Susan’sBlog: Last Days

Have you noticed the elasticity of time? How it squeezes in on you when there’s so much to fill it with, and stretches when you cram more and more into it than you thought possible? Those have been my experiences these last several days. This last blog is an assorted catch-all of items not squeezed into previous blogs.  

Sarah Mkhatswa is one of the gogos who received a hand delivered letter. It’s from her Vernon partner Sigrid-Ann, and is translated and read by Rosy Malulka

Sarah Mkhatswa is one of the gogos who received a hand delivered letter. It’s from her Vernon partner Sigrid-Ann, and is translated and read by Rosy Malulka

Some of our Vernon area Grannies are teamed with a Gogo writing partner, several of whom have sustained the partnership for eight years. I brought about 15 of their letters to hand deliver … a “red-letter” day that thrills them. They love to get mail, but it’s difficult for many to write as it involves having some one write in English for them. But about six of them have asked for partners, saying they have a grandchild who will translate for them.

Joy Burton is a regular volunteer twice a week and has been since Sitabogogo’s inception eight years ago. She helps where needed but is often found assisting the gogos with various handicrafts, finding the beads or needles or wool or whatever they require – keeping them sorted out.

 

Volunteer Joy Burton (standing) helps the gogos with their various handicrafts. Here she discusses 88 year-old Inah Mashego’s crocheted bag.

Volunteer Joy Burton (standing) helps the gogos with their various handicrafts. Here she discusses 88 year-old Inah Mashego’s crocheted bag.

Doris Dhlamini has her blood sugar tested by Jonathan, who is pinch hitting for retired nurse Cornelia.

Doris Dhlamini has her blood sugar tested by Jonathan, who is pinch hitting for retired nurse Cornelia.

Once a week the gogos have their blood pressure and their blood sugar tested and recorded. Most gogos have diabetes and high blood pressure due to their very starchy diets. This procedure is usually done by Cornelia Lukhele who is a retired nurse, but she is due to have cataract surgery next week – one of the very few who has a medical aid plan. On occasion when an unusually high test result is found, Myriam drives the gogo to the hospital and often they are admitted for further examination and observation. Our Grannies à Gogo funds at work.

 

 

 

Our volunteer office manager, Myriam Bryant, sees a steady parade daily from the wider vulnerable population, They seek her help with bureaucratic barriers to receiving medical help, pensions, education and a plethora of problems.

Our volunteer office manager, Myriam Bryant, sees a steady parade daily from the wider vulnerable population, They seek her help with bureaucratic barriers to receiving medical help, pensions, education and a plethora of problems.

 

Some of the 50 kids in the Homework Program gather for a look at Susan’s goodbye message in a photo poster.

Some of the 50 kids in the Homework Program gather for a look at Susan’s goodbye message in a photo poster.

Goodbyes … they really choke me up. The 50 kids of the Homework Program where I helped out every afternoon (see blog # 7), touched my heart with all their scribbled messages and drawings of love and thanks and please-come-backs. They seemed to appreciate my impromptu speech about striving for excellence, about staying ahead of the pack at their (sometimes dismal) schools. The goodbye poster I made of photos taken of them over the past four weeks was a hit – they love to find themselves in photos. Don’t we all!

The toughest goodbye was with the gogos. Their sense of ceremony – singing, dancing, speeches – pulls at my heart strings and seems designed to turn on my tears. I officially presented the photo album (see previous blog #8) into their keeping, and Jonathan spoke to them about taking inspiration from it to do fundraising projects of their own. 

Presenting the photo album recording eight years of Grannies à Gogo fundraising for Sitabogogo, with Myriam Bryant, Cornelia Lukhele, Susan Fenner, Vicky Bryant.

Presenting the photo album recording eight years of Grannies à Gogo fundraising for Sitabogogo, with Myriam Bryant, Cornelia Lukhele, Susan Fenner, Vicky Bryant.

Charlotte Mushata, one of eight gogos having birthdays in Jan. and Feb, is delighted with a cloth shopping bag – a new tradition Vicky and Myriam are starting this year.

