Friday 25th - catching up with the blog!

Bet you wondered where I was!
Wow! It's been a busy time since I last wrote the blog!  On Friday 25th I spent the day in Durban. The first visit was to the Likhon iThemba Hop Shop which is a charity shop run by the team behind the HOLAH (House of Love and Hope) Crisis Baby Home.  They use the income from the shop to help to cover the costs of the children in their care.  Operating as a Crisis Baby Home the intention is that the babies are only in their care for a short period of time, however life is rarely that straightforward in South Africa.  Often, the babies who are abandoned are in someway challenged physically and therefore these babies are not very easy to place into foster care or their "forever" home. In this case, children stay with HOLAH much longer, they currently have two toddlers who have been in their care for two and a half years, having arrived with them in the first hours of their life.   The first option is always to try to return the baby to the birth family, if not the mother herself then to an aunt or grandmother.  However this is not always possible, or desirable, as in the case of incestuous rape or a violent home situation.  Women remain relatively powerless in many South African communities, K (from Likhon iThemba) told me of one young woman who was found by the police trying to sell her baby for R200 (about £12).  When questioned she told them that the man she was living with told her he would kill her if she didn't return within an hour with no baby and R200.  This is the kind of unimaginable and intolerable threat level that some women have to endure.   The Hop Shop also serves as a place of safety for young women, they have just installed a Baby Saver (The Baby Saver is easy to access and easy to use – simply open the door, place the baby into the Saver and close the door – which then automatically locks. The trigger-plate will send an alarm which will result in Responders attending the Saver and sending the baby via ambulance to the local hospital where Likthon iThemba will be notified and prepare for the arrival of an abandoned baby) directly outside and if a young woman in crisis comes into the shop they can receive a supportive counselling session from L or K.  In these sessions they clearly lay out the options for the young mother.  She may still be pregnant or she may have a tiny baby, but there are options to escape gender based violence or family stigma that K or L can share. 

K and L want the Hop Shop to become a hub for potential foster and adoptive families to come and learn about what fostering and adoption entails, and to see if they have the skills and attributes to become foster parents or adoptive parents.  They also want it to provide a support network for foster and adopting families as well as continuing to be a place of safety for expectant or new mothers to find out about their options with regard to their baby's future.  They are confident that the Hop Shop is in the right area for this to be a success, they get a lot of footfall through the shop, so it is a well known place and, sadly there have recently been two babies abandoned in very close proximity - one directly across the road, who was sadly dead from suffocation when he was found by the refuse collectors and another just up the road (5 minute walk away) found in the bins of the University of Kwa Zulu Natal.  Both of these were days before the baby saver was installed, it has yet to be used and in some ways we hope it won't ever be... but if there's a choice between leaving the baby there or in the bins opposite we certainly hope the desperate mother will choose the baby saver.

After the morning with K and L, I met one of our Sangobeg students, S.  S has been studying at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal and she has ambition to join the South African Police Service (SAPS). She is one final paper away from completing her BA degree in Politics, Philosophy and Criminology, with an additional English major.  S is an intelligent, articulate and attractive young woman; the world is her oyster!  She does have a few bumps in the road at the moment and we are working with her to try to resolve them so that she can complete the degree and then make her application to SAPS.  After a long chat we said our farewells and I headed out to King Shaka airport to meet the flight that was bringing my 17 year old son out to Africa for the first time!!

Safely landed and through border control, we headed off to Greytown where we were staying with good friends of GAGA, the J family.  MJ runs LETCEE in Greytown, which is a fabulous Early Childhood Development training centre.  They support communities to set up toy libraries for pre-school children.  LETCEE and GAGA have a long history and we are always grateful to M for her insight and expertise which she happily shares with us.  It was a bit of a rough introduction to Africa for my son, as we arrived at the J's house to discover the power had been off since 2pm that afternoon, so there was no hope of a much longed for hot shower and M's plans for a welcome supper were also scuppered! 
The next day dawned, still with no power and so, rather dishevelled, we set off the the planned game drive at Weenan which was breathtaking and the power issue soon paled into insignificance as we viewed Eland, Kudu, Waterbuck, Red Hartebeast, Grey Hartebeast, Giraffe and Zebra.