By Vicki Penrose
One year ago I had the opportunity to visit South Africa for two weeks with a team from Wellspring Church of Northern California. The last part of our trip included a visit to Oshoek, a rural community located near the border crossing between South Africa and Swaziland. Because of its isolated location and proximity to the border crossing, prostitution is rampant, leaving the women of the community extremely vulnerable. Employment is scarce, the landscape is mostly barren, and food is very expensive.
After a several-hour rural drive, we arrived at what seemed to be the center of town. The first thing I noticed was an abandoned outhouse with a broken-off door that stood in the middle of a path that crossed between a few simple homes, mostly made of logs and mud. This turned out to be the toilet we would use to relieve ourselves after the long drive. After dropping off donated blankets and clothing and debriefing with the local community workers, our brief time in this community was dedicated to visiting homes that were scattered across the landscape. The faces of orphaned children and helpless mothers that I met that day flood my mind when I remember Oshoek, especially a young widow and single mom in her early 20’s.
Near the end of our first day, we were invited into a young woman’s home for a short visit. She couldn’t have weighed more than 70 pounds or so and stood about 5 feet tall. She wore thin layers of clothing and flip-flops with socks. Her baby had been given up to her sister as her health was too fragile to care for the infant. This young woman was dying of tuberculosis after having contracted AIDS. She was living in temporary housing never knowing if and when the owner would ask her to leave. The home was one of the nicest we saw with finished floors, walls and a roof. This was the only home we entered whose ceiling wasn’t covered with thick, black soot. This woman was likely living off a small monthly allowance the South African government provided for single moms. As we went outside to say goodbye, a 9 year old boy came running up to the house. Even with my warm North Face jacket and plenty of undergarments and warm shoes, I was really cold. This boy wore a torn t-shirt, pants that were too short and shoes without socks that were ripped and badly needed to be replaced. We learned that he was the “man” of the house, taking care of his aunt’s basic needs. He was responsible for all of the daily household chores including fetching water and food, cooking and cleaning.
I could feel my heart ripping inside, as I compared this boy’s life at age 9 to that of my own two sons back home. I knelt down to the ground and took him by the shoulders. I told him how proud I was of him for taking care of his aunt, and that he was a courageous and strong young man. I told him to keep working hard doing his best to help his family and to never lose hope. I asked him if he would allow me to pray for him and he said yes. Tears wanted to flood my face but I held them back and instead poured forth a calm yet serious prayer of supplication to God. Visions of running to the store to buy him new clothing and shoes flooded my mind. Yet there was no store and no way for me to get him the direct help I so very much wanted to provide. I felt powerless, but I turned my thoughts to Hands at Work’s efforts to support this isolated and forgotten community.
Hands at Work has been building a relationship with this community over the past three years and recently formed an official partnership with Bambonani Home-based Care, who created a care plan to provide the 3 Essential Services of basic health care, education and food security for 70 children identified as the most vulnerable in this community. With support from churches in South Africa and the U.S., local Christian volunteers, who are already visiting the children regularly in their homes, will be able to provide more holistic care including one nutritious meal per day, starting September 1st. If you're interested in advocating for a community like Oshoek within your church or circle of influence, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.