Charlotte Mushata, one of eight gogos having birthdays in Jan. and Feb, is delighted with a cloth shopping bag – a new tradition Vicky and Myriam are starting this year.

This occasion was also used to start a new tradition for 2014 – to recognize each gogo’s birthday with the gift of a cloth shopping bag. The cost of plastic shopping bags is a frequent extra expense for them and a blight on the environment where bags litter and blow in the streets. They applauded the idea.

The gogos gave me various gifts and one in particular, an African candle, served as a springboard for my thanks for the light and love they have brought into our lives in Canada …that sense of connection across cultures and continents.

A Sabie friend told me, in a story that is iconic of African attitude and optimism, that she had quickly run to a store while preparing for a party and asked if they sold ice. “Yes, ma’am”, she was told. So my friend asked for a bag of ice. Imitating the African accent complete with rolling ‘r’s, she said the reply was, “Sorrry, ma’am, the ice, it is as yet unfrrrozen.“ And so it is – life is fluid, for Sitabogogo and for Grannies à Gogo. We are not frozen into patterns. We are flowing, growing, together.

“Salani kahle”! – Goodbye ~ Susan 

Paulina Ndlovu, Susan’s writing partner, presents her with gifts from the gogos as they say goodbye after four weeks.

Paulina Ndlovu, Susan’s writing partner, presents her with gifts from the gogos as they say goodbye after four weeks.

 

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Susan’sBlog: Photo Gift

A venerable cliché – a picture is worth a thousand words. That is particularly apt when the words being spoken are of diverse languages not understood between two differing cultures. Grannies à Gogo decided to present a gift of a photo album to the members of Sitabogogo.  We are fortunate in having come to “know” our gogos through monthly reports sent to us by our volunteer administrators throughout our eight year history. We’ve also received a number of photos sprinkled throughout each year. 

Susan shows details of Grannies à Gogo fundraising projects

Susan shows details of Grannies à Gogo fundraising projects

 

However, the reverse has not been true. The gogos know that funds come from “the Grannies in Canada”, and seem to think we are all simply wealthy. They do not know the details about the countless fundraising projects we’ve done over the years, nor the fun we’ve had doing them. So our tireless Granny Anne C put together a 150-photo album that detailed all our projects.

Over three sessions I presented the pages of photos to them. With Jonathan animatedly translating, I told them I brought greetings from our group who feel a strong heart to heart connection with them, and detailed what the photos were about.

Jonathan Malele explains in translation

Jonathan Malele explains in translation

 

As Jonathan explained each page, they learned about the activities we’ve done on their behalf. About garage and trunk sales, pot luck suppers, auctions of under-loved items, an African workshop of drumming, pottery, gumboot dancing, and beading, about sock coin collectors, walkathons, photo contests and calendar sales, sales of many beautifully crafted items, recipe books and so, so much more.

 

 

 

The pages were passed around the circle and studied with interest, to the point where a few gogos scolded some others for holding on to the pages too long.

: Martina Makua examines photos closely

: Martina Makua examines photos closely

One gogo, Beauty, announced she recognized her letter-writing partner, Sherry. Another took particular interest in the Sock-It-Away coin collectors, wanting to know how that worked. 

Silina Snell, Bertha Chiloane, Mandu Monyane, Martina

Silina Snell, Bertha Chiloane, Mandu Monyane, Martina

Rose Malulka & Johanna Ngomane

Rose Malulka & Johanna Ngomane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I told about a private initiative of a child’s first birthday where the parents requested no presents, but asked instead a small donation to Grannies à Gogo, the gogos spontaneously applauded.

Victoria Mkhabela, Elizabeth Maswupa

Victoria Mkhabela, Elizabeth Maswupa

The photo album will be left with them to peruse as they wish, and there are blank pages at the end where more photos can be added. It’s all about connections – growing stronger!

Geanett Nkoenyane, Annah Mabuza, Stephalina Molthabinge

Geanett Nkoenyane, Annah Mabuza, Stephalina Molthabinge

Susan’sBlog: Homework Kids

It’s 1:30 pm and half a dozen kids from a nearby school have arrived for soup and three slices of bread before rummaging in their heavily laden school bags and buckling down to their homework. Over the next hour a total of 30+ will arrive from more distant schools, taking public transportation. They will get their soup and bread at 4 pm.

