A team of 8 travelled to South Africa. We left for the airport, on Friday 7th August, at 1pm and arrived at Mseleni at about 9pm on Saturday 8th. We left Mseleni at 6 am on Saturday 22nd August, arriving home mid afternoon on Sunday 23rd.
The team – all wore our uniform, a T-Shirt with the MCH and LK logos printed on the back – it helped getting thru airports and, in South Africa, people in the nearby town were very friendly to us.
For some of us, this was the 5th Visit to Mseleni Children’s Home and for others – the first.
It was very difficult this year – our plans changed because a fire, in June this year, killed a child and a carer, as well as destroying a couple of bedrooms. All the children have been re-homed elsewhere – all over the place – some many miles away.
Rachel, who manages the Children’s Home, says -
“On top of that loss, we were then faced with the decision of the Department of Social Development to temporarily close the Home and remove all the children.
JANET’S HOSPITAL REPORT
I had the privilege of visiting Mseleni 184 bedded hospital in the north of Kwa Zulu Natal district in South Africa. The hospital serves 90,000 people in the area the size of Suffolk and Essex.
I was asked by the hospital’s Medical Director, Mr Victor Fredlund if I would assist in the assessment of the theatre unit, with the aim of encouraging, supporting and enhancing the performance of qualified and unqualified staff. Whilst there, I met about 20 personnel.
With only two half days booked for regular surgical sessions a week, the rest of the staff's time was taken up with operating on emergences, elected orthopaedic procedures, Caesarean sections and the washing, packing and autoclaving of all equipment used. So, no two days are ever the same and no weeks were ever the same. Not a pattern of working found in this country, and it was certainly a challenge for any team.
On entering the theatre suite, it was obvious that the two good sized operating theatres were well equipped and well staffed.
The rest of the suite consisted of a lay-up room, an admittance lobby, two changing rooms, a small rest/eating room, a 2 bedded post operation room and a sterile packing room with 2 autoclaves. Overall, it was a very claustrophobic area for the up to 14 staff, which could be working at any one time.
I felt the first challenge was to prioritise the room space i.e. the two bedded post op room. This room had obviously not been used for some time; the patients were being recovered in the theatre.
The challenge:- was this room a waste, could it's good resources be put into the intensive care unit, and the space be used for a Sisters office for private discussions or teaching and also a much needed locked storage unit for toxic cleaning fluids and gasses?
VISITING IN THE COMMUNITY
LK works in a very large area, helping orphan children and their carers and they recruit volunteers from Churches throughout this wide area, looking for situations where children have been orphaned or are being ill-treated in someway. The volunteers report back to the social workers who then visit to see if they can help.
They help by giving food parcels, helping to buy school uniforms and by building houses – when they can, and just checking on the welfare of the children. This all depends on the funding that they have available.
These orphans are then included in the LK programme.
We split into 2 teams and went visiting with different social workers.
Bill, Tim, Yolande and Marion went out, during the 1st week with Sasizo (Senior Social Worker) and visited 4 families.
Then we turned up – she didn’t know we were coming. It is a lovely feeling when you are an answer to prayer.
We were able to give her a food parcel and she said she would mark it on her calendar as the day that God had indeed blessed her. A wonderful Christian lady!
(Stop Press – a church member has donated the money to build this lady a house. As of November 2015, the building materials are on site.)
A food parcel costs just £25 and will feed an average family for a whole month. We provided food for these families, for this month, from our charity funds. What happens next month????
After we had pushed our minibus out of the sand – with the help of the lovely lady – we went on to visit an ‘After Schools Club’.
LK run after school clubs, for the orphans, where LK feeds them, helps them with homework and they all do lots of singing.
At very short notice – Yolande told a short Bible story and the 4 of us taught the children the song ‘Jesus love is very wonderful’.
We returned to our accommodation, tired, dirty and truly blessed and challenged.
PSYCHO SOCIAL WORKSHOP
We paid for and helped at a PSW. This was held at a school, at a place called Tshongwe which was about 23 miles from our lodgings – 7 miles of which was on an unmade road.
This wasn’t a nice soft sandy track either - it was very hard and rocky and spine shakingly uncomfortable and we covered this 7 miles 6 times because the PSW ran from after school on Friday – all day Saturday and Sunday morning (which was when we skyped the church here).
LK invited 120 orphans. 120 orphans – all from the same area!! Their carers were also invited to come on the last day, and there must have been 20+ LK staff and volunteers.
Our team lead the devotions first thing each day, with bible stories, drama and singing, then the children were split into 3 broad age groups and LK would counsel 2 groups while we did craftwork and played some games with a third group.
