Sunday, July 27, 2008

Farewell to Tembisa

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This was my last week taking books to Tembisa. Our South Africa visas expire next week, and my husband, Steve, has a new assignment that will involve lots of non-Africa travel, so we are moving back to the U.S. I swear that the little grand daughter waiting in St. Paul has nothing to do with our decision. Well, not much anyway…

The Vacation Bible Schools of two Indianapolis churches raised funds so that I could leave books with my kids here. Exclusive Books at Rosebank Mall has a wonderful children’s section with lots of Africa-oriented books. They gave me a ten per-cent educational discount that stretched the gift. I was able to leave a plastic bin with more than a hundred books in each place.

Steve came with me this week to carry the bin. The pre-schoolers at Arebaokeng adopted him as ‘Baba’ (Papa or paternal uncle) and he was soon surrounded by little ones pointing at the pictures in their books and wanting to pat his beard, his leg, his bald spot, or just to be touched and held.

Charmain, a woman from our South African church also came along and took pictures. (See Picassa.) She has gone with me once before and is wonderful with the children, especially the little ones. She is looking for a job, but as long as she doesn’t find one, she would like to continue coming to Thembisa to read with the children. It is hard to pray fervently that she would find that job...
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We presented the boxes of books at the two centers. I have grown used to the kids’ enthusiasm, but for Steve and Charmain it was all new. They noticed how quickly the children finished their food—rice, vegetable stew in a beef sauce and beetroot salad. They returned their plates to the kitchen and washed their hands. The chocolates I had brought as a farewell gift for each child mostly disappeared into their pockets for later since we have a rule of not mixing food and books. Each child chose a book and sat down to read. The new books on snakes, mammals and football were eagerly snatched up. One girl picked the worn copy of Cinderella that was donated a couple months ago. She stood to one side, totally engrossed, reading aloud to herself. I think she has read that book every week since we got it, but her reading is getting more fluent—just like the little girl in Niki Daly’s Once Upon a Time.

I asked the students to choose librarians to see that the books were put away neatly at the end of the day. At Tembisa Baptist they quickly agreed on Andile and Zindlhe. At Arebaokeng it was a little harder to narrow down the eager volunteers to Gregory, Sipho and Maria.

Gregory, who is about fifteen, wrote me a lovely thank-you note. “Dear: Mrs Hardy, I would like to say thank you for everything you have brought us even the books so that we can read and gain something from that books. And I would to say God bless you and have a nice ride to United State of America and maybe someday we will go there and see that country. And one day you will bring us a new books one day. I wanna say thank you very much, if we have a word in the dictionary I would thank you with it. From: Gregory at Arebaokeng Children Day Care centre.” 
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Although I have read Bible stories from time to time, I have never shared the gospel as such or given an invitation to accept Christ. All the children are at least half orphans. Most have lost both parents. Some live with grandparents. Several are heads of households, caring for younger siblings. There is so much more they need to know to succeed in life. But I think they have seen that one mulungo (white person) cares about them, and they have learned that there is a lot of interesting stuff in books.

I will be keeping my eyes open for books they would enjoy. In April and May Steve has to return to Southern Africa; I’ll come with him. It’s nice to know the good-bye is not permanent.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Reading in Township Crèches

Look for:

Children of color
African setting
Books the children can relate to that show African culture in a positive light
Lively pictures that show something different on every page
Large pictures that are easy to focus on


Culturally North American or European books
Books that caricature Africa or Africans
Funny rhymes that get lost in translation
Too many words on a page (unless you are planning to tell the story with the pictures instead of reading all the words)
Busy pictures that are confusing to little ones
Format too small for everyone in the group to see
A ‘cute’ storyline designed to appeal to older children or adults rather than little ones

When you read:

Use lots of expression
Point out interesting things in the pictures
Interpret the story through the pictures
Ask questions about the picture

Invite the children to participate by:

Identifying something in the picture
Finding something you ask for
Making animal noises
Mimicking an action
Repeating a key phrase together
Identifying with something ‘just like me’ or different from me
Reviewing lists or steps in the story

Reading in Alex

Friday I led a workshop at Rosebank Union Church in Sandton to train readers for crèches in the near-by township of Alexandra. (To read about my visits to Alex with fellow-SIM missionary Ruth Maxwell see my blog entries Alexandra Township and Return to Alex.)