Vicky gets four early arrivers started on their homework outside … it’s not raining today.

Vicky gets four early arrivers started on their homework outside … it’s not raining today.

I made passing reference to the after school Homework Program in blogs 3 and 4, and now I’d like to spell it out for you. This is Vicky Bryant’s “baby” and it falls under the umbrella of the Ubuntu Centre, as do our gogos, but is not supported by funds from Vernon’s Grannies à Gogo. However, a few of our gogos have grandkids attending the program.

Vicky’s background is as a former teacher and English Dept. head in Belgium. Throughout 2013 she volunteered at Memezile High School in the Simile township which can be best described as the lowest rung (poorest) of South Africa’s three-tiered school system. She found the lack of caring and any sense of follow-through there demoralizing. So she started the homework program last year on a small scale with a handful of children to start with, which grew to 25 by the end of the year. Last year’s good news was that a Memezile graduate, for the first time in all the school’s history, got a “distinction”, and another one came very close – both were students who Vicky had worked closely with throughout the year.

With no room indoors, Benedicte oversees 15 little ones with their homework and supplementary exercises, on a ping-pong table under a tree.

With no room indoors, Benedicte oversees 15 little ones with their homework and supplementary exercises, on a ping-pong table under a tree.

So when the new school year started in mid-Jan. this year, she put all her efforts into her homework program with about 20 students, or “learners” as they are called. I’ve been helping out every afternoon for the past three weeks and have seen parents show up each day to register more children. We are now up to 50 registrants spanning grades 1-12. Apparently word of the positive results has spread amongst the black community!

Vicky has gathered resource books, various encyclopedia sets and, most impressively, downloaded and printed copiously from educational websites – enough supplemental material to fill more than 50 binders. She draws from this material as enrichment as the kids finish their homework. In theory she charges R250 ($25)/month to cover supplies but to date only nine of the 50 registrants has paid. And she does not turn them away if they demonstrate their willingness to learn. Her goal is to enthuse the kids about learning their school work as well as values of respect for people and property.

Samuel Fenyane (from the Teachers Union) and Vicky Bryant look at materials. Benedicte assists a young learner.

Samuel Fenyane (from the Teachers Union) and Vicky Bryant look at materials. Benedicte assists a young learner.

I was able to talk a young man named Samuel Fenyane into coming out from Johannesburg to see this program. My history with Samuel goes back to 2003 when he needed help in registering for university. He now has his B.Ed, Masters, and works as a researcher for the South Africa Democratic Teachers Union, with a focus on rural schools. He met with Vicky in the morning, then spent the afternoon with the learners, and was thoroughly impressed. He made notes throughout and says he will make a presentation to his boss to see if there is some way to assist.

Vicky’s wish list includes:

• a larger building for her growing registrants. (They currently fill all the spaces indoors and spill outside around tables. When it rains, it’s chaotic.)

• more regular volunteers. (Currently only one regular twice a week, Benedicte for 5 months, and me for a month.)

• a few laptop computers for the high school learners. (note: Memezile High School has no computers)

• to build a media library of DVDs so the older ones can learn independently

Susan helps a table of grade 4s with maths homework

Susan helps a table of grade 4s with maths homework

As a former teacher I have immense admiration for what Vicky has taken on with a passion and accomplished in such a short time. She has plunged her fist into the gushing hole of rural education, in an effort to buoy up a few young learners who would likely be swamped.

It’s with the children that the future of South Africa lies.

 

 

 

4:00 pm soup and bread break.

4:00 pm soup and bread break.

Susan’sBlog: Bootieshaking

Exercise day for the gogos happens once a week with the physio and occupational therapists from the hospital. As in every other year in January, these young ladies are new to Sabie – and to the gogos – because the medical system requires one year of practice in rural areas for graduates in all medically related fields. So they were prepared and pumped! 

Physiotherapist Karen, far right, leads the gogos in warm up stretches. Interpreter Lucky is top, right of centre.

