My tour guide in Joberg is Francie, who is an executive for a large cement company. She is the director of the company’s social responsibility program and so she is kindly taking Jill and I around to some of her favorite local projects for youth. She prefers to fund projects that have income generating programs and is not a fan of direct aid. She first brought us to a school for handicapped children that has a terrific income-generating bakery. We toured the kitchen where some of the older youth were doing some experimental baking. There is a national contest to create a dish using a popular tomato-fish paste, so I volunteered to be the taste-tester when the results came out of the oven. I ultimately voted for a calzone-like creation that was rather tasty, if you like tomato fish paste, that is.
We then drove to a home for abandoned babies that has many income generating activities, including goats and chickens. This is a unique model for a children’s home. The woman that runs it, along with her adult children who are now following in her footsteps, actually adopt all the children themselves. They think it’s important the babies have real parents and that the place is a home, not an orphanage. However, all the babies are up for adoption, and several get adopted out. I don’t think South Africa allows adoptions to the USA, which is a good thing for me, otherwise I might have had to bring back one little baby named Hope who took a shining to me and nestled under my chin for much of my visit and did not want to let go. I’m not sure if she is HIV positive or not, as I heard several of the kids are. I managed to distract her with a toy and make my escape.
We then drove and met the amazing Barbara who runs a youth shelter in downtown Jburg. It too has a successful bakery (see the ‘hooker cakes’ mentioned in my previous blog), and a terrific sewing project, both of which teach valuable work skills to the youth and generate income for the shelter.
I’ve met a lot of impressive local heroes around the world, but Barbara may be the most selfless I have ever encountered. She sold her home to fund this shelter. She and her youngest son (21) live in the shelter themselves. I admired a painting in Barbara’s office and asked if it was for sale, and she said ok, but then she didn’t want to take my money. I finally forced a donation to the shelter upon her.
On day 2 of my Jburg tour, we started by visiting GO Campaign’s only South African project to date which we call ‘Embracing Diversity’. Last year a lesbian was brutally murdered here (hate crimes are on the rise), and she left behind 2 orphans. GO Campaign is raising funds to care for the 2 kids, as well as to fund a tolerance campaign in the local schools to educate kids and fight hate crimes. Francie and Barbara both accompanied Jill and me as we visited the home office of Ntsupe, who runs a small grassroots gay and lesbian organization in a township outside of Jburg. (Townships are where all the blacks lived during Apartheid, and of course they are still all-black.) We then visited Sipho and Lindowe, the two orphans we support, who are living with their grandmother. The good news is that the kids were happy and healthy and it was great to meet them and see them thriving. The bad news is that there was a dispute between Ntsupe and the grandmother and the aunt as to where GO’s monthly support of the children is going. I had to leave before I could get to the bottom of it – I suspect it’s a family dispute between the grandmother and the aunt – or it may be that Ntsupe’s organization is so understaffed that it has been lax with doling out the funds. Too soon to say, but after I left, Ntsupe was staying behind to get to the bottom of it all and will be reporting back to me soon with receipts and detailed accounting. At least the kids looked great, so somebody is looking out for their best interests, even if we’re not sure who that somebody is.
From there, Barbara took us to a home for handicapped children in the same township. It’s a day-care center – the kids go back to their parents at night. The woman who runs it told me she has 80 kids under her care. Some in our group found it too sad to visit, but I really enjoyed seeing their smiling faces and holding their hands. When we admired a rug in one of the living rooms, Barbara said it used to be hers. She had given up her own rug to donate it to this home. The more I learn about Barbara, the more I am amazed by her selflessness. I also learned she may have cancer. She forgot her medication today and was grabbing at her side on the way home. She was going to a public hospital, but the hospital said their cancer screening equipment was not working, so she would have to wait until the machines are fixed. Francie told Barbara this was not acceptable, so Francie and a coworker are going to pay for Barbara to visit a private hospital on Tuesday and get a proper diagnosis. Reluctantly, of course, Barbara finally agreed to accept their help. We’re all rooting for fibroid tumors and hoping cancer is not part of the equation. If you’re inclined to pray, put in a good word for Barbara in Johannesburg, will you?