May 18, 2009 (Monday)
At the Center
As I shared earlier, VVOCF is an orphan care center in Zonkizizwe, a shanty town outside of Johannesburg. It stands for the Tsonga (one of the 11 South African languages) translations of “Our Children’s Future” – Vumunzuku-bya Vana.
As I visit the schools throughout the day, during the afternoon I volunteer at VVOCF working with young children and youth that have been orphaned due to HIV-AIDS. Their stories are amazing. Many of them have overcome hardships that I could never imagine. Some of our youth live in child-led households – meaning no adult lives with them. And anybody in Zonki would tell you, that would have to be hard with the poverty this community faces.
There are many stories to share, but I just want to present one:
Tulani is one of our HIV-positive youth. When his mother became very ill due to AIDS she asked another woman in the community to take care of him; she did not know he was positive because she never tested him. Since then Tulani and his younger sister live with this woman and are regular attendants to VVOCF programming. In this picture Tulani is writing his letter back to his U.S. pen pal. Staff members at the center make sure he is taking is medication regularly, feed him three times a week, and provide Tulani with appropriate, healthy, and consistent adult support. He is truly ONE of our MANY success stories of overcoming the odds.
The various personalities here remind me of many of my friends at home. There are the sassy girls, the smart aleks, the funny kids, the loud mouths…basically we have them all. Through images in the media we are taught to be so “sympatheic,” but removed to young people in need in Africa. But I have learned that is it not just about playing with “poor” kids and making them feel better. It is simply about making connections with other human beings. While I am sure that I have given inspiration or put a smile on one of these young person’s face, they have done much more for me by just being themselves. I have learned so much!
Despite the significant differences of opportunity and access between youth in Zonki and most in the U.S., they inherit a light that is like no other. With empty stomachs they go to school every day. With broken homes they create family amongst themselves. With limited resources many forge their own opportunities. And most of all, through hardships they not only are full of joy, but they spread it.
*VVOCF Children (the little boy writing the letter is Tulani)