Before I start writing about Perspective, I want to say a big WELCOME to Papa John and Grandma Willie! They arrived in SA last night a little after 9. Darin and I both went to get them, as we had been out to dinner with Bethuel and his wife, Julia, earlier in the evening. It was so wonderful to see some familiar faces and finally be able to TALK and talk and talk. Tyson and Jori were so excited to see Papa and Grandma this morning.
Anyways, this afternoon I went to Mama Catherine's to see her after school program and to go along with her on some home visits. I arrived a little before 2. There were about 50-60 kids there already, and more coming down the road. MC took me to the kitchen to show me the meal that these kids would be getting, rice and some kind of curry mixture to put on top. There are not near enough bowls, plates or utensils to go around, so the kids were bunched around the “dishwasher”-a tub of soapy water and a tub of rinse water-to clean up a bowl and spoon that another child had just finished using, a cycle that was repeated over and over.
We didn't stay at MC's for long. We headed out on foot to make some home visits. I am not going to give you a blow by blow, because I honestly can't even process all that I saw today. We first stopped at a “child-headed household”. A child-headed household is exactly what the name implies. It's a home where the parents have died and there is not a granny or grandpa or any other family member to watch over the kids. Many of these kids have been on their own for over 5 years already. None of the homes we stopped by has ever received any money from the government, even though they are supposed to be receiving a grant of 600 Rand per child per month, which at today's exchange rate would be just under $60 US per child. The first house we were at had three sisters between the ages of 17-26 and 11 children from the ages of 3 months on up living in the home. I use the term “home” very loosely, because these were tin shacks, one that was actually falling apart. They were using a big garbage bin to hold the tin door shut from the inside, or it would have just been standing, or rather falling, open otherwise.
After stopping to talk to a few more people, we went back to MC's to get her “bakkie”, or truck. It is actually her husbands vehicle, a very old, very small Nissan that has definitely seen better days. I don't think that my door was ever shut all the ways, and MC's swung open at least once while we were driving. MC told me that she usually walks to make all of her home visits, but we didn't have much time, and we had quite a bit of ground to cover. There wasn't anyone home at our first stop, but MC just walked right in. A couple minutes later, Thandy, a 17 year old girl, came home. She said that she lived with her 21 year old brother, who is in his last year of high school, and her 9 year old sister. There is also an older sister, but she has gone to Jo-burg to try and find work. There is no income for this family. They had no electricity and the only food I saw was a head of cabbage and a half eaten bowl of mealy pap that had flies crawling on it. I am sure that this would be a meal for one of the kids later on. Both parents died of HIV/AIDS some years ago. They have tried to get the government grant that they are owed, but have been told they are too young to collect it. When their older sister comes home, she is told that she doesn't have the right papers to collect the grant. Each time they get the papers together, the definition of “correct” seems to change.
We got back in the bakkie and drove to another township. We stopped and talked to Joanna, a 15 year old girl who I think had an older brother and a 12 year old sister. Like the other families we stopped to see, they also lived in a one room tin shack. Have you ever been in a tin shack?? It was around 90 degrees today, but it had to be at least 20 degrees hotter in the houses we visited. All but one of the homes we stopped to visit today were one room shacks with holes in the roofs. I think 2 of the 5 had electricity, but am not even sure of that. After MC talked with Joanna a bit, we followed another girl and 2 little boys to another home. When we walked up, there was an older woman and 7 or 8 kids from about 3 years old to highschool age sitting or standing outside of the house. One little boy was coming out of what looked like a pile of tin with a couple blankets draped over it. This, I found out, was the bathroom. MC talked with the granny and the kids for quite some time. They had not had any food that day and most likely would not have any until the next day. It turns out that there are 21 children living with this granny in a one room tin shack, with one double bed and one thin mattress. The bed took up just under half of the whole “house”. There are 21 children sleeping there. 21 hungry children. MC has tried to get the neighbors to help them, but no one in the area has money to spare. The main source of food for this “family” is rotten fruits and vegetables from the shops in town. No one delivers this rotten food to them, they have to walk to get it, in the heat, often barefoot. None of the kids that were there when I went with MC were in school because they didn't have a uniform. I don't know about the kids that weren't around.
It is 9:30 pm right now. I am sitting in a HUGE house, with a ceiling fan going overhead, lights on, a tight roof. My kids are each in a room bigger than most of the houses I saw today, in a warm bed with a belly full of pizza. I don't know if any of the people I met today are sleeping. It is raining outside. To me, rain on a tin roof would be unpleasant. Rain on a tin roof that has gaps and holes big enough to see through is just wrong.
Perspective. You see a place like TYB and you think to yourself “how do they do it?” Sure, they have food to eat, a roof over their heads, and a bed for each child, but there aren't very many extras and there are 6 children sleeping in one room and 5 in the other. That's not what I would call great. Then you go to Mama Catherine's and you think “this is where I should be giving my time, not TYB”. They have over 25 kids in two little buildings, they often go without electricity, or maybe have to skip a meal or eat a much smaller portion because there just isn't enough. There are kids that can only go to school 2 days a week because it takes too much gas to get them back and forth on the other days. Then you go out into the townships and you see children who have no one to look after them except for an older sibling. Many of them depend on Mama Catherine for any food they get or money for electricity. Then you see a place where there are 21 children living in a space smaller than your bedroom.
I honestly can't even really think about it all. I wish I had my camera along, but the pictures wouldn't even show the reality.