Physiotherapist Karen, far right, leads the gogos in warm up stretches. Interpreter Lucky is top, right of centre.

Physiotherapist Kate had all the gogos who could, out of their chairs, bending and stretching and shaking their booties. I did note that the gogos were rather more adept at bootie-shaking than the skinny white chicks. Karen challenged them further by calling out different gogos to take the lead and change the exercise. The man in the photo is Lucky Maabane who helps out intermittently, and he was acting as translator for the therapists … when they would pause long enough in their eager instructions!

They also had brought along some props to add variation. A large green ball was thrown across the circle from gogo to gogo, which gave their arms a workout. The ball hit the ground more that the receiving hands, and would seem to indicate a skill that needs continued working on. Three-foot long rubber tubing was used between pairs of gogos for several strength and stretching exercises. Another exercise involved passing a heavy soccer-sized ball around the circle with a twisting back & forth movement. Then things were ramped up a bit by adding another ball going the opposite direction – they got quite a giggle out of it. Next time they say they will add more balls going around the circle.

In pairs, gogos use rubber tubing to help each other strengthen muscles.

In pairs, gogos use rubber tubing to help each other strengthen muscles.

In a new twist, occupational therapist Lizelle did an interesting exercise of esteem and inclusion. She held on to the tail of a ball of wool, tossed it across the circle to a gogo and paid that gogo a compliment – something personal. Then that gogo wrapped the wool around her wrist and tossed it across to another, and said something positive about her. Etc, etc. At first the gogos’ comments focused on their physical dress or appearance, but Lizelle guided them to speak about their qualities, and soon they were noting characteristics such as hard working, patience, friendliness, and so on. It was quite a complex and difficult concept for the gogos but, credit to Lizelle, she persisted through to the end. She summed up by asking how they felt about hearing someone else give a compliment, and also pointed out the web of wool that was connecting all of us together. The symbolism of Ubuntu was clear to them.

Occupational therapist Lizelle, top left, teaches a game that creates a web of kind words and unity

Occupational therapist Lizelle, top left, teaches a game that creates a web of kind words and unity

Susan’sBlog: Random shots

Just a short posting today since it has only been two days since the last blog. But I’m off to Kruger Park for the weekend, just an hour’s drive from Sabie, and am happy to let my laptop cool it’s heels. The only search engine will be the car’s … seeking out elephant, kudu, lion, giraffe, rhino, etc, etc. Given the massive amount of rain we’ve had (51 cm in one downpour the other night), I hope the etc-etc is not all I see.

And so, a few random photos of Sitabogogo … 

Gogo, resize

Kagiso & Gogo

Kagiso & Gogo

Mumsy makes daily soup

Mumsy makes daily soup

Maureen teaches granddaughter Lindiwe beading skills

Maureen teaches granddaughter Lindiwe beading skills

Sarah, Elizabeth, Elsie

Sarah, Elizabeth, Elsie

Stephalina crochets

Stephalina crochets

Grannies' album 5, resize

Paulina and Susan share a moment

Paulina and Susan share a moment

Susan’sBlog: Super-shopping

In my last blog there were a couple of photos referencing the monthly supplemental food parcels that each gogo receives. I suppose those photos put the (shopping) cart before the horse, because first there had to be quite a grocery shop for about fifty gogos. So I tagged along to help Myriam on what I thought was a rather mammoth shopping expedition, but which she does regularly without batting an eye.

18-month old Omphemetse practices her new high-5 moves

18-month old Omphemetse practices her new high-5 moves

Also tagging along was 18-month old Omphemetse, one of three little girls Myriam and Vicky have been fostering until their birth certificates can be secured (a very lengthy process in S. Africa). Omphey sat on my lap, seat belt securing the two of us, while Myriam drove us the hour to Nelspruit. Omphey learned to “high-5”, to clap “Patty Cake”, and finally dozed to my warbling of “Hush Little Baby” in her ear.

