Who is Betsy Blake?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day One MaAfrika Tikkun

Today we visited the MaAfrika Tikkun Headquarters, as well as two locations, Orange Farm and Hillbrow.

 We met many wonderful and welcoming people, and were amazed by the children who were so joyful. 

The visit began with a short tour of the Orange Farm facility, and then a special welcoming musical presentation by teenagers using drums and other instruments (see photo).  It was very uplifting--there were so many shy smiles (and those trying NOT to smile, as teens will do!)

Behind a fenced in area, one- and two-year olds stood to watch the "ceremony", and to stare shyly at the visitors (us).  We learned to say what sounded like "shop" and to rub or click thumbs with the children as a sign of hello.  Having upwards of ten little thumbs raised toward you at a time was so adorable, and interestingly, once the greeting was acknowledged with a youngster,  these little people moved aside for their friends to be acknowledged as well.  This kind of respect for their friends (following courtesy rules at this age) surprised and mesmerized me...I stayed there until there were no more raised thumbs.

The visit continued with each area of the center being introduced by the responsible manager.  Each leader was very clear about the goals of the area, and had amazing control of his/her group of children.  The children were curious and respectful, energetic and happy.

We assisted the leaders with a sporting activity just prior to lunch, which allowed us to interact with a smaller number of children.  Children seem to be universal in their quest for team spirit, fun and skill (picture to come).  The activities for this age were straightforward, and I was again impressed with the cooperative nature of the kids as they took turns completing the skills we asked of them.

We had lunch in a modest board room, and reflected with the staff our observations of the morning.  We sat with the centre's administrator, Rita, who is also a pastor.  As she spoke of the centre's works and her philophy as a mother, a caretaker and a manager, I was transfixed by the similarities and connection I felt to her ideologies around providing the basics (food, medical care, education, love) to children.  She was a wonderfully giving leader to listen to; MaAfrika Tikkun is lucky to have her.

While we did not eat lunch in here, this is a picture of the children's cafeteria.

The centre's staff were very proud of the library which was very modestly stocked with books-- I thought of the libraries in the states that are crammed with books; and of the multitude of "half priced" book stores, and compared that over abundance to what was in front of me...and felt deflated by the difference.  "If only..."  if only it was easier...after all, how many extra books are there just within the homes of the people I knew?  So easy to think of boxing those up and shipping them, but the expense of sending something this heavy across the globe, and of the customes paperwork feels daunting.  I wonder if Fed Ex or UPS would donate their service for something like this?  Wouldn't it be great if they would do that for many types of donations? 

Below is a picture of  polite and well-spoken Timothy, who works in the Orange Farm Library.  He was on a computer when we entered the library, and manages the library's inventory.  I was surprised to see that Timothy was missing parts of his legs, as he rolled back from the desk for a photo shot.  I thought of him later as we left the centre, and wondered how he has fared through his life, in the very, very challenging poverty that surrounds the centre.  Dirt roads, shacks, lack of plumbing...I can't imagine the strength he must have.  I find myself thanking God that that he has found a vocation working with MaAfrika Tikkun.

We then visited more of the facility, and met more staff and children.  We spent about 20 minutes in one of the rooms, where the babies were still crawling.  These children were much more shy and anxious about us visitors.  We got on the floor and tried to interest them without scaring them. 

This little girl would look me right in the eye and stare, for long moments....she was such a beautiful baby--she allowed me to hold her, and I wondered about her family, and her situation.  I thougth about how she was fortunate to be involved in the Orange Farm program, as all the children looked well-fed, adequately dressed, and looked well-cared for. 

Though we spent a few short hours with this team of staff and children, we connected on a very basic level, and it felt like we were leaving good friends as we said goodbye.  Turns out we would see Rita the next day at the opening ceremony, who greets us like we are now a part of her family.  We are indeed blessed to be acknowledged in this way.

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