Friday’s seven participants are already involved or plan to get involved in Rosebank’s extensive programs in Alex. One even has a journalism background. That one I want to recruit to write stories for the children.

I took along a stack of favorite read-alouds like Handa’s Surprise and Lulama’s Long Journey Home. Yes, I felt somewhat foolish reading aloud and interacting with a bunch of adults as if they were four-year-olds, but the point was to demonstrate how to involve children in the reading and not leave the words flat on the page. By their smiles and answers, I think the trainees got the point.

The one man, Moses, works with older children and teens in Rose-Act, a “Saturday school” where volunteers help children with homework and teach remedial classes so they can better succeed in school. The hope is to recruit some of these older children to help in community-run crèches, reading, speaking to the children in English and just playing developmental games like pitch and catch. What a great idea—facilitating community members reaching out to their own! I can’t wait to get together with those student volunteers when I come back in April and May.

(In case anyone is interested, I will post Friday’s notes.)
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Keeping Secrets

I remember what it was like Before. I flew over the ice like a swallow on the wind. Music filled my whole body, and I soared like a bird above the city of Johannesburg—Egoli—place of gold. I dreamed of gold medals and going to the Olympics someday.

But that was Before.

I was only a child, too young to know that life can collapse as fast as a skater can lose an edge and tumble to the ice. It hurts to fall, but you get up, and you keep skating. You smile for the judges, and you don’t let them see the pain. That’s what winners do.

But sometimes, the hurt is too much, and you can’t get up. You can’t keep skating.

Then you lose.

* * *

So begins my novel Keeping Secrets about HIV in a middle class family from the Johannesburg suburb of Kempton Park where I live. My friend Ruthie won’t like it because it’s sad, but the ending is hopeful and (I think) very powerful. I’ve been working on it for most of the last three years. It has been through its second round of peer critique when I give it to other writers or people who know the situation and ask for suggestions. It finally seems to be coming together, almost ready to submit to a publisher. That’s none too soon since our volunteer visas expire in three weeks and we return to North America.

Sometime in the next three weeks I need to visit an AIDS ward at Thembisa hospital. Cicely wants a scene between the time Sindi’s father goes to the hospital and when he dies--to better show the closeness of their relationship. This morning (on my way back from early morning practice at the ice rink) I figured out what happens in that scene. I am familiar with U.S. ICU wards. I have been in African hospitals in Kenya and Mozambique and visited AIDS hospices here in South Africa. I have even been to the clinic at Thembisa where they do voluntary counseling and testing. But I have never seen a ward in Thembisa Hospital. I don’t know what it looks like or smells like. I don’t know what Sindi would see or hear while she sits at her father’s bedside. I’m pretty sure visiting hours are more strict than they were at Abbot Northwest in Minneapolis. There’s so much I need to know if my African audience is going to say, “Yes. She understands.”

I’d like to find someone to go with me to Thembisa Hospital. Maybe someone from the Arebaokeng children’s program on Tuesday….

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Prayer of National Confession

Although the United States may have been founded on Christian principles, from the beginning we were a nation of sinners. Both Daniel (Daniel 9:4b-19) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:5-11) model confession of the nation’s sins as they seek revival in the land and the restoration of righteousness and justice. On this Independence Day holiday pray Daniel’s prayer and at the ellipses (…) insert some of our nation’s sins that have troubled you, such as those suggested.

O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame--the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.

We have aborted our babies and abused our children.

We have substituted material things for quality relationships in our families.

We have demeaned marriage and broken our solemn vows.

We have filled our minds with violence from television, movies and video games.

We have worshipped our bodies and physical beauty.

We have glorified celebrity instead of character.

We selfishly believe we deserve to satisfy our every whim with the result of rampant obesity and credit card debt.

We have neglected the poor and put new sports arenas ahead of affordable housing.

We have put the profits of American companies ahead of treating AIDS in the Third World.

We have enslaved the economies of poor countries by making huge loans to corrupt rulers who fill their own pockets rather than serve their people.

We have based our trade agreements and international policies on what will bring the greatest profits to our own pockets instead of freedom and justice for all.

Puffed up with the pride of our own righteousness, we have meddled in the affairs of other nations and brought the ruin of war on them and ourselves.

Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.

(Excerpted from an unpublished manuscript entitled Honey From the Comb; a resource for Scripture Guided Prayer by LeAnne Hardy)