29 April 2017

Blessed To Be A Blessing

“Why did you decide to open a preschool here in Zwigodini?”, I asked as we hobbled along over another dirt road in northern Limpopo.

Blessing, my passenger, did not take long to respond. “There is a lot of poverty in Zwigodini, and also many teenage pregnancies. The young mothers are unable to go back to finish school, so I started the preschool. I go out and try to find these young mothers, to take care of their infants and toddlers so that they are able to graduate from school and have opportunities to find a job.”

As I listened to her explanation I began to catch a glimpse into the compassionate heart of Blessing, a lady who had not only started the preschool, but who was now going through the training program to be a qualified teacher. I wondered how many of the 50 children in her preschool were growing up without a father.

Life in this part of South Africa is a daily challenge. Blessing’s own story of how she came from Zimbabwe as a young lady selling produce by the roadside is one which is not uncommon. However, I was impressed with her pro-active and enterprising spirit, as well as the way she cared for those around her, especially the children. Now that it was school holidays she was mostly at her church running the kids program. 

On one of my first trips to Northern Limpopo, Blessing had approached me with a request to help her put up some monkey bars on the kids playground. She explained that she had the metal tubing already, but didn’t know what to do next.  In February I had taken some measurements and found a local man, Samuel, who could do the welding. Now, with the volunteer help of a Bible school student, Sebastian, it was time to tackle the monkey bar project.
Although the design and plan seemed simple, we experienced the usual dose of the 'Africa' factor.  Making the concrete to anchor the unit into the ground was a team effort. Blessing’s brother provided the gravel. Some young children gathered the sand.
Blessing herself brought the precious water, bucket by bucket. The end result of our combined labour was a well-anchored, fun, new addition to the playground sure to bring many years of fun.

Blessing was excited and very thankful for all that was accomplished in the three short days we were there. As a token of appreciation she gave us a Baobab tree. (Thankfully it was a small one which fit nicely in the back of the Cessna 310). It was our pleasure to be able to bless the little Zwigodini pre-school, and I am sure that Blessing will see it as an opportunity to continue to be a blessing in her community.

Though he struggled to pronounce anything more than the word “Job”, I could understand what he wanted. He was offering to work; probably with the hope of a small wage. I looked back at the Baobab tree where Sebastian and I were working. We were almost finished with the project we had set out to do. One more coat of paint, and the monkey bar project would be complete. Not knowing what else to do, I gently told him there was no job and sent him away.
An hour later, as we were cleaning up our tools, he came back. It was now late in the morning, but there was still plenty of time to get something done. Impressed by his tenacity I looked back again over the preschool playground. It was littered with rocks which stuck out of the dry dusty sand. This was no place for barefoot toddlers to run around. I decided, the rocks had to go. Together with our new helper, Mukhethwa, we dug up the rocks and piled them next to the fence.
Sand was moved to fill in the holes. Thankfully, it was clear to him what our intentions were, and he was a great help. Some of the rocks were so big that it took two of us just to move them.
The heat of the midday sun took its toll. As we stopped for breaks, we shared our food and water and tried to chat. It was clear that Mukhethwa’s English was so limited that we could not understand each other. He spoke only the local language, Venda. 

Mukhethwa’s eagerness to work was understandable, given that he was living in Northern Limpopo. More than half of the population in that area is unemployed. It was sad to realise that without a better grasp of the English language his work options were very limited. 

Ironically the lady I had flown to Limpopo was spending her time tutoring a handful of her students to work on their level of English. They were adult women whose English proficiency was insufficient to finish the pre-school teacher course. 

It was another reminder of the importance of education for the next generation.

Thank you to all who make it possible for Mercy Air to carry out its mission in southern Africa.

Azarja for the Mercy Air team.