Our VP’s “Vacation”!
As many members of our Client Family know our VP Client Success, Claire Loram, isn’t inclined to relax and take time away from the office. Having recently got engaged she, and her fiancé Jay, decided to travel to South Africa. Many of you who saw her ‘out of office’ might imagined that the two of them were spending long days drinking cocktails by a pool. However, on her return Claire had some amazing stories to tell the team about what she encountered while she was there. It seems she applies the same drive to volunteering that she does to Client Success! Many of us in Team TutorPro have committed to support her in any small way that we can. If, after reading this story, any of you want to help details are at the bottom. Over to Claire…
Where did it all begin?
Where do I start? How did one family holiday turn into an all-consuming passion for an amazing nation?? I initially visited South Africa in 2008 to spend time with family that were living there. On the visit my Auntie took me to visit a couple of the ”projects” in the townships. In that moment I realized that I couldn’t leave and forget about what I’d seen.
I decided to return in 2009 for three weeks and volunteered at 1000 Hills Community Helpers. You’ll hear more about this incredible center shortly. Three weeks wasn’t enough for me though. In 2010 I went back and spent three and a half months volunteering at 1000 Hills, Shepherds Keep (an abandoned baby center), and some of the other “projects” I had come across. In the morning I volunteered and in the afternoon I worked. I will always be grateful for TutorPro giving me this opportunity.
Whilst there in 2010, TutorPro provided 1000 Hills free eLearning courses to enhance the programs they were running. The courses included basic IT skills such as naming computer components, knowing what they do, as well as core applications of Office Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint.
1000 Hills Community Helpers
1000 Hills was started by an amazing woman, an absolute inspiration to me, Dawn Leppan. Dawn started 1000 Hills in 1989, with a soup kitchen at an old church. Today she has a Clinic, a feeding program, an education and development facility, a preschool, a crèche, a craft shop and her homebased community helpers visit families that need extra help. Over a week 1000 Hills can serve, on average, 10,000 meals! That’s without all the food parcels they give out.
From the beginning I couldn’t be one of the volunteers who just played with the children and then went home. I had to get out in the community, visit people in their homes, see what was happening, find out who needed help, and try to make as much of a difference as I could.
I met three boys I’ll never forget in 2010; Lindan 13, Ntobeko four and Mbusiso two. Whilst delivering food parcels I found these three in their “shack”. Their mother had died in their home. She’d been there for a few days and the children were too scared to know what to do. Mbusiso was in a particular bad way, with Lindan and Ntobeko not knowing anything about how to care for a two-year old, let alone manage to change a nappy.
I immediately removed the children and took them to 1000 Hills where they organized for the coroner to come out for the boys’ mother and the children were checked over in the Clinic. I asked the team at 1000 Hills, as this was my early days, what to do next. They said you have to leave them there. What? 13, four and two, and on their own? No way! Apparently, the process is call the social worker and wait…. For those who don’t know me, being patient is not one of my top qualities! But, that’s what I had to do. It was a Friday night, 7pm by this time, and unfortunately not really the best time for me to be out there on my own. So home I had to go.
The weekend was full of anxiety and Monday morning I was straight back to see the boys. I waited all day but no social worker arrived. I left the children again on Monday night.
Tuesday, still no social worker. By this point I’m getting angry. “Right children, in the car, we’re off shopping!” We had a great day, new clothes and lunch at Wimpy. Seeing them with a chocolate milkshake for the first time and working out how to use an escalator was an unforgettable experience!! Back to 1000 Hills we went and still no social worker. Tuesday was a restless night. How could they expect these children to care for themselves?
Wednesday – now I’m really angry! So I collected the children again, and headed up to Hammarsdale which is the social workers’ head office. After 5 hours of waiting with 3 children who spoke very little English I finally got to see the social worker. “We said we’d come out” was the first thing they said!! “Well you didn’t” was my response! Anyway, after our meeting they realized they were in the wrong and should have escalated the case. I finally got the report filed and the children stayed in the children’s home that night. Over the next couple of days I was able to track down their Auntie Joyce and rehomed them with her. She needed some help with bedding, school clothes etc. but was more than happy to have them.
I went back in 2012 and 2014 to visit. Mbusiso and Lindan had gone to Pietermaritzburg to live with their Grandma (GoGo) but I got to see Ntobeko and he was doing very well.
I saw him again on this visit and again, he’s still doing well. Mbusiso and Lindan are still in Pietermaritzburg and Lindan has two children of his own now.
My 2017 “Vacation”
It was time for a break. Time away from the building work at home and away from my busy inbox. So my new fiancé and I decided to head to South Africa. I was excited and nervous at the same time. South Africa is like a second home to me and I have a lot of love for the children I’ve met there. I just hoped and prayed Jay would love it as much as I do! 48 hours in Jay turns to me and says “I can see why you love this place!” Success!!
Before we left for South Africa, we asked for friends and family to donate clothes and toys. By the time we left we had 7 suitcases packed! We raised some of the funds to pay for the additional luggage, which some of our Client Family very kindly donated, and British Airways also agreed to waive many of the fees.
Every day Jay and I would drive from Durban to Inchanga, which is about 45 minutes, and spend the day at 1000 Hills and out in the community. We came across various children that needed our help. Here are a few of their stories.
