Thursday, July 12, 2012

The first few days...

As hinted at the end of the last post, I am currently beginning an exciting career opportunity that will require me to be traveling back and forth between the US and Africa for at least the next year.  The Meriwether Foundation (the same non-profit organization I went with last summer) offered me this opportunity to help start a similar nutrition and feeding program as the one I developed in South Africa, except in Zambia, in partnership with the local hospital.  A lot of the details are still to be fleshed out, but for now, I’m just along for this ride God has sent me on.

At this exact moment (so to speak), I am sitting at a lodge in South Africa, looking out into the forest, as a couple of giraffes chomp on some leaves in the distance, and I can't believe how blessed I am to be here.  This trip to Africa was rather last minute, as I did not even know my travel itinerary 4 days before I was supposed to leave.  The main purpose of this trip was to accompany 5 high school boys on a global awareness and service project trip, as well as get introduced to the local health professionals in Zambia that I will be working closely with, as well as nail out any details.  I arrived in Johannesburg Friday night, after a full 24 hours of traveling.  The next day was spent touring Johannesburg, with a little history lesson thrown in.  

I don't know how many of you are familiar with what happened in South Africa during apartheid, but I had only a cursory knowledge of it.  Most everyone knows who Nelson Mandela is, but what he actually did, and how epic a change he sought to accomplish is something that I didn't really even truly grasp until now, and I can't really even say that I've wrapped my head fully around it.  Seeing how the effects are still rippling through South African society and culture is mind-blowing, and hearing about the events that unfolded from someone who was physically there was incredibly humbling.  To see where the country currently is, and how much further still must be done for real progress, is truly heart breaking.

Memorial square for the first child shot and killed
Memorial museum for the children killed during protests
Because of the injustices done in the past by the whites, black South Africans are almost programmed to lack self-motivation and drive, which leads to problems when immigrants come to South Africa with business plans and practical and technical trade skills.  And this is the point in the story in which we find ourselves at. 

As part of the city tour of Johannesburg, we stopped by Nelson Mandela’s house, as well as a historical monument and museum in remembrance of the students that were killed as a result of their protest against the education act that instituted that Afrikaans (the language of the whites) be the primary language of instruction, despite the fact that neither the students nor the teachers were fluent or proficient in the language.

On a lighter note, we got to pet lions!!  Now lions have always held a special place in my heart, maybe because one of the first stuffed animals I got was a stuffed Simba, from The Lion King, or maybe because they are super awesome.  It turns out, they can also be super cuddly.  Of course, not in the wild, but in a game preserve slash zoo of sorts, they allow visitors to pet lions under two years of age, who have been acclimated to human presence.  Their fur is not quite as soft as it looks, but I guess it’s necessary for living out in the bush.

We also visited the Cradle of Life.  If that sounds familiar, think Angelina Jolie and that Lara Croft movie.  While it didn’t look anything like that, nor did I do any flying kicks or take part in any high speed chases, it was an interesting cave tour and look at the history of mankind from a purely anthropological and archeological point of view, seeing what some consider to be the birthplace of our race as Homo sapiens.

While Johannesburg is the capital, politically and economically, of South Africa, it was not our final destination.  A lovely car ride taking anywhere from 4 hours to the whole day would bring us to Hoedspruit, Acornhoek, and the village of Zitha in the northeast corner of the country.  On the way, we stopped at many a viewpoint of some beautiful, God-made, natural rock formations and photo opportunities galore.  These include the three rondevals (which are natural rock formations that look like huts on a mountain), potholes (not the ones in bad roads), and God’s window (an outlook overseeing the forest and river).
Three rondevals 
Once finally reaching our lodging for the next week, we settled in to our beds to begin a week of hard work at the village.  There were a number of projects that we wanted to finish, and having only 5 days to complete everything meant that we needed to make sure we had a tentative schedule of when we’d like things to get done and who would be responsible for doing each.  This would only be a guideline, seeing as the best laid plans often get thrown aside when things go awry because of delays or other unforeseen obstacles. 

I wondered every once in a while, over the past year, if what I had done this past summer, had made an impact, if the kids would remember me at all, or if I would simply fade in their memories as a random volunteer who came and went.  I think even in short term mission trips, what kind of effect did I have when I really only interacted with some of these people for a couple of hours.  Granted, this past summer was a little longer than that, but I hoped that the program I had help to plan and implement was still working, and that the people whose lives I had touched would remember just a little bit of me.

When we arrived at the village the first day, I was overwhelmed by the welcome.  Not only did the staff remember me, but they greeted me with open arms and warm hugs, calling me by name.  With the kids, I was not as lucky, but one did remember, and that was enough for me.  It was almost like a homecoming, that feeling of familiarity and comfort that I felt in returning to Zitha, and it has been a most rewarding week thus far.

As the days have passed, a couple of kids start to remember me again, even the games I used to play with them, namely chasing me around the Center.  I can even say that the programs operating out of the Center have grown, as well as the children.  The garden is fully providing vegetables for the daily lunches, like spinach, tomatoes, and onions.  An outdoor kitchen has been built, with a concrete floor and tin ceiling.  The people are just as wonderful and the children as full of joy as before.  

Tomatoes from the garden
Fruit trees my sister and I planted last year.  Mine is the one on the left.
New kitchen
Hopefully these pictures give you a good sense of what I've been up to for the past week.  I have been meaning to get pictures of the kids, but I've been busy with other things.  I'll be sure to get some before I leave!

I will be leaving South Africa to go to Zimbabwe and Zambia to see the other projects and find out more about the one that I will be working on on Monday, so if I don't send something out before then, I guess I'll be updating you from there!

Until then...


  1. Karissa!! This is great!! Things seem to be going well over there. Keep posting. I really enjoy reading what you're doing.

  2. Wow, this seems like a great opportunity Karissa! Excited to hear more about it... keep the updates coming!