Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Visit to Lesotho

As many people in Dorchester (and perhaps some from further afield in the Team who were part of the Team Flower Festival in the Abbey some years ago) there is a school in Lesotho called Leseli (the light) begun by Kieke (or Greet, as they call her here) Van der Zwaal. Leseli School started in Kieke’s garage as a place of education for able bodied and disabled children alike and arose out of the needs that she saw around her in the community near Maseru the capital of Lesotho. The school now has some 300 students of all ages from kindergarten age upwards. Children from wealthier families pay to come to the school and this supports work with poorer families. The school facilities are excellent including a new computer suite and library, a unit for autistic youngsters, classrooms for each grade and a new kitchen and dining hall building in progress.

Some of the disabled children have become young people who are enabled to continue to work on the school site - some work at putting together electrical components whilst others have been trained to work in the kitchen and are supporting the work of the school. The skills these young women have grown will soon be used in the new school kitchen and dining room which it is also hoped may be opened to the public. I noticed the similarity of thinking with the Home Farm Trust - an organisation local to us - who also enable their service users to gain skills and use them on site which for some of them becomes a stepping stone to employment elsewhere. The Friends of Leseli continues to support this work that is now 30 years old and the head of the school is still the same lady who began the work with Kieke!!

Thirty years later a new project is in the throes of being born. Leselinyana - the little light - is in a different suburb of Maseru - Masionakeng. The Rev’d Merriam Foto (previously pastor there but now Chaplain to the University of Roma) has a dream of a slightly different project but with similar aims to Leseli. We met Merriam when she visited Dorchester a few years ago and as we have become very ‘South African’ about distance the 800 kilometre round trip seemed to fit quite well into a gap that had opened up from after Church on Sunday and during Monday. The only thing we needed to be careful about was to be back in the light on Monday since we had been warned by someone who drives the N8 regularly that it is not really safe after dark when the Buck of different types, including Kudu which are HUGE, regularly stray onto the road.

This part of the world has been badly affected by rain and it rained non stop from the moment we left Kimberley until the day after we returned. This made the journey to Lesotho and the journeys around the villages ‘interesting’ to say the least. The highlight of the outward journey was the giraffe just gazing across the fence as we travelled on the road between Kimberley and Bloemfontein! The ‘lowlight’ were the single lane road works that were about 7 kilometers long with a twenty minute or so wait for the traffic to arrive from the other direction!

We arrived at the Border in Lesotho - where we were met by Merriam and directed to the little house where the children are living! (I have written a full report with pictures about the different children, the house and their needs). There are three children and a ‘mother’ living in the little three roomed cottage and two other children come and live alongside them by day returning home to sleep. We feasted with the children on chicken, vegetables, salad, rice and maize and enjoyed getting to know them before travelling with Merriam and her husband to their house on the University campus where we stayed the night. The rest of the evening was spent with Merriam briefing me about the project and the children and we slept well, breakfasted on millet porridge and bread and set off on our travels for the morning.

Our first stop was the secondary school at Masinakeng where most of the children are receiving their education. The school is run by the Evangelical Church and has a new headmaster who seemed excellent. It is what is called an ‘English Medium’ school which means that all the teaching and all the conversation takes place in English. Rightly or wrongly English is seen as the passport to a good education and the best future prospects. (This is also true in South Africa) There is a smart uniform and there are books to be purchased and fees to be paid. Kieke has arranged to send Merriam the fees which are paid termly but with higher costs at the beginning of the school year (which is now as the children are just returning to school after their long summer holiday!).

Excluding Uniform the costs for the education of one of these young people for a year is M2,000 (about £200). It was a good time to visit as we were able to go shopping with Merriam later in the day to buy the usual round of beginning of term stationery (including Oxford Mathematical Instrument Sets in exactly the same tin that I, and I am sure many of you, will remember only too well!) The children - in other words the project - have to provide their exercise books as well and the usual paper to cover both exercise and text books. It’s now quite a long time since we did ‘beginning of the year’ shopping and it was a good opportunity for us.

The school had been reasonably easy to reach, if a little muddy, but the next stage of our journey was rather more hair raising. We set off to visit the project land. Mostly in this kind of area people either walk or have four by four vehicles. Mostly it doesn’t rain for more than a couple of hours the way that it had been for a whole week previously. Once you are off the main route from one major place to another the roads are red mud and our route was highly reminiscent of similar journeys that I had experienced when visiting Kenya with the Nasio Trust in 2010. Richard was awarded a ‘credit’ for his driving by Merriam and in my book he’s right up there with John Cornelius for driving along roads with ruts a foot deep, embedded with rocks and full of mud. We made it to the plot - and back again re-routing once and getting grounded (don’t tell the car hire company!) just once as well. Ford Figo’s are lovely little cars but probably not the right ones for this particular task!!

