Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Maeghan the Marathoner (pictures coming soon!)

Those are two words that I NEVER expected to see in the same sentence! But miracles do happen, and this last Friday I successfully completed 12 kms of my first-ever African relay marathon. It was also the first relay-marathon for this community to see…

Let me go back about a month ago. We gathered for our Wednesday prayer meeting at the Masoyi Home Based Care office. One of the prayer concerns was for a child-headed home that had burned down in a terrible fire the night before. There were 4 children, ages 17 to 6, staying in the home. The oldest child, a 17 year old boy named Vincent, passed away in the fire. The three young girls, Thandeka, 11, Zinhle, 8 and Catherine, 6, were able to escape. All of there belongings were destroyed, and the house was burnt beyond recognition. I knew Thandeka through our girls’ program. She is a bright, vivacious girl with these killer dimples that kinda melt your heart.

That afternoon, I traveled out to visit the girls with our orphan care coordinator and Nomsa. The girls were very quiet and withdrawn, and since I couldn’t understand the adult conversation, we played games together and took silly pictures. I held little Catherine in my arms and cried quietly in confusion before God. I wanted to fix everything by buying a new house for them, but my savings simply wasn’t going to cut it.

That’s where the marathon came in…a fellow Canadian volunteer, Michelle, met a family in a nearby refugee community that also stole her heart. We began to plot and scheme, and a week later, we had 13 volunteers from Australia, Zambia, South Africa, America and Canada committed to running in the first-ever Hands at Work Relay Marathon, cleverly titled the Home Run (get it? We were running to raise funds for homes…haha.).

E-mails were sent, and the word was spread through local businesses and churches. A mere 3 weeks later, last Friday, we all gathered at 6 AM to pray and start the run through the hilly community of Masoyi, stunningly clad in our stunning red Home Run t-shirts. Over $2000 was raised when I left last Friday, and that is enough to build the basic homes for both families.

If you would like to contribute (we want to furnish the homes with beds, stoves, and such), here are the links for the Paypal site that is collecting donations:

Select to make Home Run Donation

The family from the refugee community, Flora and Themba, had an incredibly story to share. Flora is a 32 year old AIDS widow who stays alone in a home made of sticks and plastic. When she heard her house would be built, she said she wants her children to come home. One thing you will find in Africa is there are always more family members you don’t know about! When Flora’s husband died, she was forced to send her children, ages 10 to 17, to a local farm to work (basically as slaves, only receiving food) because she couldn’t feed them. She hasn’t seen them in nearly 2 years. They are all coming to live with her in their new home, and they will all go to school for the first time EVER starting in the new year.

And here are some photos of the day:

Group Photo – All of our team

My team (the Studs)

The first leg of the race ( I am the one in the front on the left)

We even had community members come and run beside us!

At the finish, the girls were able to come from school. Thandeka started to cry when she heard the news, and we discovered, when we brought them home, that their older brother, Vusi, has come home since the death of their brother to care for them (like I said, family members just appear out of nowhere). He will be part of the team that rebuilds the home.

This is the home of the girls after it was destroyed:

It was an incredible way to end my time here. To see the ripple effect of something as simple as a relay marathon has inspired me to want to do more. I don’t have to work for the UN or some big organization. Person by person, little by little, people will be cared for. Families will be brought together. And the darkness that is the AIDS pandemic will see light and hope and love, all by the power of God. That is my prayer….

Grace and peace,


Leaving a new home

Dearest friends and family,

Well, it is decided. I am the worst blogger that the world has ever seen. It has again been many moons since I last wrote you….

Since my last post, I have wrapped up my work in South Africa, and have returned to Malawi. Two new super-fab volunteers from the local community were trained up to run the girls’ education program. Vivian and Nomsa will run the program totally independently next year, and we have been fortunate enough to receive approval for next years’ funding the very day before I left. God is good…

I have spent many days wondering what to share with you about my year with Masoyi Home Based Care. It was an incredible year for me…

I learned that although I thought I came with a heart ready to learn, one of the biggest hurdles I had to get over was my own pride. I can remember specifically when we had to distribute the uniforms to the girls. This may sound like an easy task to you, but in reality, it was the most difficult part of my year here. It involved gathering the uniform sizes for 220 girls (many of them live with illiterate grandmothers, which poses huge challenges), ordering uniforms for 22 different schools, all in different colours, sorting the uniforms, labeling the uniforms, and then coming up with a good plan to give them to the girls. I worked for weeks planning without asking advice of the local people, and only coming to report the results of what was done. I was trying to prove myself… As the work progressed, I felt more and more hostility towards me, and more resistance to help me. I sat with my friend Simon who heads up the building team, with tears of frustration pouring down my face, and explained what was happening. Simon is quite diplomatic, and not too sensitive, and asked me frankly if I had ever received advice from the community volunteers. The simple answer was no…

Everything is done in Africa in community. From dating (you actually have an assistant who helps you date) to cooking to traveling. In Canada, if I were given the role of manager, it would be seen as weak for me to consult the entire project about the best way to work. Here, any challenges are seen as an issue for the community to tackle.

I learned also about the need to know the history of the community you are working in. One day, Nomsa and I started to talk about what life was like for her in apartheid South Africa, which ended just 12 years ago.

She told me about segregated toilets, about whites refusing to walk on the same part of the sidewalk as her, and how she was not even allowed to touch the vegetables that were sold to whites. Her grannie worked as a housemaid, and she was given a separate dish, spoon and fork to eat with. If the gogo touched the food as it was being served, the family members would refuse to eat it.

As I walked the streets of the community, because of my white skin, many of these gogos associated me with this type of behavior. When they heard a white girl was administering a program to help their grandchildren, some of them refused to allow the girls to attend the workshops. It shocked me to hear this, and it made me realize how deep the impact of apartheid has run. After this conversation with Nomsa, I started to do more reading on the history of South Africa, and I gained a new respect for the black communities and the incredible pain and injustice they had endured.

Finally, I learned that in the community, you can find a family. I have spent a year here without seeing any of my 6 siblings. It has been incredibly difficult for me not to have my sister, Andrea, closer to me, and to watch life continue at home. Gradually, my co-workers here have become my sisters, brothers, adopted aunties, and grannies. They chide me if I eat too many sweets, they encourage me in the face of difficulty, and surround me with prayers when I struggle. The warmth and acceptance that you find in community in Africa is like nothing else; it is what makes me want to come back each time. I think God is going to put the Africans in charge of the community committee in heaven….

I have left here changed. I can feel it…something within me has been softened, the struggles I have seen have not hardened me. Rather, they have made me want to live my life to its fullest. I don’t feel guilty about the blessings I have known in my life. I feel an indescribably gratitude for my education, my family, my friends, my church. The list goes on…I used to struggle to find things to thank God for, and my prayer is that my heart has been changed to see so many more blessings, and to thank Him.

God bless…

Grace and peace,