Today was a travel day for all of us. We started the morning bright and early with a flight from Durban to Johannesburg. After a lengthy sojourn in the Joburg airport, we boarded a flight to Entebbe, Uganda. (As we waited at the gate, Stephen ran into two old friends – a former Prime Minister of Botswana and the former Health Minister from Lesotho. Small world.)
Tomorrow, we’ll be driving to Jinja, a town located about three hours away, at the source of the Nile River. Once we’re there, we’ll be visiting two outstanding grassroots organizations – PEFO and St. Francis. We’re all excited at the prospect of seeing their work firsthand.
Yesterday, we spent our final day in South Africa visiting the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust outside of Durban. Although I’ve posted several blog entries about Hillcrest so far, yesterday was the day of Stephen’s visit.
We started off the morning gathered with Hillcrest staff and a large group of women beadworkers, who treated us to several songs and some traditional Zulu dancing and high kicks. After addressing the crowd, Stephen tried some high kicks of his own, which got uproarious applause from the women gathered there. Cwengi, one of Hillcrest’s nurses – Canadian grandmothers may have met Cwengi at the Grandmothers’ Gathering in 2006 and again in Vancouver in October 2007 – spoke on behalf of the group.
We toured the respite unit and spoke with the nurses and home-based caregivers. Princess, a retired Hillcrest nurse who has visited with grandmothers in Canada a number of times, also surprised us with a visit.
Later in the morning, we drove to Inchanga, a township about twenty minutes from Hillcrest. There, we visited with a raucous group of grandmothers (46 of them!) who gather each week to support one another. The grannies danced us into their small meeting place, blowing whistles and singing all the while. Cwengi has been working in the community for a number of years and helped put the granny group together – one of many groups in the area afffiliated with Hillcrest. The grannies told us that they are hoping to start their own vegetable gardens in order to have a more stable food source, and they are hoping to get fencing that will allow them to grow vegetables without having animals destroy the crops.
After a quick stop to see a community garden at a school, we headed to Lower Molweni, so that Stephen could meet and visit with Gogo Maria. I wrote about Maria in a previous post – at age 64, she has lost all but one of her eight children and is caring for seven grandchildren. She welcomed us into her home and spoke with Stephen and Aissatou about her life. She is an incredible woman – despite all of the hardships she has faced, she still finds time to care for her family and to be a lifeline for others in her community.
Our final stop was to see Tholokele, a home-based care worker and beader who lives in a different part of Molweni. Tholokele is starting a granny group in her area, and her home was surrounded by women who are part of the group. At the moment, they are meeting at the base of a tree in her yard, but they are working to make bricks and build a space where they can safely meet away from the elements.
This has been an incredible week in South Africa – we’ve all been inspired by the commitment and dedication of organizations like Hillcrest, the Music Therapy Community Clinic and the Blue Roof. It is clear that they are touching the lives of so many people in their communities – most of whom would likely not be able to access services without their support.