However, before getting groceries, there were a few stops to buy hangars for the Clothes Bank, three cans of varnish for new shelves, and a big plastic bin for food storage – the assortment of bugs in cupboards is quite extraordinary. Then we arrived at Macro, a Walmart type store where Vicky and Myriam have arranged a 10% discount on all purchases for the Ubuntu Centre, and the shopping began in earnest.

Myriam navigates the aisles as Omphey serves as look-out for blue light specials … or as delightful hood ornament

Myriam navigates the aisles as Omphey serves as look-out for blue light specials … or as delightful hood ornament

Well! I hadn’t quite imagined what 50 times every item on the list would look like. An hour and a half later, with four laden trolley loads and two shopping carts (one containing an increasingly irritable Omphey), we were done.

Shopping for 50 gogos fills four trolley wagons and two shopping carts

Shopping for 50 gogos fills four trolley wagons and two shopping carts

As we went through the cashier, everything was left unbagged on the trolleys and carts. The carry-out guys rolled it all out to the little bakkie (pick-up with a canopy) and I would have placed bets on not getting everything in.

But will it all fit in the little bakkie?

But will it all fit in the little bakkie?

But let me tell you, in their next career move these guys could be designing 3D cube puzzles. Fifteen minutes later, and a few re-arrangings,  it was all packed in. I skeptically snuck a peek at the tires and off we went to Sabie, uphill all the way over pot-holed roads. On arrival, the after-school Homework Program was still in session, and about 20 kids were pressed into service unloading everything. Apparently this will happen once or twice more throughout the month! Joy Comley, mentioned in the previous blog, has tentatively lined up a volunteer to take over some of the shopping – a Godsend. More news as it unfolds …

Susan’sBlog: Many Hands…

Cliché, but true – “Many hands make light work”. The Ubuntu Community Care volunteer administrators, Myriam and Vicky, have taken on a multitude of responsibilities which include overseeing the gogos (African grandmothers) of “Sitabogogo”, operating an after-school homework program for all grade levels, distributing soup from the tail gate of their “bakkie” (little truck) in the back streets, and attending to the needs of those who seek their help.

Myriam & Vicky pause to read a letter of appreciation from Granny Beverley of Vernon

Myriam & Vicky pause to read a letter of appreciation from Granny Beverley of Vernon

That last descriptor includes driving the sick to and from hospital at any hour, to battling red tape and bureaucratic bungling for those needing help with pension problems or birth certificates or the required South African ID booklets. But every day without fail there are many requests. On top of this, in their personal lives Vicky and Myriam have taken on the fostering of three preschool children when requested by Social Services for a “safe house”. Think: madly off in all directions! After a week I finally managed to catch the both of them at the centre at the same time for a photo.

The great news is that others are recognizing their valuable work and are offering a helping hand. Benedicte Scheen has arrived from Belgium to help during the five month gap between having finished her degree in sociology and anthropology, and returning home in September to start her Masters degree.

Belgian volunteer Benedicte Scheen carries a few of the 50 monthly supplementary food parcels.

Belgian volunteer Benedicte Scheen carries a few of the 50 monthly supplementary food parcels.

Gogos set off with their food parcels containing eggs, rice, beans and sardines.

Gogos set off with their food parcels containing eggs, rice, beans and sardines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As local awareness of Ubuntu Centre’s efforts increases, donations of clothes have been accumulating for the past year or two and, like some yeast-fed monster, have mushroomed to fill a room. This week long time Sabie citizen Joy Comley organized the building of shelves with donations of materials and labor. She lined up various friends to assist her each day to sort, launder, fold and hang the clothes. Her goal is to get the clothes out as soon as possible to those in need, so she can unpack donations for efficient turnaround. The plan is to soon have someone in place to operate the Clothes Bank for specified hours one day a week … build it and they will come.
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Accumulated clothing donations pile up

Accumulated clothing donations pile up

Joy Comley (right) and friend Ena Chandler begin to set up the Clothes Bank.

Joy Comley (right) and friend Ena Chandler begin to set up the Clothes Bank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Volunteers are also being sought to help with the after school Homework Program, and with the massive grocery shopping expeditions. In fact, there are a number of ways to help out and support … Interested? Think about it – a working holiday!