Monday, June 26, 2006

Settling down

It has been too many African moons since I last wrote you. My time has already flown, quite literally, and there are just over 3 months left in my time here, which means just 3 more blogs until I can share my stories over warm beverages once again.

This is a photo of some of our girls at a recent workshop about HIV/AIDS and values. The t-shirts, which we made ourselves, say "Our Choices, Our Futures." and they have jeremiah 29:11 on them which says, For i know the plans i have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

So to start, some recent pictures. I have returned from my travels for good now. To be honest, although the traveling was exciting, it was exhausting. Being so far away from friends and family tires me out many days. It was really difficult to have no place to unpack my cloths, or a friend that knew me well enough to reflect my soul back to me.

I am focusing more on the young girls program here, which means that I work full time with 2 local women, Vivan and Nomsa (see the picture just here), helping to design workshops to teach these girls about HIV/AIDS, the positive impact education can have on their futures, and everything else in between like basic human rights and what it means to be sexually abused.

I want to write about what I am doing, what I am seeing, and what it means for me…my future…my perspective of God.

To begin, I am working with a program that is funded by the Ameriican government. I spend at least 2 days a week training the African staff here to use the computer and compile reports so the program can continue to run without me here. My apologies, because I probably just removed all of the romantic notions of my work here in Africa! Unfortunately, my days are not filled with safaris or wild animals, save for the monkeys that steal the bananas from our office kitchen when we aren’t looking.

The women I work with are fabulous. Vivian is in her twenties, and she used to be under the care of Masoyi Home Based Care in our orphan care program (We have been working in this community for almost 10 years now). She is the head of a child-headed home, caring for her 2 younger siblings. She is a pretty incredible woman; she wants to be a business woman and study at university. Viv says that she learned everything she knows about business from watching American soap operas, especially the Bold and the Beautiful. Who knew that daytime television could create future world leaders! Her dad was a truck driver and her mom worked as a seamstress. Her father was killed in a car accident almost 6 years ago, and her mom died of AIDS-related illnesses almost 5 years ago when she was 36. What constantly surprises and confuses me here is the silence and shame that still surrounds AIDS-related deaths in Africa. Despite the fact that Viv works for an organization that works with HIV/AIDS, she does not speak openly about the status of her parents, or how that has impacted her life.

Nomsa is kind of like our mom. She is wise and gentle, patient and full of love for the girls and for both Vivian and myself. Nomsa is like an auntie for all of these girls in our program. In Africa, there is a huge culture of extended families (Liz will know what I am talking about here!). These are people who are either related to you, or they are your parent’s good friends. These are the women that tell the girls about life; about what it means to be a woman, about sex, and about how to grow up in this culture. With the AIDS pandemic, the entire middle-aged generation (ages 25-35ish) has nearly been lost due to premature death. The aunties are missing, and in their place is a generation of gogos and young women. I can see it when I visit the girls in their homes. They don’t have the care providers; so many arrive at our workshops unwashed, unable to meet our eye contact when we greet them. Nomsa serves as a surrogate auntie for them all. I can see her love for them as it reflects in her eyes. She goes to the most unkempt of our girls and speaks to them about life; the things that only aungites can say.

The home visits have really opened me up to the lives of these girls. I will tell you about a few of them. Florence is 9 years old, and she wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. She has this crazy-cool afro that stands right on end, and a half-open smile when she is telling a story. In school, she is literally the top of her class, and her favorite subject is mathematics. A few weeks ago we traveled into the village to visit her home, which is high up a mountain in a nearby logging community. She lives with her mom, Nonhalala, who is 34 years old, and her 5 brothers and sisters. Her mom is SO proud of how smart Florence is. You can see it in her eyes. But there is also a fear behind her mothers’ smile that I can never understand, at least not until I have become a mother. It is the fear of the unknown; she knows that she is dying, and she is not sure what will happen to her children when she is gone. I can see by the physical signs that Nonhalala is in the advanced stages of AIDS. She suffers from elephantitis (swollen limbs, and I may have spelled that wrong), tuberculosis (an infection of sorts in the lungs), and she recently had a stroke, which has left her paralyzed on one side. Florence comes home from school and cares for her mom most of the time, bathing and feeding her, and then does her homework until it gets too dark to see the pages. I can see in Vivian’s eyes the compassion she has for these girls, and it makes me realize how far someone like me from North America is from understanding.

I have also become increasingly aware of the need for advocacy for these children who have been orphaned. Although this may make some people uncomfortable, I am going to share about some very intense experiences I have had here.

We had a young 12-year-old girl from our program who was raped by her uncle last week. Her name is Minky, which is short for her African name that I can neither spell or pronounce. She is petite, with these captivating hazel eyes. Her favorite subject in school is maths, and she wants to be a math teacher when she grows up.

She has lost both of her parents to HIV, and then the grandmother she was living with passed away, leaving her as a double orphan. Since the death of her gogo, she has been moved from house to house as her family does not want to take responsibility for her. As these children get passed from home to home, they are treated as servants or burdens to the families they live with. We are finding that many of them are forced to live in small, broken shacks, or even outside. Just a few weeks, she was sent to another home to live with her uncle, who raped her. We spent the day traveling from the police station to the local AIDS clinic, and then back to the police station.

After all of this, hours of grueling examination and questioning, nothing is happening. Nothing. Despite overwhelming physical evidence of rape, the family members refuse to press charges against the uncle because it would bring shame to the family name.

I have great days here, filled with laughter and joy. Friendship and music and beauty. The days that I visit my girls are the highlights of my week. But the injustice, the devaluation of life and potential and children that is happening in the face of this pandemic smothers me somedays. I can honestly say that I wept openly after last Thursday, crying out to God in confusion, knowing that my frustration at this injustice was only a shadow of His heart. I am crying as I write this. I was helpless. I wanted to go and grab the animal that did that to her, and bring back the childhood to her eyes that I knew was forever lost.

We are trying to do all we can to care for and protect Minky. We took her and her auntie to a support group today, and I would welcome your prayers over this next week as we make further charges on behalf of Minky with the police.

So please remain in prayer with me. I may have been sent all of this way, to work here for a whole year, just for her. Just to fight until I am blue in the face to see her protected, to help her feel loved and treasured. I think God is teaching me what it means to love here; what it meant when He loved us.

“Love never gives up.
Love cares for others more than for self.
Love … takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.”
1 corinthians 13: 3-7, The Message

Stay well, my beloved friends.

Grace and peace,
Maeghan June

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

you made a callused old man cry with you Maeg. God has blessed you.
mike

9:45 AM  
Anonymous dom said...

Hi Maeghan,
this is Dom at the embassy. We never got a chance to connect since you were on your way out when i was coming in. Anyway, I will be sharing this story with our community at Embassy. Just thought i'd let you know if some email you about it. I will be talking about 'injustice' and how difficult it is to deal with the darkness in our world. Thanks for sharing in such an honest way.

Hope you are doing well and i hope to connect with you when you're back in town.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Katie Mac said...

Maegs!

I love! I think about you often and miss you like crazy. I check here every few days to see if you've updated. Is something wrong with my computer or have you really not updated since june????

It is all good. I've heard from you since then via email i'm sure.

Just hoping and praying you are alright.

Again I love and think about you so much! I'm so looking forward to your visit to Waterloo.

MUCH MUCH LOVE

-ktmac ;)

12:03 AM  

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