Our new extended family…
This trip was yet another emotional rollercoaster. Whilst delivering some of the clothes we had taken out with us, we found Thonoko 13 years, Onighty nine years, and Melisi seven years, living with their GoGo. Another lad Thobani also lived with them, he is 11 and an absolute sweetheart. He lost his mum, his dad, and then his GoGo to HIV. He has been passed from pillar to post. He’s run away from home many times but eventually settled with Thonoko, Onighty and Melisi and it seemed their GoGo was happy to care for him.
They were living in a horrible environment. The room was small with no windows. GoGo and one child in the bed, the other three on the floor. GoGo became very distressed whilst we were there and said they had to find a new place to live. We went back the following day, the children were there but no GoGo. We asked why they weren’t at school and Thonoko was due to be at the clinic for TB testing but was waiting for lunch to cook. I asked if I could go in to see what they were having and found half a potato sliced into 4 pieces, one for each of them. We put them in the car and took them to 1000 Hills for lunch and then took Thonoko to the Clinic. On our return to their house, they were being robbed. However we had no idea about the details because everyone was talking Zulu. My mission is to learn the language before I go back, I know the basics but not enough to understand an argument! Anyway, the children were OK but of course GoGo needed to move. Jay and I searched the community for a new place and we moved them to a much bigger place. We donated the first month’s rent for them (it was just £30) and bought the children new beds so they no longer needed to leave on a blanket on the floor.
Whilst packing up their belongings however, we met Sindy, 14 years. She was living with her GoGo, who had a problem with alcohol, and made clear she felt unable to care for Sindy. Sindy lived next door to the other GoGo and the 4 children. She came up to me and asked me to take her with me. It broke my heart, the look in her eyes was not one that a 14 year old child should have. It was 4pm by this time and I couldn’t do anything. Child knapping is not something I want on my record, and there are processes that have to be followed to ensure that child-welfare is at the heart of any intervention. After a night of mixed emotions, happy that the GoGo and the children were settled but worrying about Sindy, we headed back up to Inchanga. We arrived and Sindy came rushing out, ready to leave. She couldn’t wait to leave her GoGo and her worries behind her.
As we were leaving though, the GoGo and 4 children from the day before come rushing out onto the road. They’d been kicked out of the new house! I was so confused! The new house? What? Off we go to 1000 Hills to find a translator. It turned out their GoGo wasn’t providing the children with what they needed – let’s say she turned out to be a bad GoGo whose business deals weren’t exactly above board… The children didn’t want to be with her.
So now we are off to Hammarsdale to see the Social Worker (not my favorite place, but somewhere I now know well!) file a report for Sindy, Onighty, Melisi, Thobani and Thonoko and find the children somewhere to stay, again. Eventually, we found them a children’s home that had enough room, just, for them all to stay together. We had to go to their schools and get their transfer documents, go to the clinic to get Sindy and Thobani’s HIV prescription.
Why should children have to wait
The day before we left, whilst at the clinic getting Sindy and Thobani’s prescription, a distressed mum approached me and asked me to take her daughter, Tracey, just 8 years old. Long story short, Tracy is a beautiful little girl, her mother is black and her Father is white. She’s a very pretty girl and unfortunately some of the men in the local area thought the same and made gestures towards her. Of course, her mum was scared for her future and felt that it was better for her to be taken to a children’s home. Again, we were at the point where we had to wait for a Social Worker and there was nowhere safe for her to sleep.
Thankfully after we left Dawn and her team were quick to action and Tracey, and her 10 year old sister, is also in a children’s home.
Taking the children to a children’s home is the last resort. It’s not something I ever enjoy. It’s always best to find the child/children a relative they can live with so they can grow up in the community. Unfortunately, this just isn’t always possible. Having said all of that, when you see the smiles on their faces, it makes it all worthwhile.
I’m a very emotional person and always find it hard to say goodbye, but I was shocked as to how attached Jay became. We wanted to spend some fun time with the children so we took them to Wimpy for dinner. It was the perfect way to say goodbye. They gave us letters they’d written and decorated, to thank us for everything and explained they were very happy at the children’s home and they now feel loved and safe. It’s so hard to leave a child in a home but, in my experience, it’s often the right thing to do.
We’ve been back a week now and I’ve heard from the children’s home every day, keeping me up to date on their progress as the week goes on. And this past weekend, Sindy even borrowed a mobile phone and messaged me “Hi, It’s Sindi, I Miss You”. Many organizations have rules about building relationships with people you’re trying to support. The organizations I volunteer with don’t. What can be wrong with showing another human love and care? Sometimes that’s better than any service you deliver at arms-length.
One of my dreams is to provide Inchanga with a safe house and an orphanage and enable 1000 Hills to have a social worker on site. So many children have to stay in horrendous situations because of processes currently in place and the time it takes to get things arranged. Jay and I have now added to our plans for the year to raise the funds to get them up and running.
The team at 1000 Hills are absolutely amazing, they have so much love to give and are an inspiration. I’m humbled to be an (at present) occasional member of the team and I’m desperate to do more. Getting to spend 3 weeks in a place that has become my second home, with my fiancé, was just incredible. I’m determined to help them achieve their goals for fundraising, enable them to build that safe house, and get them that social worker.
If you have any ideas about how you, or your organization, might like to get involved, then drop me an email email@example.com.