Last week we spent four days sharing the life of a family in their shack in a rural township where Hands works. This is one of the requirements of the orientation for long term volunteers and gives some insight into what life is like for the poorest.
We were staying with Prudence who lives with her husband, two young children, brother in law and mother in law in 4 breeze block rooms, with corrugated iron roofs, without glass in the windows or doors that close or have locks. Her kitchen is a shelter outside and she cooks over an open fire. She is a person of extraordinary ability who has the gift of making use of whatever ingredients she has and making them stretch to feed whoever turns up. She doesn't have enough plates or cups for all the people she needs to feed, so in the evening we sat outside in the dark, taking food with our hands from a communal plate and passing round a cup of water. This felt like a real act of Holy Communion.
Bryant Myers in his book 'Walking with the Poor' comments that poverty robs people of identity, dignity and vocation. Prudence and her husband are striking individuals of great dignity and real ability, but also great poverty, and with unemployment running nationally at 35% (and much higher in their community) it is certainly robbing them of their vocation.
As part of our orientation we have been visiting the homes of the children who attend Hands care points, and have heard some extraordinary and heart breaking stories. We visited a Mozambican woman , Florence, who fled across the Kruger National Game Park to escape the civil war in the 80s when she was a child. Many who took this route didn't make it because of the wild animals. She told us how her family banged cooking pots together to frighten off the animals, but that eventually the animals became used to this sound and rather than frightening them off, it became a signal of potential prey. It must have been a terrifying journey. As a refugee,Florence has no identity papers, so she can't legally get a job or any assistance from the state for the 5 children she is looking after: one her own daughter, 3 grandchildren from her daughter who died of AIDS, and one the 5 year old son of a neighbour who has recently died. When we visited Florence, she was ill, but couldn't allow herself the luxury of taking it easy. In order to provide for the children, she does cleaning and washing for better off neighbours. It's very good to know that the children receive a nutritious meal at the care point every day, and that the Care Workers are helping her with the complicated business of trying to get some identity papers.
Many of you have kindly asked whether there are things you could be praying for. As well as these individuals and so many others like them, Africa is in the grip of a serious drought, which has caused the harvest to fail and as a consequence some of the basic foodstuffs have almost doubled in price. This impacts hugely on the very poorest and is also increasing the cost for Hands in meeting the three essential services. Many of the children who come to the care points are HIV positive, and the medication which is keeping them alive doesn't work unless they have a good diet. Please pray for Hands and their partners as they seek to find the funds to continue to provide nutritious meals for these vulnerable children. Please also pray for rain, so that next year's harvest will not fail.
It has been a real privilege to follow the orientation process with a 4 other volunteers, all much younger than us, from Canada, the USA and the U.K. We will be sad to leave them when our time in Africa for this year comes to an end on May 26th. It is really good to be part of an intentional Christian community, with all its variety of race, culture, age, denomination and experience, committed to social justice and walking alongside the poor.
Jane and David Newsome