My first week in Africa was spent with the wonderful Waldon family who have been in the Amanzimtoti / Bhekulwandle area of South Africa for the last six years. I knew them in Saint Albert when I was working my first job out of university at their church. Amber and I have been supporting their work which is running The Seed of Hope.
I was able to spend 4 days at the centre where I think I got a good sense of what the community is like, what the needs are, and how Seed of Hope is seeking to bring new life to the area. I should add that school was on holidays, so things probably weren't running exactly the same as they usually are.
First, the staff. Carl shared lots of stories with me about the staff who I saw working in their various areas. Most of those with hands on work were either from Bhekulwandle or nearby. They grew up in poverty and didn't have the same opportunities for education and employment (unemployment in the area is around 80%). I listened to them sing and share during staff devotions. They are both grateful for the opportunity to work and to serve God and their people. They are passionate about their work and they are not above having disputes among themselves - though they are willing to resolve matters too.
Those in positions of leadership or in volunteer positions come from the wealthier areas or from other countries. Equally passionate and seeking restoration in this very depressed area, these folks drive vehicles, generate funding, plan events, connect with the media, and help manage the centre.
In speaking to Carl Waldron, the CEO, I learned that Seed of Hope has had numerous short term mission teams visit. Some of those visiting have told him that they have seen far worse poverty and that the efforts here would probably be better used elsewhere in the world. While it's true that there are more destitute regions in the world (South Sudan or Haiti come to mind immediately), what is truly unique is the level of brokenness in the community. In Bhekulwandle there are certainly deficits in nutrition, work, educational opportunities, access to healthcare, etc. but not to the some of levels I saw in Guatemala or Malawi. What is different is the staggering level of violence against women and girls and the incredibly high incidence of HIV (this South African province alone has 13% of the world's HIV infected). On top of all this, while South Africa has emerged as a leader on the continent economically, this is one of the very forgotten regions so there is little by way of local government support.
While I was there I heard stories that still haunt me today. I won't share them online, but I have no qualms expressing that this part of the world is one of the darkest, most needing of our and God's love.
So, what are they doing to reach out to the people in Bhekulwandle? Three different spheres of influence, all of which are applied with a deeply personal touch which builds relationships:
- skills training for adults (sewing and gardening mainly)
- teaching life skills to children (after school programs, tutoring, counseling, leadership)
- HIV/AIDS outreach (testing, counseling, support groups, home visits)
This is all done with a very healthy view of sustainable development: take it slow, empower the population, and build on the strengths of people you work with.
Overall, I was very impressed with Seed of Hope. I encourage you to support the organization, you can give to Hope Shares or RESCU International.