By Tori Pryor – Emzingo Fellow (South Africa)
I wish I could have stayed.
The organization that I am directly working with this summer, The Lonely Road Foundation (LRF), is absolutely incredible to say the least. Not only is their founder, Thabang, one of the most inspiring people I have ever met, but their staff, Olivia, Michelle, and Karabo, have absolute hearts of gold. Myself and the two other Emzingo Fellows working with the LRF this summer got to spend the last two days in Ga-Dikgale, Limpopo meeting all of the caregivers and so many children at LRF’s family of drop-in centers with Michelle and Karabo from LRF.
Oh, and by the way, Ga-Dikgale is pronounced HA-di-HA-lay, and you have to make the HA sound harsh in the back of your throat.
It is very common in South Africa for there to be drop-in centers in areas with a high prevalence of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC). These centers usually provide a meal to the children after school, an opportunity for their uniforms to be washed, a place to get help with homework if needed, a safe place to play and socialize with other children, psychosocial support, and so many other services. Once a center has an official structure and a proper fence, it qualifies for funding from the Department of Social Development in South Africa.
But this is not easy to do.
LRF acts as sort of a facilitator for the centers. While each center has a manger and runs itself, LRF helps the centers with administrative matters, trainings, and other support mechanisms to help the centers become self-sufficient – which is why we went with LRF and visited about 10 of them in the last two days.
I think I played with around 500 children at the different centers in the span of these last two days. 500 high-fives, 500 giggles, 500 smiles, and countless times being chased around the yard by beaming, manic faces.
My friend here, Mary, teases me for spouting “cheesy” sayings all the time, but there is something so incredible about being able to communicate through a smile and a laugh with kids who speak a different language.
As we loaded back into the van this afternoon to head back to urban Johannesburg, I was feeling many things. (1) Exhausted, (2) smelly, (3) frustrated with my struggle to pick up the Sepedi language, (4) full of joy,and (5) not wanting to leave. The women and caregivers we met in Ga-Dikgale were incredible. Incredibly resourceful, kind, welcoming, and loving to the kids in their centers. I would spend all two months in Ga-Dikgale with them if I could.
At least we are going back next week.