The land we had travelled to see comprised three plots which have been made available for the project Leselinyana and another patch of land that has been promised. The vision for this land is to build rondavels for living a kitchen and dining room / meeting hall and to make these the centre of a sustainable community which would provide care for the youngest children, education and a place to live for people who do not fit into society. One of the reasons it is called Leselinyana (little light) is that if the dream can be realised it will provide hope and shelter for some of the young adults who cannot leave Leseli and others like them but for whom provision in what is essentially a school will always be limited. Merriam’s dream is that the members of this mixed community would receive education and counselling according to their needs and learn a wide range of practical skills enabling them to become self supporting within an environmentally sustainable community. Merriam has written an outline project proposal which is available from Kieke.

Our next step was to go and collect Napo from the project house. Napo is 18, has been orphaned for many years and is dependent on crutches. Because of his disabilities Napo has not been successful in secondary school and we were going with Merriam and his aunt to see if we could find out whether there is any progress in getting him into a special boarding school for young people with disabilities. Just turning up at the school seems to help - although it is still closed for the holidays Napo has now been told to attend for an interview/assessment on 14th February.

Our final visit is to Leseli. It was a wonderful contrast to see a well established project alongside all the hopes for Leselinyana a project in its infancy. Leseli began in a garage and the project grew as the school grew and it has grown and grown!!

Leselinyana is a big dream but its beginnings in the effect it is having on the lives of individual children is a good one! Who knows where this dream will lead? Merriam has the support of a management group and willingness from the Chief’s family to support the project but to us it felt a bit ‘stuck’ just for the moment. The management group is about to meet and there is real hope in that one lady who works at the University and is about to retire is willing to give some time. At the present time the exact next steps and approximate costing of them are not decided. It will be really good to hear what the committee decides at its next meeting.

Merriam is a busy lady with many responsibilities and driving the main project forward alongside her work as a University Chaplain and as voluntary mother / supervisor making sure that the existing children in the project are properly cared for are three big tasks!!

We could help make those tasks easier by ensuring that money is given to meet the needs of the existing children (Merriam and her husband have taken the two original boys into their family and support them.) We know that it will cost about a two hundred and fifty pounds a year to support each of the four children - Mamochatsi, Hlaoli, Morero and Relebohile in Masioneng High School. The costs for Napo’s boarding and further education are unknown. It will cost £600 per year to pay Nkita for her work. Then there is money for food and electricity (which the house is still waiting for). There is only an oil stove for cooking until the electricity comes and we were able to leave some money for the purchase of a calor gas cooker which will be safer and more effective.

This visit made us especially grateful for the support that Dorchester PCC had given us as the additional costs of travel would have made us think twice about undertaking the journey and its additional costs. This leads me to more thinking. Merriam and her family are provided with a house on the University Campus which is in poor condition. She is not provided with computer, internet access or a meaningful stipend. The comparison between Merriam’s accommodation and the Roman Catholic Halls of Residence for students that are so expensive most of them are empty is appalling. These are the responsibility of her church and the comparison makes me realise not only how privileged I am but also how privileged some of the South African Anglican Clergy and Teachers whom we have met are by comparison. Perhaps privileged is not quite the word I am looking for because it is right that people are enabled to do their work properly.

If this project is worth supporting it may be that Merriam herself needs some support in the form of transport / internet expenditure. She has neither - depending on the taxi busses for transport and friends for internet where she can. She made the most of our visit by taking us to places she also needed to visit. Administrative costs for charitable work are always a bone of contention but I am interested to note that I have spent two days visiting the project in Lesotho and at least the same amount of time marshalling the information and photographs, reflecting on both visit and information and putting it into two communicable documents. I’m fortunate to have had the support of the Diocese, the Parish and two charities to get myself here, establish internet connection, arrange transport and have the luxury of time to help us all understand more about this project and the impact it will have on the lives of these children. There are sharp questions to be asked about administration costs - but perhaps even sharper ones to be asked if there is no support for those who lead and administer projects.

