It is crazy for me to think it has been three weeks since I have posted. It’s even crazier to think of all the things we have experienced in those three weeks.
I’ll start with the two orphanages we have visited: LIV Village and Lily of the Valley.
Multiple times it has been quoted to me that in South Africa about 10,000 children per month become orphans. Ten thousand per month, every month. That’s enough to fill most sports stadiums in the States in less than a year – some in fewer than six months. It is a direly pressing problem South Africa is facing. It’s a cultural shift, and social issue, that has repercussions for today’s society and the coming ten, twenty, even fifty years.
But how has this happened? It clearly did not start on any one specific day. Here are some of the things I have heard have led to this: HIV/AIDS, apartheid, the government, and traditional familial culture. (Please hear that I am simply trying to shed light, not place blame on any one group or person.)
HIV/AIDS has killed many people, leaving children without parents, and at times any family to speak of. As children can be born infected, they are sometimes not taken in by family members because of their diagnosis.
The apartheid connection is somewhat more subtle. During that era, men often when away from where their wives and families were to work in the mines. The hope was to send money home to their families to care for the children – but this did not always happen. The money was sometimes spent instead on alcohol and prostitution, which meant that some men had two families – one they left to find work, and one they created once they arrived on the job. If the money was not flowing back to the first family, the mother often needed to get a job to pay for food and other bills. That meant she was away from the family for 10-18 hours a day. With poor public transportation, some people spend much of their day in transit to and from work, paying a large amount of their daily wage on transit. So whether or not it was an intended consequence, apartheid broke up families, created multiple sets of families, and pulled parents away from their children. Over the years this set up a mindset for some that parents are not present in a family – at least one, if not both.
The government, I have heard, pays little attention to the township areas. I have heard it over and again from people in the communities, schools, and churches. A couple nights ago a TV commercial stated “some people think Soweto is the only township the government cares about”. The ad went on to say this was not true – but clearly the idea is out there, if not a fact as well.
Some traditional familial cultures in South Africa (the Zulu culture is the one I have heard most about around the Durban area), do not expect the man to be present in the household. A man can have a child, and then pay the mother a couple thousand rand and not have to visit the child or mother ever again. In addition to this, fathers can require dowries that take five, ten, or fifteen years (yes, fifteen!) for a man to accumulate. Sometimes an engaged couple will have a kid before the dowry is paid – and then the man might not want to stick around to pay the large sum of the dowry.
One of the orphanages we visited was named “Lily of the Valley”. It is located on a hill up the road from Pinetown and Durban, nearly to Pietermaritzberg. After turning off the main highway, the road twists and turns up and down hills, with no guard rails and tight turns. A smattering of houses, a school, and some other buildings dot the way. Taxis stop in the middle of the road, schoolchildren walk in the street, and the occasional cow or herd of goats rip up the small bits of green that have managed to hang on in an area which has received very little rain all winter.
The paved road ends, and the dirt and gravel road stretches straight across the top of the hill, past large greenhouses, another school, then down the hill to the right. Small houses arranged around two open areas appear. We met one of the staff members in a small trailer (or possibly a narrow shipping container?), who took us on a brief tour of the housing area.
Lily of the Valley was started about twenty years ago by Anglicans as a hospice home for children with HIV. As drugs and treatment became more available, and the children began to live longer, the vision and mission of Lily began to change. Soon instead of being hospice-oriented, they were functioning more like cluster foster care for orphans.
Today, about 110 children call Lily home. The majority have HIV. All are orphans. Some, especially young girls, have been taking care of their siblings for years before they arrive – even though they may be only ten or twelve years old. Girls and boys are separated in the houses, which are overseen by a House Mother, who comes in at night to stay with the kids and then goes back to her own family during the day.
Teens stay in another set of houses – girls in one, boys in another. In these houses they learn to take care of a household, do chores, and learn how to manage money.
All the children go to school during the day. Once they have passed high school (or turn 21, at the latest) they can no longer legally stay at Lily and the government checks for their care end. Lily works to place them with extended family or to find them a job and living place in the community.
How is an operation like this funded? Some money comes in for each of the kids from the government, and some from donations from individuals or organizations. A fair amount of funding comes from the large hydroponic tomato greenhouses on the top of the hill. Two tomato seedlings are planted in a small bag of soil, and nutrients and water are constantly pumped into them. Thousands and thousands of tomato plants are producing about 2,000 kg (4400 pounds) of tomatoes every day. These are then sold to a local distributor after being packaged at Lily.
The other orphanage we toured was LIV Village. It is probably the best known of any orphan care program in South Africa. LIV is the dream of a former South African cricketer named Tich Smith. Tich heard about how many children became orphans every month – and felt God was calling him to help do something about it, with a very specific vision. So he brought together members of the community, business leaders, church members, and government officials for a fundraising day in Durban just four or five years ago. At the event, he pitched his idea: a village of 500-1000 orphans living together, cared for by mothers from the area, who attend school and church within their village, learning skills, growing strong, and providing jobs for those in the village. The idea caught on like wildfire, and it raised millions of rands that day.
The original set of houses was built around an open area – but this proved expensive, and they have adopted a more straight-row housing approach now. About 130 kids now live at the village, attending school, church, Sunday school, the doctor, dentist, social workers, physical therapists, and computer labs all on site. A house mother lives at the village with six to eight kids, receiving a small salary and time off each week to go into the town nearby. The number of kids is growing – and the infrastructure is in place already to receive them.
The Village has invested in a cleaning company and a chicken egg company, earning money through both of them. (In addition, South Africa has a program called BBBEE, in which companies earn points/ratings for supporting organizations that work with underprivileged blacks. It’s a complicated system to understand from the outside, I’ve found, but as an example, companies that buy and sell LIVeggs receive a higher rating, and other companies will want to do business with them because they look better in the ratings.)
LIV is building a 1500-2000 seat chapel so that the village, volunteers, and surrounding town can all worship together.
But Tich’s goal does not stop with this one village. He wants to see hundreds of these villages all over South Africa, providing safe spaces for children, work for communities, and a brighter future for the country. There are 10,000 children a month who become orphans. The need is great – and so is the vision. Whoever says that one person cannot change the world has never met Tich Smith.
We’ll be exploring the phenomenon of orphans in South Africa more – hopefully at LIV, Lily, and other places, as it is one of the greatest social changes South Africa is facing, and will face, in the future. For someone like Tich, you can’t preach the gospel without showing the gospel through word and deed in great measure. It takes a lot of people, life changes (like Tich and his wife moving into the village), and energy to make a place like LIV happen – but with that effort comes the opportunity to preach the gospel to hundreds of people, in the village and out, in business, in government, and the communities. For a place like Lily, the changing health of the HIV orphans forced their mission to change, and without a doubt, changed how they preach the gospel. No longer were they preaching to kids they knew would die before adulthood – but now to kids who could thrive into adulthood, and turn around and impact a future generation of kids.
That’s all for this post – more soon (and much sooner than three weeks, I promise)!