Hoe gaan dit met jou? Well, currently “how are you doing?” is about all my Afrikaans is capable of (it’s also probably misspelled, my apologies), and on my first day it was certainly tested! My previous experience in South Africa has been that everyone speaks Afrikaans and English, but here at Bethesda hospice much of the staff speaks Xhosa and Afrikaans with a basic understanding of English. The language barrier makes me feel a little bit awkward at times, but thankfully the volunteer director and main personnel are all fluent in just about everything so translation is available when necessary. This experience has already begun to sharpen my rusty, falling-to-bits Afrikaans.

Communicating with the children was really no problem at all. It’s amazing how much can be relayed without words, and it was certainly sufficient for playing ball with the older kids and holding the little ones. It’s been one day, and already I want to bring them all home with me! I wish I could show you pictures. However, Bethesda policy prevents us from taking pictures of the children. Many of them are not entirely orphaned, but have left their families because their parents are abusive, alcoholic, or in gangs. Apparently previous, well-meaning volunteers emailed pictures of some of the children to family and friends, and these pictures were forwarded on and passed around enough that they made their way back to parents who should not know where their children are. It caused quite a bit of trouble for the hospice, and more importantly, it endangered the safety of the children.

Another unexpected policy is that we, as volunteers, are not allowed to know exactly what disease the hospice patients have. We have been told that most have TB (tuberculosis) meningitis, HIV/ AIDS, or have had a stroke, but we cannot know individually what each one suffers (though it is possible to make an educated but unverifiable guess). It is a matter of personal dignity and privacy.

Our first day began with a tour of the facilities (children’s home, daycare center, hospice, workshop, and charity shop, which is equivalent to a small Salvation Army store), and afterwards Chireze (our volunteer coordinator) worked out a plan for our work here. Our main jobs will switch between going with the nurses to help with home-based care in the neighboring areas and working at the charity shop. In addition, we will have many chances to give TLC (tender loving care) to the hospice patients and children.

We have met a multitude of people from staff to patients to children, and I’m a little overwhelmed by the number of names to learn, a feeling which I am sure is exacerbated by the fact that I struggle to pronounce about 3/4 of them. Of all the different people I am certainly most taken with the littlest orphans. Their heart-cry for love and stability was especially clear from the one little boy who clung to me and asked me if each adult man who walked past was his “dada.” I already feel guilty that I will build a bond with these children and ¬†still have to leave them in less than two months.

Forecast for the next post: What it’s it like for the children living in the children’s home. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!