(Blogged by Sue Booys on sabbatical in South Africa)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Of Heights, Depths and Tortoises

Having travelled the coast from Cape Town to the wilderness we headed inland. We had heard that there was a ‘fabulous pass’ inland from Knynsa (say nigh - sna) and so we decided to travel the Prince Alfred Pass. Fabulously perilous and very long winded but a tremendous experience it turned out to be! It is hard to describe the sheer size of Africa and the African countryside and looking at the photos I took at every twist and turn of the pass I can imagine people saying: Well, it’s just like the Dales/Lakes/Pennines - depending on which is their favourite! But it isn’t!! Or at least perhaps it is in the sense that C S Lewis uses at the end of the Last Battle that everything is just rather bigger than the thing we had known and understood in England - reminiscent, perhaps, but not really at all the same. It took much longer than we had expected to travel the kilometres and so we were later than expected at our next stop in the Klein Karoo.
I had heard that the Karoo was beautiful - but it was raining. We had booked accommodation in a refurbished self catering farm cottage that turned out to be a mile from the farm and reached by crossing a quite deep ford on a gravel track driven at speed by the farmer’s wife in her four by four. In our hired Ford Figo in the rain with me driving (Richard had done the Pass!!) this did not seem like a glorious arrival. Things didn’t look up when we found that one of the two doors to the cottage was locked shut and that was the one from the kitchen to the dry veranda (stoup)! A brief walk in the wet red sand alerted me to the fact that there were biting ants and I was well and truly bitten!!
Too late to look for anything else I said firmly that we might not want to stay 2 nights as booked - but I’m writing this 3 mornings later overlooking some of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen to the sound of early morning birdsong. The Karoo is beautiful and so peaceful that yesterday we saw only each other and the wildlife! Initially we had two reasons for stopping here - we wanted to see the Cango Caves and it is a stopping place on the way to Kimberly - when we leave here there will be a long drive to De Aar (I’ve yet to say this for anyone South African to understand) to visit Tom and Emma Moffatt and then another not quite so long drive to Kimberly. Then we shall be still for a while and wait to see what the next stage of our adventure brings.
On our first morning we asked the farmer’s wife about the caves and she booked for us - at noon, showed us the way to travel and suggested we might like to stop at the junction where a photographer/artist/woodworker and his wife (a stage costume designer) had a studio and coffee shop. On the way we waited for a tortoise to cross the road before arriving at the most beautiful oasis type garden where a man was on a ladder doing something to his roof. What a lovely man - and he made fabulous coffee too. His photographs of the people here were amazing - he settled here by choice from Cape Town about 4 years ago and talked about he way that being settled they were being accepted into the community. They have begun to teach the locals to play rugby!!

Of course we had lingered too long and so we belted to the caves arriving just too late for the noon tour. Not for the first time I lamented that tourist Africa is not as laid back as the African people! However they do have more sympathy for latecomers (my kind of country!!) and we were met and rushed through to join our group. Some twenty minutes later the guide said this is where the tours separate if you are going on the ’adventurous’ tour please come over here. We weren’t but we wanted to and the wonderful man allowed us to join. There were moments in the hour or so that followed when I wondered what I’d let myself in for. The tunnel of Love (where you get lots of hugs and cuddles from the rock!) was fine - especially for those of reasonably short stature like myself.
The coffin sounded a bit scary but wasn’t, the ladder looked it but was much less difficult than the Abbey tower staircase and entirely safe compared to the ladders on Table Mountain! But the chimney and the letterbox were turning back moments - not for us but for others and how good did that make me feel!! In the chimney (unless you were Richard) you could only go in one way - right shoulder in first 90 degree turn and feel for the footholds. Feeling for footholds when you have little legs and they are an inch above the point your foot generally stretches to is a bit challenging but I was lucky that Richard had come into the bottom of the chimney behind me and kindly fixed my first foot in the first foothold - another and another and then I was faced with an enormous smooth boulder - how could I get up on this? What would I do - I couldn’t go back? Then slightly below and to my right a passageway - but nobody there - which way? I called out and a face appeared ahead - all I had to do was step down two inches and squeeze around a rock - ascending the 3 metre chimney had been (almost) a breeze and I was upright again.

