“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. This is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place”.
Here we are, coming in to our last few days in South Africa, after what I can only describe as the most incredible month of my life to date.
Ever since my trip to South Africa in 2015 I've been trying my best to get back to the place that once stole my heart. Second time round and the feeling of going into the township each day doesn't get any less exciting, if anything it just gets better each day! I didn't know what this trip held for me and how different it would be from my previous time here, without having such a big team around you it shows that you really depend on the small minority of us who are here to pick each other up. However progress is impossible without change.
The past couple of weeks we spent a lot of time in another township called Thembalethu. We spent the majority of our week here including Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. The mornings consisted of us spending quality time with the pupils and children of the disability creche/school. For a while now I've been thinking that working with kids who have a disability would be the possible career I would like to pursue, so I took this as opportunity to get very involved with the children and make the most of my time here. The first day in the creche I met a little girl, I was finding it hard to communicate with her and couldn't understand why. I took it upon myself to get some bubbles, but not even a laugh or smile from her. Little did I know she was blind. She began to trace my face with her little fingers and holding my hands, I whispered in her ears little noises and she just leaned her head into towards my neck for me to continue whispering in her ear. She looked so peaceful and comfortable to be with me. Throughout the next couple of weeks each time we were going into the creche she would recognise my voice and find her way to me so she could trace my face once again and lean into me. Each morning we went to the creche the kids were so excited to see us. Every time we walked in the door they would cheer and run to hug us all and high five each of us. The afternoons spent in Thembalethu were at an after schools programme in what is known as "The Square". Here, the children were fed and helped with homework from 2 until 5pm. The kids were taught not to beg for things, but to work for them. The kids would collect bottle lids and plastic bottles or anything that could be recycled and would be rewarded with something such as snacks or clothes from the charity shop next door. The children were being taught a life lesson. At the charity shop I meet one of the workers called Regina. Our first day at the programme I spent my afternoon with Regina helping her in the charity shop and storing food. Throughout the short period of time, Regina and I had really bonded. She even texted her husband for him and their children to come to her work to meet me, and the pleasure was all mine.
On our first day in Blanco we were introduced to Aunt Abeil. The days we weren't in the valley or Thembaultu were spent with her. She brought us to a high school, old peoples home, church and a church group. She always made us feel so welcome and at home. She even said she was our "African mama". Aunt Abeil had opened up to us and told us her story. She was always there to reassure us of how good the work we do out in South Africa is and always the one to pick us up and have us laughing while in her company. What a character she is, I'm truly thankful that we were lucky enough to have met Aunt Abeil as she had a big impact on the trip.
What I was most looking forward to but also nervous about this trip was going back into Golden Valley. That feeling while driving into the township seeing all the familiar surroundings and faces for the first time in over a year was unbelievable to say the least. There was one familiar face in particular I was looking to see and that was Lolly. Lolly is a little girl that I gained a relationship with in 2015. Our first day in the valley we had drove up to the park, everyone was out of the car expect me and Largey while he was parking the car. I was looking out the car window when I seen Chelsea walk across the park holding hands with a girl and I could swear it was Lolly, I quickly jumped out of the car shouting Chelsea Chelsea is that Lolly and she said no it was Shanice, but the closer I was getting I was sure it was Lolly and just kept saying no it's Lolly it's Lolly. I started running towards her and when she recognised me she began running towards me as well, I just lifted her up and give her a big hug, I couldn't hold my tears back. That feeling of seeing someone for the first time who you haven't seen in over a year, who is constantly on your mind was magic. Throughout that afternoon more and more kids began coming up to the park and it was amazing how many kids had remembered us from previous times of being in the Valley. One day I got speaking to Lolly’s mummy, and she said she had recognised me from a photo that I had send over with a previous group. Her Mummy said Lolly still has it stuck on her fridge to this day, I was over the moon to hear this. Her Mummy also couldn't thank me enough for the things I had got for Lolly and her family, to me it was nothing just a nice gesture but to them it was everything she was so grateful. "we rise by lifting others".
The time is flying in and the count down to when we our going home is getting closer, so we know we have to make every moment count and make the most of our time. Coming in to the last two days I know that I've took from this trip everything I can, independence from living on our own for a month, gratitude from the loving and caring people of both Blanco and Thembaultu and benevolence for the desire to help others.
A goodbye is never easy and second time round it only gets harder but " how lucky am I to have known such special people, who make saying goodbye so hard to say". Until next time South Africa.
“You will never understand the true meaning of your life until you travel and experience how others are living theirs”.