It’s been a bumper year for visitors to Ukulapha Community Outreach.
We kicked off early with Heather and Angie from Vancouver Island. Heather Ferris, a native South African, is a regular returning pilgrim to the land of her birth, as her humanitarian work has called her back over the years. She has visited Ukulapha a number of times and we were lucky that this year she brought organic farmer, Angie Beltane, from the Cowichan Valley with her.
Heather and Angie stayed in Slangspruit as guests of Nelly Mbeje. Over the couple of weeks that Heather was in Slangspruit, she ran psycho- educational workshops for the teachers and the caregivers.
This was Angie’s first trip to our continent and we were happy to be the recipients of her boundless energy and enthusiasm despite the mid-summer heat – it reaches 40 degrees Celsius in our part of the world! Not for sissies! Angie took on the ambitious task of totally revamping our ailing school vegetable garden. She gutted it, dug in truckloads of horse manure, installed 2 large water tanks, and, once all the seedlings were planted in rows, installed drip irrigation. My wonderful roofing expert, Ross, owner of SlateMate, installed a roof to drain into the tanks, pro bono. Many children came to help Angie and were thrilled to see the garden unfolding for their school. A large selection of vegetables were planted and are harvested for the school lunch program – cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, parsley, beetroot. Angie set up this whole garden pro bono out of the goodness of her organic heart!
She also planted indigenous trees, 12 of them, in groups, along the side of the school grounds that gets pelted by the weather. Ultimately this will form a wind break and also provide shade for the children. We made sure that the goats didn’t win by munching on our trees so we caged them with tall fencing! All of this Angie’s hand along with the grounds men from the school.
Although her days were exhausting, I think Angie enjoyed herself – we certainly enjoyed having her for the 4 weeks! Ukulapha employs a wonderful gardener called Cynthia who tends the garden 3 days a week; it is in good hands.
Close on their heels was Ariel, Travis and their 2 children Kie and Stella who visited from Victoria. They received a hearty welcome as schools prepared to close for Easter Break. Mr. Msomi, the staff and students greeted them at morning assembly with song, dance and prayer – sound that penetrates one’s soul, and they were deeply moved. Kie and Stella presented books that were purchased with funds raised at Stella’s school during a fundraising event initiated by Stella for the children of SPS. The children were thrilled.
They also participated in end of term big lunch which is courtesy of Oak Bay United Church. They all helped dish up and I think their hands were quite tired after dishing up for 1050 hungry kiddies! Both Kie and Stella helped the little ones as its precarious to carry a bowl, juice and fruit, to go sit down on the ground without spilling! The students loved them and the bonding was tear inducing, so sweet to witness. Well done Kie and Stella!
Sherri Hohert, Ariel’s mom, arrived a while later. Sherri was one of the first visitors to Ukulapha and has been a regular and loyal supporter over the years. She got immersed in her favourite activity, running psycho-educational workshops for the caregivers and Ariel joined her. The women love attending workshops and having a chance to gather and to chat and to acquire a little new information. And there is always lots of song and dance!
The interns ran camp days at the school for the first few days during the holidays and Kie and Stella were immersed in all the activities, having fun and being most helpful. It is a delight seeing parents offer their children a chance to explore other parts of our world, most especially, immersion into a cultural and socioeconomic circumstance so very different from their own – so that privilege isn’t taken for granted. Well done Travis and Ariel!
Our next visitors towards the end of April were Rick and Laurie Pettinger from Victoria. Laurie had been out to visit us a few years prior as a member of the WHEAT group and she was so touched by the children and the school that she was determined to share the experience with her husband one day.
This was Rick’s first trip and I’d be safe to say, the children landed squarely in his heart! We shared a very busy number of days – shopping and preparing a big, nutritious meal for the children sponsored by Rick and Laurie and each child also got a chocolate bar! Laurie was in the kitchen helping the aunties and the teachers, as it takes a team to prepare a hearty lunch for 1050 hungry kiddies! Both Laurie and Rick helped with the dishing up and watching all those smiling faces pass by with their bowls filled with delicious, nutritious food.
When Rick realized that the girls were skipping with phantom skipping ropes, we were in the car and off to buy many ropes, so that each child had one for PE class. He also got soccer balls and a pump so they were well set up for their activities. We visited Alexandra High School to see the campus, hear about the school and meet Ukulapha’s scholarship students to hear first-hand how they are thriving. The deputy principal, Anusha Pillay, offered an in depth discussion not only about the school, education system, all the challenges but also all the achievements. It would be safe to say that they were both impressed by Alex and how well our scholarship students have adjusted to their amazing opportunity. They also treated the interns to a delicious meal over hearty conversation and laughter and were so proud to see their fellow Canadians abroad and involved in humanitarian work at the school.
In late May we were visited by a delegation of Public Health undergraduate students from Coastal Carolina University, South Carolina, USA.
The 12 of them were accompanied by their professor, Dr. Stephen Firsing. They spent the week immersed at the Slangspruit Primary School, interacting and doing research. They were all touched by the children and their experience witnessing the inequity of life in South Africa.
The first week in November was the visitor grand finale for us. We were thrilled to welcome Rhonda Todrick, past chairwoman of the I See Hope, Victoria to Slangspruit annual fundraisers. Along with Rhonda was Kenny Podmore, who has been the MC and auctioneer extraordinaire - they are a team! This year they organized The Spring Serenade.
Mr Msomi, all 1050 kiddies of Slangspruit Primary School, and me, were thrilled to welcome them and introduce them to the work of Ukulapha that they have been tirelessly and loyally fundraising for and supporting over time. We shared a jam-packed 4 days which included hearty and informative chats with Mr Msomi, a tour of the school, including the beautiful Resource Centre which now houses a functioning library and our computer center. Mr Msomi. shared the history of the school and how the student body has grown from 745 students to the now 1050 since the commencement of the collaboration with Ukulapha.
We discussed possibilities and ideas going forward. The swimming project which is to be funded from their lastest fundraiser, is about to be launched, stay tuned!
They also had a chance to pay a special visit to Alexandra High, meet 7 of Ukulapha's 11 scholarship students, be taken on a tour of Alex by Asanda (star student and talented artist) and share in depth conversation with Anusha Pillay, acting deputy principal. Our visit luckily included morning assembly because one of our other star students, Lungelo, received a library prize! For Rhonda and Kenny, they got a chance to hear from our students and witness the real benefits of receiving a scholarship to pursue an quality high school education.
And Rhonda and Kenny were celebrated during Friday morning assembly when the whole school gathered to greet them, thank them through word, entertainment, song and dance - and had them struggling to keep a dry eye! Rhonda thanked the teachers for all their hard work and told SPS school that they would not forget them - Kenny treated them all to a hearty singing of the Canadian national anthem with many little faces glued with fascination - and the whole school responded by singing the South African national anthem!
All 1050 kiddies departed assembly with a juicy apple courtesy of friends of Kenny's back in Canada who wanted them to have a treat.
Thanks so very much Rhonda and Kenny, it was such a pleasure to have you on the ground, and as we said, 'now the corners touch'!
We’d like to heartily thank all our visitors – you can read and hear about Ukulapha and the Slangspruit community, over and over again, but until you have visited, and seen and heard for yourself, the full impact doesn’t quite reach your soul!