Tim Hibbin: footprinter report from South Africa

pietermaritzburg sunset

Pietermaritzburg Sunset by Pieter von Marion

At the beginning…

I have been in South Africa for almost 3 weeks, and already I have seen lots, learnt lots, have been challenged lots, and am also the talk of the town because of all my tattoos! The weather has also not been what I was expecting. Today it is raining, and as it’s winter here it has been much colder than I thought it would be though we have had some sun too! I have had to put all my warm summer clothes in the cupboard for now, and have had to wear jeans and multiple layers of tops to stay warm!

On my first day here I visited a community called, Masukwana, where I was seeing what they do at the community centre. The community centre, to give you an image of it, is an old dusty building that the government want to demolish because as far as they are aware nothing happens inside of it; it has rotting old wooden doors that are chained together when the building is closed, windows that are broken and are covered with cardboard boxes or a couple of wooden boards, and is also very cold to be in! Yet this community still rely on this building to be there because of everything that happens within it.

Roughly a week later, I visited another community called, Swapo, which (I think) is a much larger community than Masukwana. The centre in this community is very small, it’s a metal container, and can barely fit 5 people inside of it let alone chairs and a table or two. Still the work that happens here is also still very important, and valued to the community, because of all the work that pours out of it to help the community. A few examples of what they do are: peer leader training for the older teenagers, bible studies, and HIV awareness sessions. I didn’t get to do a lot in this community due to something called “South African time” (South African time is basically a lot of waiting around). For example, the other leaders and I, after waiting at the community centre for 2 hours, did a school visit and all we had to do was hand a letter in to the principle. However, when we got to the school the receptionist was teaching, and the principle was in an exam. So all we could do was wait. Almost 3 hours later (and four numb bums later too!) we got to see the principle, and hand him our letter so that the community of Swapo could use the school for a mentoring training day on the weekend.

I have also been to the boys shelter which is next door to where I am staying. The boys shelter (for ages 7yrs-18yrs) is where street kids go when they want to clean up their lives, go to school, get off drugs and other addictions, and get use to a home lifestyle – something that they may not have experienced before. There is also a girls shelter just round the corner, and like the boys shelter, this is the place where the girls on the streets go when they too want to clean up their lives too. The boys shelter usually has about 2 or 3 uncles (adult workers) staying 7 days a week until they swap with the next lot of uncles who work the following week. The uncles jobs are basically to parent the boys, and assist with cooking, cleaning, going to school, doing homework, gardening, etc. throughout each week. During my time in South Africa I hope to be getting involved at the boys shelter and helping the boys, in a similar way to the uncles. I plan to be assisting them in cooking and baking, with their homework, and I am also looking into starting up a drumming workshop with them.

I’ve also seen the street lifestyle that the boys had before coming to the shelter. I have been out a few times now with the outreach team, and it is their job to meet the kids where they are, on the streets – something that is potentially pretty dangerous – and is also an area I’m eager to get involved in. Many of the street kids I’ve met on the streets (ranging from roughly 8yrs+) have been high from inhaling glue every time I’ve seen them. Glue is one chosen drug here as it is so cheap and easy to get hold of, and it really does mess the user up! The first time I went out with the outreach team most of the boys had big juice cartons – something I thought nothing of – until one of the leaders I was with explained to me that this is how they inhale the glue by putting it in the bottom of the juice carton (or a plastic bag) and then breathe it in. They also inhale it from the glue pots that the glue comes in, and they also smoke it too. One of the main reasons glue is used is that it gets rid of hunger pains, so that you don’t feel hungry, and for many of these kids on the streets food is pretty scarce. I’ve also learnt that the girls on the streets (similar age to the boys) don’t really use glue, but instead they sell themselves; and if I’m honest this is something I am still trying to get my head around. For example, seeing a group of girls ranging from 10-12years old on the corner of the road, in England, I wouldn’t think much of it. Here, however, the girls are likely to be prostituting themselves for money so that they can have an income for their family. Some of the girls may also go to school, then after school go to “work” and as you can imagine that’s not going to work in a coffee shop.

We all attended a sports day the other day which was held by the local police, and was a day where the police could advertise how to stop crime on the streets. This was held for many of the street kids around the area, and was a really good day! At the end of the day, we all witnessed a man and a girl in some sort of disagreement on the side of the road. The man was physically handling this girl in a way that made us all uncomfortable. One of the leaders then told the police (who were on the opposite side of the road) about this man and girl, and asked them to go and see if everything was OK. We saw the police approach the man and girl, and it was almost as if all the police said was, “please move on”. The man then got hold of the girl in a headlock and moved further up the street, almost out of our view, and continued there. The police then told us that they don’t care about these sort of girls as they aren’t worth it, and because she wasn’t shouting for help or anything, the police weren’t entitled to take any further action. They continued to explain that if we were to intervene in any other way, we would be the ones getting in trouble, as its invading this “couples” privacy. This was very hard to watch, and listen too, and in a way slightly ironic as this day was all about stopping crime on the streets. But this is just the South African way.

Through all this I am still extremely grateful to be here, and excited to get things rolling. I hope that I will be able to make a difference, even if it’s just a small difference to something. I’ve given you just a small taste of whats been going on, and there is still so much more that I could go on to explain, and as I said at the beginning I’ve only been here for almost 3 weeks. Thank you all for your support and prayers. Blessings, Tim.

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