Suddenly the passage flattened out and I could see the trainers of the person in front - I flattened too and realised that the people in front of me were not only flat on their stomachs but departing head first through a slit in the rocks - the letter box - but I was the next post! Stupid to go down head first onto rock I think and manoeuvre myself so that I can descend feet first. From below the guide says gently but very firmly you must turn around I want you to come head first. Obediently I do as she asks and begin the descent my shoulders are about to get stuck and I’m proud to have moved to the right before she tells me to - also suddenly remember that if your shoulders will go through then the rest of you will follow. As I am wondering whether this is true of the fifty odd year old post Christmas me I hear the guide say… I want you to exhale for me … I know instantly that this will make me thinner … and then I am down perhaps not very elegantly head first into her lap!! Followed rapidly by Richard. We take photos and it is only when I look at the photo of me which has a later person emerging from the letterbox in the background that the similarities between this and childbirth strike home. I am born into a new and braver 55 year old than the 17 year old who never quite managed to pluck up the courage for potholing!

The farmer had told us about the Swartberg (or Prince Albert pass) saying that it was not to be missed. Full of new found adventuresomeness I offered to drive this one. It was in theory more well used than Alfred’s and would therefore be better maintained. It was equally beautiful and equal in all other respects too - the hairpins - the sheer drops just as you were passing people - the landslides and the bizarre signs that appeared very occasionally to say than the road was uneven - normally just before a rather more even patch than you’d covered in the last mile. Another hour and a quarter and in a day I had descended lower and driven higher than in my life before (and its only 3rd January). As passengers Richard and I both acknowledged the sense that ‘I’ll only know the fear of plunging over the side for a few seconds’. Is this a comforting thought or not?? Like the Magi we returned by another route - longer but less harrowing and taking a about the same time.

We had been told about cave paintings in the hill just behind the house so next morning we were up early (don’t go too late as there’s a bees nest there and they are more likely to react to human sweat she advised). It was the most fabulous walk, but we couldn’t find the caves. Then we thought we’d come upon them but perched high up and at the top of a sheer drop. In my new found adventurous spirit I was all for a route that looked possible but Richard was quite determined we wouldn’t try. I resisted the temptation to go it alone and, once again, we set off home by a different route - and found the proper caves on the way. At ground level they were clearly man made (but cattle inhabited from time to time these days) and an intense buzzing came from within a crack above them. (On reflection this has been a rather Winnie-ther-Pooh couple of days - tight places and bees - let the reader understand!) We examined both paintings and caves and departed.

Five minutes later Richard’s voice came from in front of me urgently STOP/LOOK. I stopped and looked having seen a shed snake-skin earlier I was looking for a snake. It took me some moments to spot the enormous tortoise - about 18-20 inches in diameter just to the left of the path. It was so well camouflaged that Richard had only noticed it when it hissed at him. We made friends - his reptilian head popped out in curiosity and he allowed himself to be photographed and we returned to our temporary home for breakfast and bird watching.

(Blogged by Rev Sue Booys on sabbatical in South Africa)

Day of Reconciliation Interfaith 'Walk of Witness'

I was privileged to have attended one of the final meetings of the Committee for Justice and Reconciliation group of the Cathedral who had been instrumental in planning this event so it was particularly good to be a part of it. We gathered in the morning on the labyrinth in the courtyard of the Cathedral a varied crowd of Muslims, Christians and Jews. A group of young people from all these faiths joined us - they had been part of a week long camp called Face to Faith in which young people from some of the poorest communities spend a week together. This is organised by Reverend Natalie - she is also chaplain to the Anglican girls school St Cyprians - a hugely privileged place but one which is deeply involved in community outreach and is a ‘cross of nails’ school - as the Cathedral also has ‘cross of nails’ status. Their tee shirts said ‘If the sky’s the limit why are there footprints on the moon’.

The first speaker (after the Mayor has been polite) is a Muslim; Dr. Sa’diyya Shaik, Lecturer in Islamic studies and Feminist theory at UCT. She begins by translating three scriptures which she then chants for us. They are profound and beautiful but I hadn’t got my pen out and don’t sufficiently recall them! She speaks about mutual and self respect and for the second time in 24 hours I hear a person of faith lament the fact that Cape Town is a place where life is held so cheap that it is possible for a woman to be brought here to be murdered. Happening as it did immediately before our arrival here the ongoing revelations about the death of Anita Desawi has been a background concern and the subject of many conversations. Sa’diyya goes on to talk about Pilgrimage and its common meaning for us. She describes it as the core spiritual fascination I love that phrase) by journey to the sacred centre engendering a deeper level of faith that is not ordinarily available to us in everyday life. Pilgrimage enables us to cross a boundary beyond the everyday. So to set out on Pilgrimage is not to retreat but to throw down a challenge to everyday life by reminding ourselves that it is possible to cross boundaries and that there are many boundaries to be crossed in South Africa the biggest of which is the economic apartheid that bedevils community here. We are no longer nourished by a sacred centre even if the religious buildings are full.

