Monday, 1 August 2011

Checking In

Hi Friends!  I miss you all so much but at the same time I absolutely can not imagine leaving the people I have met here.  It is almost unthinkable...I know I'll be back here. 

I've decided to wait and do a full update once all of the sponsorship stuff has totally gone through so that I don't jump the gun...but know that it's really really really really good!

I really want to keep track of all of the little stories and moments that I'm going through, and to be honest if the stories I have don't touch your heart then you need to do a little soul searching.  So here go a few stories from people I have met.

Joyce. She is such a BALLER.  She is an openly lesbian woman living in South Africa and was the first HIV+ woman to climb Kilimanjaro.  She is an HIV/AIDS activist and all around awesome person to hang out with...she is one of Swazi's old friends from Soweto and a big deal in the LGBT community here.  From what I've gathered she was forced into a marriage to try and "cure" her of being a lesbian.  Her husband gave her HIV.  Love just hanging out with her and listening to her stories.  I got to talk to her 3 year old grand daughter on the phone and she started singing Rihanna's "What's My Name?"....SO ADORABLE.

Mandla.  He was arrested and imprisoned for trying to pick-pocket a drunk passed out guy last weekend.  The man he tried to steal from got his friends to beat Mandla to a pulp and then called the police.  Prison here is horrible, and all facets of the government are corrupt.  The inmates sleep in one giant room on the floor with a sheet, lined up like animals.  Mandla is small and vulnerable.  We may have convinced the police to let him go because of the fact that the man beat him up before calling the police...we were told he was released but have yet to see him.  The morning before he was arrested he was holding my hand walking with me to buy bread going on and on in Zulu.  I asked him why he was speaking in Zulu when he knows I don't know anything and he responded in a frustrated voice, "You must learn Zulu so I can tell you how much I love you, Shannon!"  He's the one in the sunglasses from my last post.

It's a long name that I forgot...I only spent one day with him, but here he is.

He is about 15 and he shared with me that he came to Amanzimtoti because he is from a rural village where the elders decided that he deserved corporal punishment.  Why?  Because one of the many animals that he took to pasture one day went missing.  His family agreed with the sentence so he ran.  I don't know how he ended up in Durban, how long he was on the run, or how long he has been at the Halfway House at the Amanzimtoti YMCA...but I guess I'm glad he made it there.  They all say it's not a cake walk at the halfway is hard here too but it's better than the life of addiction and homelessness on the street.  They like that the other boys are like brothers and they understand each other.  Just taking the time to listen to these boys, answer questions like "Have you met Chris Brown??" and give them a hug can make more of an impact than I ever would have imagined.  This boy told me that the day of our visit was the best day he could remember and that he would never forget me.

This guy wants to be a social worker...Katie why aren't you here?? He told me his English name is "Innocent."

He never knew his father and his mother passed away so he had no one to support him and had to take to the streets.  He's grateful to be in school but wishes he didn't have to stay here.  He wants to live with a family, just like any other kid.  He wants to be a social worker so that fewer kids have to go through what he has.

I forgot this guy's name, too, but he was so soft spoken and adorable.  "Um, miss, can I have a picture too?"

Sniffing glue gets rid of hunger and keeps kids on the street warm on cold winter nights.  The sale of glue to children isn't regulated at all in South Africa and is an absolute epidemic among street kids globally.  Read more here.  Unfortunately the effects of glue go far beyond keeping starving children warm at night.  The neurological damage leaves kids paralyzed in severe cases like this one.  It has different effects on different kids, but it is devastating in every case.  I didn't learn this boy's story, but he was just such a little sweetheart.

More soon!

Friday, 22 July 2011

One Piece at a Time

So I'm going to try to put together this last month for everyone in a series of posts on different subjects so that one giant post isn't so overwhelming.  Baby steps!  I'm going to start with a post about something that is out of chronological order, but is taking over my thoughts.  Also, my amazing daddy suggested that I write all of this down while it is fresh, not necessarily for for this blog or for anyone else, but simply because what I am experiencing is so life changing.

