It’s been a while since my last blog post and much more has happened than I can possibly fit into one post. I’ll try, however, to hit the highlights. Earlier this week Jenna and I began a project to refurbish the main building at the plot. After a long conversation with Piet, we were galvanized into action. We have spent this week assessing the condition of the building, taking measurements and compiling lists of what we need. Then, with the donation money that Jenna had raised, we set about getting what we needed in town.
First, we went to a hardware store run by a good Catholic man who had given St. Martin’s discounts before. He and his employees were more than willing to help us. The owner gave us a great discount, making our large purchase very cheap. We bought five 20L buckets of paint for the building. Two were of white paint for the base coats, while the other three were pink, blue and teal. We also picked up a small bucket of yellow. With these we spent several days painting the exterior of the building and the interior of the dining room. The paint that had covered the walls was cracked and in many places there were wholes exposing rough cement. And the color was boring and rather dreary. Now, after the new paint job, the building looks vibrant and much more childlike.
After we finished, I went over to Br. Dominic to ask him what he thought. He told me a little girl came over to him and, looking at the walls, said in Zulu, “it is beautiful here.” Brother said she expressed it better than he could. The change is striking. The bright colors can now be seen from a distance as you drive along the main road perpendicular to the one of which the plot is situated. Now, the building looks like what it is; a place where children come to play, to be fed and to be happy.
We finished the painting in record time because of the caregivers’ willingness to help. It was encouraging to see how eager they were to help beautify the place where they work. The final touches we put on the building came (literally) at the hands of the children. Jenna came up with the brilliant idea of having the children put their hand prints in different colored paint on several parts of the wall. The kids loved it. And it really contributed to the beauty of the building.
We also bought sheets of glass and replaced the broken windows in the dining room (and several other places). The windows in the dining room had been broken when the plot was broken into and the computers stolen a few months before we arrived. Now the place looks much better and safer for children.
On one of our first days at the plot one of the program managers showed us a pile of informational dvds on how to provided good care, how to conduct home visits and work with children. Unfortunately, the plot had no way of showing these training videos to the caregivers who are in need of this information. So, Jenna and I went out looking for a projector. We found a very nice one at a shop and managed to get a discount when we explained what we wanted it for. Now the organization will be able to show training videos to the caregivers as well as educational and entertaining material for the children. To accommodate this, we painted one wall of the dining room white and placed an order for blinds (which won’t, unfortunately, arrive until after we leave) so that the room can also be used for viewing.
Yesterday was our last Saturday at the plot. I really can’t believe that my time in South Africa is almost up. It will be hard to leave all the people I’ve met and all the friends I’ve made here, especially after this Saturday’s events. For our last days at the plot, they decided to organize a farewell party for me and Jenna. The children came from Kwa Thema, Jabavu and Witkop as well as Kwa Zenzele to bid us farewell. They performed traditional dances and songs for us. Léopold Senghor, the Senegalese poet, politician, cultural theorist and first president of Senegal wrote about Africans and African culture being intrinsically poetic and rhythmic. Rhythm and poetry flow through and permeate all parts of an African’s life. After attending Mass in South Africa and having these children perform for us, I understand what he was talking about. It amazes me how good these kids, who have very little formal training or practice, are at singing and dancing. It is wonderful to behold.
At one point during the festivities, one of the administrators introduced two girls who had made cards on behalf of all the kids at St. Martin’s for us. It was very touching to hear them, and others, talk about what we had done here and how thankful they were. After the event closed, Jenna and I were swarmed by kids and caregivers who wanted pictures with us before we left and who hugged us or shook our hands, thanking us for what we had done for them. It was very emotional and heartwarming.
The day ended in a very fitting way, as many of my first days at the plot had been, with about a dozen of the little children crowding around me, clambering on my back and wrestling with me. It’s exhausting but good, childlike fun, which produces smiles beaming with joy on the faces of the children. That is the greatest reward for and greatest result my time and my work here in South Africa.
Today, after hours of work, finally put the finishing touches on the website that I’ve been building for the organization. It is fairly simple, but a lot more visually pleasing and user friendly the previous, never used site. I hope all my readers will check it out! I’ll include the link to it and the Facebook page I also made.