We leave the Cathedral by a gate that I haven’t seen open. It opens onto the corridor of power running alongside the Company Gardens that it Parliament Street. As we leave, passing a door into the Cathedral buildings I remember the association of this place with power that Fr Terry spoke about. We walk the length of the company gardens to the Synagogue. Company Gardens runs in a diagonal block SE to NW. St George’s cathedral is at the northern corner of this block and the Synagogue at the southern end. At the synagogue we are offered a welcome and introduction to the building apparently the second most beautiful in the world. The sound isn’t brilliant and I miss a lot of the history.

The second speaker is Professor Jonathan Jansen - who has a string of academic roles and is the President of the South Africa Institute of Race Relations. He speaks of the scandal of grace - encourages us to tell our stories about the past in a way that inspire reconciliation and reminds us that reconciliation is a high risk occupation! Later we are told that a white woman sitting next to a black one heard of her misery at the cruelty of employers. “It happened years before I was born but I had to apologise.”

Then we leave the corridors of power and enter Long Street (possibly the corridors of debauchery) amongst the backpacker hostels, night clubs and trinket shops we find the Palm Tree Mosque. We remove our shoes and walk upstairs to a long hall shaped upper room. There is a lectern for today’s talk, some banners on the wall and a preaching/presiding carved wooden seat. But this is not a grand place. It is the oldest mosque here and was the gift of an Englishwoman. It retains the layout it had in its early days that allowed warning to be given if people were at worship and the authorities came to check up - all could be quite normal by the time they reached this upper room. Amongst this powerful introduction were dotted wonderful jokes about the possibility of sinning endlessly on Long Street but there was still somewhere to come for forgiveness.

Just as powerful as the introduction was the last of the three talks given by Judge Dennis Davis - a controversial figure (who apparently holds strong and not necessarily acceptable views about the Middle East). He begins by expressing his honour at being invited to speak in this place and talks a little of those whom he has admired. He tells an Archbishop Tutu joke! Three men die and approach St Peter- the first a Jew of good life and clean living - all is in order says Peter just one final test - please spell the word dog, D O G is the answer and he enters heaven. A Muslim of similar impeccable character approaches and the conversation is the same with one difference - he is to spell cat, C A T - he does so and all is well. Finally the Anglican arrives and the conversation is much the same until the spelling request - please spell chrysanthemum…!

He draws on our common knowledge of the story of Joseph and his brothers reminding us that at the point of reconciliation Judah has changed - he is now ready to face imprisonment himself to save his father’s favourite Benjamin but Joseph has also changed - he is able to acknowledge that God himself has done this - there is purpose to what has happened to him - not bitterness. Reconciliation demands serious change on all sides and change that means genuine equality.

The Pilgrimage is over but we are invited to make our way back to the Cathedral - to walk the Labyrinth - and to take part in a very special blessing.

A young man, Johannes Loubser, has decided to walk barefoot from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Johannes is a Capetonian - a young lawyer who turned his back on this country and went to Russia. On the steps of the Cathedral he told how God had spoken to him with great certainty (not a real voice just a certainty that was deep within) about this walk to draw attention to the need for peace and reconciliation in his country and within himself. You can read more about the purpose of the walk (which is also a fundraising exercise) and Johannes on Johannes was blessed and prayed for by friends and fellow pilgrims on the steps of the Cathedral before setting off on the walk.
The young people from the Face to Faith camp sang - I cried!

During the afternoon I read Archbishop Tutu’s short and hugely profound book 'God has a Dream' - I am profoundly struck by the influence I realise he has had on everything that I have been involved in and heard this morning. One, perhaps tangential, comment catches my attention - the gift that ordained women can be to the church and (in that context) the bumper sticker that Leah, his wife, loves: 'A woman who wants to be equal to a man has no ambition'! He writes of his longing that women who naturally do things differently should not settle for business as usual but seek to transform the world in ‘extraordinary and unimagined ways’. Now that is ambition! So many of the people I have met here men and women alike are ambitious for Africa, ambitious for the poor who suffer under the new apartheid of wealth and poverty that stretches far beyond the boundaries of this nation or this continent. It is an ambition we all need to own for our own nation and continent and we have a thing or two to learn.

(Blogged by Rev Sue Booys whilst on sabbatical in South Africa)