I considered saying something along the lines of: This story is intense and maybe not best for my youngest cousins, etc.  But everyone needs to know that things like this happen in supposedly "developed" nations.  They need to realize that having a bed to sleep in is a huge privilege, and that they should never ever take for granted the love their parents show them. There are so many kids I've met who will never know what that feels like.

I guess I do need to give a little background to supplement my post about what is happening in terms of sponsorship.  Basically this big company is VERY interested in getting involved with this project (we're talking big bucks), but the reason they are interested is because they have a personal relationship with this journalist and they know that he will get them results.  They said that they were willing to do this through the Y, but they would prefer to do the project in-house so that they had more control over it.  At first Kevin told them that this wouldn't be possible because Swazi and Mdu (the coach/mentor of the boys) are a part of the Y and they are the core of this project--it's nothing without both of them.  Some of this has changed, but BE PATIENT, we'll get there.

So yesterday.  I'd like to start off by saying that I know very well that there are awful things in this world.  I've been to Honduras and seen the third world conditions there , I know a lot about human trafficking, and I have heard stories and seen pictures of other horrors in this world.  I have also never taken any of these things lightly--they are why I am an international development major and why I am here in SA.  But yesterday I had I saw things and heard things from children that I have come to know and love personally, and it just hit me even harder.

So I knew that some of the street kids boys slept on the side of the river bank adjacent to the soccer field where they play, and ever since I have gotten to know them I have struggled snuggling up under three blankets in my room on my comfortable bed and trying to go to sleep at night.  I had seen their little campfire area from the field, but yesterday I saw where they slept.  This is third world, and these are teenagers--some of which have been on the street since they were 7 or 8 years old.

Reminds me of forts we built in the woods for fun

Chunks of salvaged mattress and soccer icons

Behind the little shack where more sleep

Still have faith in the ANC

The kitchen...a tire and a bucket for chairs and some old paint cans to cook in

After Swazi and I came out of the little wooded area, Mandla yelled with a smile on his face "Shannon--what are you doing in my room without me!" and started giggling uncontrollably like the teenage boy that he is.  Mandla was one of the first to warm up to me and I am guaranteed a kiss on the cheek at the end of the programme from him.  Although I think he might just be turning on the charm because he wants me to give him my sunglasses...


Part of what was special about Youth Justice yesterday is that we wanted as many kids there as possible so we could take pictures and get their ages so I can put together a powerpoint to show this potential sponsor.  To do this Mdu went into town to get them because sometimes in Winter they are a little sluggish at getting to practice in the morning.  Because of his excellent recruiting efforts one girl came along with the boys.  Both the potential sponsor and Kevin were interested to hear about girls on the street--I tried to prepare Kevin a little but I know when he heard some of these things out of this girls mouth it hit him like a ton of bricks.

This is Mpume

She started living on the street in 2001 when she was 7, she thinks.  She knows it was 2001 but she's not sure exactly how old she is.  Kevin, the journalist, started firing some questions at her that she answered with grace in a steady voice, even though she was talking about unbelievably painful experiences.  Her story which I'm about to share is a combination of answer's to Kevin's questions and what she said to me after Kevin left.  I wasn't asking her any questions, I just let her talk.  Before she told me this next part she said "My mom, she loves me very much. She really does love me."  She had to start living on the street because her mom's new boyfriend said that he would take her and their infant child into his new home, but that he wouldn't support another man's children.  Mpume made it seem like a simple a 7 year old she realized that it was more important for her mom and her baby siblings to have a stable home.  She said she tries to do odd jobs to make a few rand, or she'll go into a shop and ask if they can spare some food because she doesn't want to have to go back to prostitution.  She said she tried for a week in 2004, if you're keeping track that puts her at about 10 years old.  Her adopted sisters on the street encouraged her to because they have a place to sleep and food from their pimps.  She managed to get out after that week and hasn't gone back since, but she hinted that just because she isn't a prostitute doesn't mean she does not experience sexual violence.  

