Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Where Rainbows Meet
The care project was our second week in Cape Town. After just a couple of afternoons wrangling just a few kids on the Building Project site, I think we were all genuinely worried about how we were going to cope with this week.
It was Monday morning when we arrived. There was a new batch of kids - mostly under 5, the older ones having been successfully placed in schools - and this was the kids' second week at the creche. So we were greeted with a room full of crumpled faces as wails filled the air while children cried for their mums.
Well I think some of them were crying for their mums, some of them were just crying because everyone else was and they didn't want to feel left out. Though the sound was overwhelming, it definitely pulled on my heart strings. The children were all sitting around tables and being given crayons and paper to draw on and settle in. Without much instruction we were all told to go and join a table and interact with the kids.
I was actually surprised at how quickly I felt comfortable working with the kids, though I'm not a kindy or primary school teacher and haven't even worked with this many small children. I thought I would be hopeless because I did work experience in a Kindy for a few days once, and didn't really enjoy that at all.
But a few little crying children were breaking my heart at how distressed they looked, so I went over and held one girl on my lap who was wailing loudly. And sat beside another little boy who was sitting quietly, but bewildered with a few tears leaking out of his eyes.
After picking up so many crying children, I've got the sway, bounce and pat move down.
During that morning I noticed all the different little personalities of the kids - like some who went crazy drawing giant scribbles on their paper or colouring furiously, to those who draw tiny delicate lines like they were trying to write words. Then there were those who drew on everyone's paper but their own. Or those who didn't draw on paper at all, but were happier rolling their crayon across the table and laughing when it fell on the floor.
And though I'm no expert, I think there were a lot of little things that would not be normal for kids with regular safe and happy lives. Over the day, and over the week, many of the children who had been crying on the first day settled in and were seen smiling and playing later on. But there were a few who remained crying all week, and couldn't handle being put down or left alone. Even sadder though, were the ones who were unresponsive. No tears, but no smile either. No reaction to tickles, to music even when everyone else was dancing. Some were always tired - falling asleep in their chairs even first thing in the morning.
I am glad they had this place to come to, and I hope that by the end of their time here they will have had enough positive interactions to give them a bit more hope and security, no matter what their lives are like at home.
The two guys running the place were inspirational - young, probably my age or younger - but with so much energy and patience for the kids. And they don't have any formal training, but are doing their best to care for and teach these kids so that they will have a better chance of being successful when they get to school age.
The week - or actually only four days because we flew out on the Friday - did wear us out, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. The kids were adorable and we all had a few we wanted to bring home with us. I have to admit that I looked for someone else to take over when the kids were calling for help from the toilet, or had wet their pants. And if we had been there longer I think we would have felt like we made more of a difference, because we may have been able to work out some programs or teaching activities to run with the kids. But as it was we were just kid wranglers while we were there, really. Many of the kids spoke only Afrikaans or Xhosa and little, if any, English so it was hard to communicate with them sometimes. Except in the language of kid, of course : laughter, energy and noise.
This project seemed very successful, which I think caught the girls by surprise. In volunteering I think many people think that all the places you go are going to be completely poverty stricken and be desperate for any help you can give. But this place was run like a business - they also had a Business Project running out of the office to support local business - and they were obviously well networked to receive donations and help to feed all the children and get teaching materials.
For some people the success of the project might be offputting, when their perceptions of what volunteering was going to be like are not met, because they might feel like "Was I really needed here? They seem to be doing fine."
But I hope people don't get complacent about places that look successful and think they no longer need help - I think it is a testament to the strong leadership and passion of the people running the place. And if people stop helping because they think projects like this are fine now, they won't keep being successful for very long.
My only worry is that for kids whose lives are so unstable at home, having volunteers come and go all the time might be unsettling for them. But I hope the benefit to them will outweigh any negatives. They are definitely better off - getting some education and getting fed well - than if the project wasn't there at all.
All children are precious, and I feel all emotional again thinking about them all and looking at their beautiful faces in the pictures. And I am grateful for their innocence. To remind us what joy is. And that it protects them, so that it is not too late to give them hope and a chance at a brighter future different to what their parents have. I hope they get this at Where Rainbows Meet.
See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. Matthew 18:10
Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth. Genesis 9:16