A Family of Children

Hey everybody!

Just a quick update on things here as well as the story of a family that my school in Calgary is funding a new house for.

So, quick update on me.  I had to cancel my trip to Zambia.  I’m still not over this virus.  Frankly, I’m tired of talking about it and just hope that I’ll make some progress this week.

Now, onto the story.  I’ve mentioned before that my school got connected to and raised funds for a new home for the two boys I did my community stay with; Mthandazo and Sipho.  There house is now complete and they’re all moved in.  My school raised so much money, over $13,000 CDN, that we were able to build a second house for another child-headed household.  I wrote a story for them for our school newsletter and I’ve more or less included it below.

Ernest is an nineteen year-old, grade eleven student.  He and his younger brother, sixteen year-old Sthembiso, head their household, which includes their younger sisters; thirteen year-old Thobile and eleven year-old Bawinile.

The four children lived most of their lives with their mother and father in their current house.  The house is really just a small, one room shelter consisting of sheets of scrap metal, patched onto wooden poles found around the community.  There is no electricity or outhouse toilet.  The children fetch water from the community pump, like most households in the community.  The gaps in the roof and walls are easily penetrated by rain and the flimsy door provides little security, a particular concern as the girls get older.

In 2007, their mother became very ill and passed away the following year.  Though losing a parent is devastating on its own, in many poor communities in South Africa, people often deal with terminal illness without access to hospitals or doctors.  Children watch parents die before their eyes and the emotional wounds that result are as difficult for the children to deal with as having to move on without their parent.  Given that the family lived together in one small room, the children were likely not spared any aspect of their mother’s death.

However, these are not the only challenges the children have faced.  Shortly after their mother passed away, their father left the family with no explanation.  He simply disappeared one day.  He is still living in the community but has taken another wife and has little contact with the children.

The children rely on food parcels provided by their local care workers and money that Ernest makes doing yard work for neighbors on weekends and during school holidays.  The three younger siblings also participate in a government-feeding program at their primary school.  The children receive regular visits from Siyabongile, a volunteer care worker with the local community organization that Hands at Work partners with, called Senzhokule Home Based Care.  Siyabongile cared for their mother during her illness and has continued to be the most constant adult in the kids’ lives.  She asks them how school is going, whether they have enough food, and just what’s generally on their mind.  Without her, Ernest stated that there would be no one speaking on their behalf.  It was Siyabongile who brought the children’s living conditions to the attention of Hands at Work.

A recent development has created tension between the two boys.  A neighbor they have known for years has taken in Ernest. He sleeps at the neighbor’s and shares their meals.  Ernest explains that their house is just too small for all of them and he no longer wanted to share a bed with his brother while his sisters slept on a foam mattress on the floor.  The day-to-day role of the running the house has now fallen to Sthembiso.   It is obvious that Sthembiso feels abandoned by his brother.

However, the family will soon be living together again.  A portion of the $13,000 raised by Calgary Science School will provide a three-room house for the children along with basic furniture and house wares.  The cost of this project has been projected at $6,650. The foundation is already complete and the walls are going up.  The kids should be in their house in a just a few weeks.  The children are excited about having “a real home” and it is so great to see their usually stoic faces change to smiles when they talk about the house.

I’ve only visited the kids a few times, due to me being sick.  But each time I grow more and more attached to Bawanile.  The first couple times myself and Sam and Busie met her, she never made eye contact and just sat with her head down.  The last couple times I visited, she was laughing and singing with her neighbors. She even hugged me back last time!!  It is seriously humbling to be a part of these kids’ lives.  Their resilience amazes me beyond words. Anyway, I want to get back on my feet so I can go see them more often and update you on the progress of the house.

Senzhokule Home Base Care and Hands at Work in Africa wish to express their gratitude to Calgary Science School.  You are changing the lives of these children.  Stay tuned for more updates on this project and others.

From left, Ernest, Bawanile, Careworker Siyabongile, and Sthembiso.  Missing is 13 year old Thobile.


The children’s current home.


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5 Responses to A Family of Children

  1. GK says:

    Thanks for this Chris. Those of us who read your blog, and especially those like me who have never visited Africa, are getting an authentic look at the daily challenges in rural S Africa. I have learned so much from reading your story, and I admire that you have followed your current calling. I often wonder what is next for you. Keep well my friend, and please look after yourself. Joanie and I think about you all the time, and we are filled with admiration for what you, and others at Hands are doing.

    • Graham, your comments make my day. I do miss our chats. Hope all in NS is well and that preparations for X-Men Soccer 2011 are going well. You’re someone who’s always spoken truth into my life and I thank you for that Thanks for thinking of me and keeping the stories I’ve encountered in your thoughts.

      I actually picture you and Joanie here sometimes!! When I go to a nursery and there’s all these little kids waiting for hugs I keep thinking that this is probably heaven for Joanie!

  2. Linda says:

    I can just imagine the joy you’ve given 2 families by your being there!! Being “unproductive” is not the truth about your time there. I know what you mean though about feeling like you have to fill a day with doing something, especially when your time is short. YAY to Calgary Science School!!

    I do hope you can get to Zambia though! I have a friend who runs a Crisis pregnancy center in Kitwe, her name is Barbara Mwansa. I met her here in Kelowna at a conference. Her husband is Edward and he pastors Church of the Rock, if you ever get there.

    Praying for your healing! We’re heading into soccer season here, do you get to watch some games now and then?

    • Hey Linda!!
      Thanks for the words. Though being sick is frustrating, leaning on God and thankful that I can just be sick and rest and not worry about things that most other people have to.

      Yeah, I am super keen on Kitwe and hope that I’ll get there. I will definitely look your friends up if I get there. I’ve been to a few soccer games here and it’s always a highlight for me. Has spring arrived in the Okanagan? I know Alberta is still wintering. Say HI to Kev and and kids for me.


  3. Paul Optland says:

    Hey Chris,
    Once again, awesome work you’re doing with CSS support that all worldviews would agree is objectively good! I’m hoping this family will grow in love and support for each other with a new roof over their heads.
    Just got back from Jamaica; Tristan is a big hit down there with the in-laws. Got some great pics of Molly giving him an old-school bath in a plastic bucket on the veranda. Anyhow, I will be in touch soon.

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