Then she started talking about god.  She said she knows she has done bad things, but she always prays after and asks for forgiveness and she tries to go to church when she can.  She feels a ton of guilt for sniffing glue and smoking pot sometimes, but she said that the reason she does it is to try and keep from shivering in the cold at night and that it lets her forget how much she wants to die.  Then she told me that she doesn't know why god won't just let her die.  Why he wouldn't just cause some action where she is in an accident and will be put out of the misery that is this life on the street.  

She said if only she could have an education she would be successful and come back and help other girls on the street.  All she wants is to go to school and help other girls like her.

She told me she knows some boys who have sniffed so much glue they are paralyzed from the waist down from the nervous damage.  These boys don't even try to drag themselves to some sort of shelter at night, they just sleep on the sidewalk and they might have a blanket if they are lucky.  Try to remember that these are not adults.  They are teenagers and children.

Swazi talked to her and she is going to bring some more girls on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that they can have some small group sessions while the boys play soccer--Swazi has some counseling experience.

I was telling Swazi about how Lindani told me he loves me--"Serious Shannon."  I must say I thought I felt maternally towards my little rezzies, but this is that feeling times a million.  I just want to round them all up and tuck them into a bed and make them cookies.  I have only known Lindani's name for a few weeks, but I would ice his foot that he hurt and check up on him to see how it was doing.  This little act of love...the fact that I remembered his name and that he had a sprained foot turned this "hard" street kid who does drugs and steals from those more fortunate than him (other's opinions, not mine) turned him into one of the sweetest little boys I have ever met.  I say little boy knowing that he is 18 and an "adult" in the eyes of most Americans...but that's not what he is.  He is someone's baby who never had the love that he deserves.

I got Mpume some things she needed and I really am happy that we are now able to offer the boys food Monday-Friday instead of just Tues&Thurs but as you can imagine I was a little torn up stomach was in a knot and I was blinking back tears for much of it.  
I'll get into what happened later with the sponsorship--it really is very exciting even though the way we got to our current situation is more than heartbreaking.

I love you all and I can't tell you how much the Skype calls, video gchats, regular gchats, and emails mean.  I miss home but it makes it easy when I can see positive impact and stay connected.  More to come.

My Little Fratstar

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Reason #34 I Won't Be a Journalist is...

...that I have a tendency to put off writing.  Sorry Mamma, I just don't think it's realistic!  And sorry to

Procrastination is My FIRST Name

Shannon is actually my middle name, it's a common misconception. 

Mrs. Lienhart Says I Need to Update

And Nana, and Grandma...I knew this would be my issue with having a blog!  I think that it was Aunt Pat's authoritative, teacher-like scolding that was the final push I needed to finish this post (by the way-thanks for the email Aunt Pat!! My godson is the smartest, most awesome child out there! It's a fact.)  Sorry to those of you who I have left hanging--so much has been happening these last three weeks!  Get ready for an action packed, edge of your seat blog SUPERupdate (name inspired by the Colbert superPAC).  

I'll start with the street kids because yesterday we had a major breakthrough in fundraising for their program and I'M JUST SO EXCITED THAT I CAN'T EVEN CONTAIN MYSELF AHHHHHH!!!  Alright, got that out of my system.  I know that I have touched on this programme in the past but to recap we invite street children (homeless children), ages aprox. 13-21, to the YMCA on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to practice soccer as a team, take a hot shower in our facilities, and eat a warm, free meal together.  In addition, literally minutes ago, someone called the YMCA and offered to provide cooked soup and bread for the boys on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--I have tears in my eyes.  Three more days a week my boys will have food in their bellies.  I just can't HANDLE IT!!  Ok, so maybe it's not all out of my system.  Back to the fundraising breakthrough.  So there is a man staying at the YMCA named Kevin who is currently a citizen of the UK but was born here in South Africa.  Because of a long, irrelevant set of circumstances he has been staying here at the Y for the past 2 and half weeks.  Kevin is a sports journalist and he worked with several newspapers here in South Africa early on in his career.  Because he has kind of been stuck here with not much to do, he decided to come down and check out the street kids programme on day.  Like any person with a soul, it broke his heart to see that these boys live on the streets.  They are just so sweet, polite, and funny that it is so hard to fathom the things that they have experienced in their young lives and absolutely heart wrenching to realize what most of their futures hold at this point.  So after Kevin met these boys and talked with Swazi and me about the needs of the program, he set out to try and contact some of his old journalist buddies to explore options for getting a corporate sponsor for the program.  Our dream for this program is to be able to take it a step further.  To give these boys beds to sleep in and the rehabilitation and support they need to do something with their lives.  Every child deserves that and so much more.