The theme, on the Saturday’s devotions, was ‘Trusting God’ based on Proverbs 3 v 5. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
So, after a couple of ‘trust’ games involving falling backwards (hoping to be caught) and guiding someone in a blindfold we did our depiction of ‘Jesus Calms the Storm’
Jesus (Stuart) is asleep in the boat and the storm (Bill) is raging and throwing water over the disciples in the boat. Incidentally, Jesus exceeded his brief and overacted terribly.
LK undertake teaching and counselling on many subjects,
• Sex education and health
• Self esteem
• Encourage them to have a goal in life
• Encourage them to stay at school and or college.
The children are fed well, over the weekend, breakfast and lunch. Lunch is cooked in a huge cauldron, outside, over an open fire by some of the carers.
Our craftwork involved giving them a small mirror (metal not glass) and showing them how to put a small surround on it and decorate it. This was to remind them that God looks on the inside and not the outside, which was Tim and Yolande’s message on the Friday.
Also we gave each child a drawstring bag and encouraged them to decorate the bags in any way they wished. One girl drew a house – she said – the house I would like to live in one day.
Several boys drew Toyota trucks but by far the majority of them wrote things like –
• I love Jesus
• God loves me
• I am a child of God
On the Sunday, the culmination of the weekend it was very very lively – with each group coming to the front of the assembly, singing and dancing.
Then individuals within that age group would tell us, in great detail and at length, what they had learned over the weekend. We were amazed at how eloquent they were.
Then the carers – mainly grandmas and aunties – did exactly the same because they had received some teaching on how to support and care for their foster children.
It takes a long time to say goodbye to so many new friends, friends that we may never see again – but – driving back on the Friday – we spotted Bradley – a lad we met 2 years ago at another Tshongwe PSW – he never expected to see us again.
So that was it – one last spine massage and back to the lodge for a cuppa.
DECORATING AND MAINTENANCE
We took the opportunity, with a tragically empty children’s home, to do some decorating. We cleaned and decorated the teenage boy’s house, which comprised 3 bedrooms and a kitchen/common room. We also painted the beds and cupboards, fixed windows, unblocked drains and scrubbed floors.
The ladies made some curtains and we fixed up curtain poles for them.
Again, with no children there, we were able to conduct some training for the Children’s Home staff. We did a basic First Aid course and Denise undertook some training on bereavement counselling.
The day after we arrived was a Sunday so we went out to lunch and tried to relax and recover from the journey.
After the Psycho Social Workshop, which ended on the 2nd Sunday lunchtime, we went to the beach for a quick paddle. The following day, we took a full day off and visited Tembe Elephant Park. We got very close to some very large elephants.
We attended the Zulu Church at Hulabantu and were able to skype our home church during the morning service. We led the worship at the English Speaking Church on the first Sunday evening. Mid-week we attended a House Group at the home of one of Doctors from the hospital and shared a supper.
Another evening we went to a home in the bush, about half a mile from the road, in the dark!! There were about 60 of us in a house the size of the average lounge, with no electricity – just candles. We gave testimonies, sang, prayed and Tim (without any prior warning) came up with a message. Then we went out into the dark to find the road.
As usual, we achieved a lot in our two weeks, but it was very different this year. We missed the fun we normally had with the many children and young people that we had got to know well over the years. We still have a small contact with some of the older ones via facebook and texting, but the others – we will probably never meet again, so we pray for their future and ask you to do the same.
WE WERE ALSO LUCKY TO GO OUT ON A DAY SAFARI
It has been very hard dealing with that loss on top of the tragedy. At the time we were told that the investigative team would give us their report at the end of July and we would then be able to work on a “turnaround” plan with the District Office. However, we are now at the end of October and no report has yet been forthcoming.”
This means that although we based ourselves at MCH, we spent most of our time with LK, out in the community.
LK covers a massive area – as we’ve said many times – the size of Essex plus Suffolk, so for everything we do – we drive miles.
We did most things together, all being involved in most of the work.
The only exceptions to this were Janet, an experienced Theatre Sister, who went into the hospital most days to see what she could help with or even improve upon.
Yolande, who is an acting Headmistress, went to a local school for several days to see what she could offer. But these ladies were involved in all the other work, where possible.
Of more concern to me was the welfare of the staff. Unnecessary lifting of patients was practised. A teaching session using the 2 slide sheets I had bought was arranged. I trust now it’s saving strained backs!
Also of concern to me were the overweight instrument packs, which the girls had to put onto trolleys.
The challenge: - how to make them lighter or smaller. Could we get the doctors to change the draping system (the coverings used on the patient during the operation) to use less? I left, having given ideas, but some questions were unanswered and I trust that when I return I will find that the solution has been found.