It wasn't easy, but I genuinely think that it's happening.  Kevin got in contact with the CEO of a large business who he has worked with in the past and I convinced the director of the Y here to stop messing with our plans and let us go and do this.

Taking dad's advice

So I'm just going to go through and post some of the things I have started and not finished throughout the last month.  I can be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to writing and I really have been busy working on a lot of crazy things.  I promise you a coherent post ASAP, but here are some of the others and I'm going to throw in some pictures too.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Yoh! What a Weekend!

"Yyyyyoh!" (an exclamation similar in use to the America "Whew!" ...I think) is one of the many new expressions that I have learned during these last two weeks of trying my very hardest to immerse myself in the wonderful South African culture.  This "rainbow nation" has been influenced by so many different cultures that the language is equally as colorful.  Some other funny South African words: mealies=corn, bloody, bakkie=pick up truck, robot=traffic light (Brenton is baffled as to why I think this is funny), braai= barbecue/grill, bru (pronounced brew)=bro, and many others!  I find myself trying to hold in giggles (which we all know can be dangerous for me) whenever pretty much anyone speaks, especially when Brenton gets mad about something--the accent is just so funny!

Well, I had a weekend packed full of AMAZING South African experiences starting with my first braai (see, you're learning already!) on Friday evening.  The occasion for this lovely gathering was that Gert, the accounting guy, is leaving us to take another job back in his hometown.  Well, all I have to say is that South Africans clearly know how to party.  Brenton and I left the office around 2 in order to get a little gift for Gert and go to the "bottle store" (I figured that one out without looking it up on Wikipedia).  We got to the boss man's house around 3:30 and the drinks were flowing by 4 (drinking age is 18 here, yeahhhhh)!  I am so thankful that I got this opportunity to hang out with the people I work with outside of the office.  I learned a LOT about everyone's style of working and that they all strongly believe that they can have a big fight about something at work, but they are very good about leaving it all at the office and enjoy going out and having a drink together after.  I can work with that!


We even had a little discussion on race issues during which I learned that what I may have perceived as racism from some of the employees early on may not have been as bad as thought.  It turns out that this person treats everyone equally bad in the office--I think it's really just a big power trip.  Eiishh!

Overall I had a WONDERFUL time at the braai and I even tried some Boerewors, which anyone who knows about my issues with eating meat is a BIG deal!

 I still can't believe it.

 During the braai we decided that we would go to the local Lion Park on Sunday so that I could see some of Africa's "big five" animals and prove to my friends that I am, indeed, in Africa!  It was SO AMAZING!  Seriously.  I got to get out of the car and pet an elephant that one of the employees herded on to the road for us!  


Then we drove through the lion enclosure where there were about 8 huge, gorgeous lions having a lazy afternoon basking in the sun.  It was one of the coolest experiences of my life--I love animals!!



THEN we piled back into the bakkie and drove to Durban where we spent a few hours at the tourist-y hot spot, uShaka .  I got to stand in the Indian Ocean and saw more KFCs than I usually do in Cincinnati!  Our trip to Durban was relatively short, but I will be visiting there again with the group of Global Teens that visit from the US next month.

Too lazy to rotate this, but you get the idea :)

Seriously...every corner

It was an all around awesome weekend and I'm very excited to feel like I have finally found my niche here.  Updates on the Street kids program to come!

Shout outs to Jon King, Jen King, Aunt Pat, Uncle Jack, Paige, Katie Flynn, MRatt, and Scott Boden for the emails!  I really do love them and they've been very helpful.  And, as always, thanks to Hans and Rena for gchatting with me all the time and Mom and Dad for skyping me, it makes Africa seem much closer to home!