I trust I was able to give advice that in the future will enable the unit to run in a more efficient way, save money, find the much needed storage space, enhance the quality of the care of the patient and the welfare of the staff.
The 1st family we saw had lovely twins, plus a baby and 3 other children that were at school. On that day, all they had left in the way of food was a butternut squash and a drain of oil. They were so grateful for the food parcel that we were able to give. They were also given blankets, jumpers and hats.
I think it’s in the plan that LK will build a house for this family.
The 2nd visit was to a young girl, whose mother had recently died, and she had been left to care for her brothers and sisters.
They had no beds to sleep on – they slept on the mud floor.
We were able to give them some warm jumpers and blankets to curl up into at night.
These lovely blankets, by the way, were knitted by members of this church and our Saturday Club ladies. They are doing a great job!
The next lady was an aunt to 2 young boys.
Sasizo said that she had mental health issues and had no means to cook food. She cooked her meals at a neighbour’s house.
The boys were not at school and had nothing much to do, but they had made themselves a catapult. The men could not resist having a go.
We were able to leave her food and blankets.
Our last visit was to an amazing lady – she lives with several orphaned grandchildren. They live and sleep in a tent and corrugated tin hut – that is falling down – and she cooks outside.
LK do not know if they will be able to provide her with a house in the foreseeable future.
She was trying so hard to manage – growing a few vegetables and collecting water in lots of old 2 litre bottles.
She had no food whatsoever, her English was quite good and she told us that she had prayed that morning for God to bless her.
YOLANDE’S SCHOOL REPORT
During August 2015, when teachers are (apparently) taking one of their many long holidays, I literally took a “bus-man’s holiday” to spend some time travelling in a mini-bus across South Africa to go to the Mzila Primary School in Mseleni.
Although I had seen pictures of the schools common to the area of Kwa Zulu Natal, they do not do justice to the actual experience of walking into a classroom in this part of South Africa. In the UK teachers have to decide how best to use their interactive white-boards, when to allow the children to use hand-held tablets and whether to book time in the computer suite (and this at Infant School age); in Mseleni the choice is which colour of chalk to use on the chalk-board, which page to write on in the notebook and which occasion in the year any individual child may use the computer in school.
Education is highly valued by pupils and parents alike, since it is seen as a stepping stone to something better and so the ethos of the school I attended (which I believe is typical across the region) is one of respect and obedience. Children are put into classes according to their academic achievement rather than age, since it is a requirement for every child to pass each year’s exams before they progress to the next year. Therefore, in a class of between 40 and 60, ages can range by as much as 4 or 5 years if certain individuals do not make the necessary progress.
The children sit at and share desks as necessary according to the number in the class and they are generally set out in rows facing the front, from where the teacher presents each lesson.
Lessons are very prescriptive – the National Curriculum is dictated to such an extent that particular lessons are delivered on a specific day of the week/school year and the next day pupils are expected to go on to the next part of the curriculum (whether or not they have actually ‘learnt’ the previous day’s topic!). From year 3 – ‘expected age’ of seven – the lessons are conducted in English.
None of this is to say that anything about the children in general; they present a mixture of abilities and personalities like anywhere else in the world and they learn and progress within the system that they live in. The ‘learning by rote’ method may not be one that we adhere to in this country, but it is the preferred and prescribed method adopted in the school I attended.
The great emphasis that is placed on education is reflected in the expectation that all pupils will attend school and will wear the school uniform. However, this simple requirement can lead to exclusion in some cases when a family is unable to afford the appropriate shirt/blouse, jumper and trousers/skirt (as an aside, during our travels we saw the same style of school building in many locations and the colour of the lower half of the building nearly always matched the colour of the school uniform).
The primary aim of the school is of course to educate the children who attend, but the school also provides an important social need too. Every school day includes a nutrition break – “dinner time”, but mid-morning – and pupils are all fed a simple meal of rice and stew (or something similar) served on to a metal plate and eaten without the use of knives and forks, which they eat in the playground – there is no dining-hall! Once the food has been eaten, the plates are dipped in water and stacked in a cupboard ready for the next day.
From a UK teacher’s perspective there is so much that is so very different, but the children were a joy to work with and readily adapted to the more proactive and engaging style of teaching that we would expect to see in this country. Some of the teachers observed this and bravely attempted the new approach they observed, finding it both challenging and rewarding in equal measure. There was also the realisation that this style of teaching was more demanding than simply following the structured lessons set out in their National Curriculum books.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in school (even though it was meant to be holiday time) but a few days from me will not significantly change anything. Nonetheless, it may have opened a few eyes to the possibilities that are around and I was not at all put-off by the experience.
Contact Stuart or Diane firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for all your support in making it possible to help Mseleni Children's Home & Lulisandla Kumntwana.