Tag Archives: Loaves and Fishes

Do-goodery update: LAFN donation module online

Fresh off the interwebs: The Loaves and Fishes Network web site is now donation-enabled for international donors through the use of their very own PayPal button.* This means that you can donate to this extremely worthy organization using your own PayPal account or a major credit card.

Wondering who LAFN is? Get introductory information here and here,and read about my ride-along with a trainer here.

* Special thanks to Warren Canning from LCDbauhaus Productions for helping with the code implementation.

Speaking of PayPal, detail-oriented readers may have noticed that my PayPal donation button is gone. I was recently informed that I am in contravention with PayPal policies for reasons that remain obscure to me but that appear to have to do with the fact that I accepted money and took it to the women of Unakho in Mdantsane Village. To quote their letter, “…we request that entities wishing to accept donations on behalf of a charity or other non-profit organization provide evidence of their legitimacy.” I’m not sure whose legitimacy I am supposed to establish, but as Unakho is simply a group of women (not a charity or a registered non-profit) and I am just someone who gave them money (as opposed to a legitimate entity), I am in a bind. For the duration of this imbroglio, PayPal has restricted my account, the upshot of which is that they have frozen the $100 gift my mother deposited for my birthday. Way to crack down on the baddies, PayPal!

I do remain hopeful that this will be satisfactorily resolved and that I will be thoroughly educated on the rights and responsibilities conferred by PayPal button use. In the meantime, if you wish to donate to me and my writing, please use the Contact Me page to make arrangements.

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LAFN ride-along

Mandindi is the embodiment of “Mama”: warm, open face; easy smile; patience. She is a trainer for the Loaves and Fishes Network, which means that she goes into the communities and trains the women who run the childcare centres in a rounded program designed to foster children from physical, emotional, and educational development perspectives. Today I am her guest as she does her job. We will drive into three communities and drop in on a total of seven centres.

In the van, Mandindi is telling that she’s been doing her job for 15 years (only recently with LAFN) and she loves it. “I always wanted to work with the children,” she says. “There was never anything else.” Her English is very good and she is surprised and encouraging when I try a little isiXhosa. “You can say that?” she laughs when I correctly pronounce a name on a passing road sign. I still have to pause mid-word on both sides of a click but I am beginning to read things properly and I like the way the language feels – like humming with a mouthful of poprocks.

The first place we stop is Vergenoeg, which means “Far Enough”, as in the place is far enough away (from the city). This centre is a small plot of land with two shacks on it plus a playground and two vegetable gardens. I realize that South Africa has begun to change my perspective; as I enter the tin and cardboard shack I think that it is very nice – and it is. It is warm and cozy and the children all turn to me with smiley faces and fingers covered in playdough and give me the thumbs up. “Hi, hi, hi,” they say, and I reply, “Hi!” They wave; I wave. They give me the thumbs up; I give them the thumbs up. The place feels good. By North American standards it would be a scandal, but it’s different here. People are working with almost nothing and there is a real beauty to what they’ve created.

Not every centre feels this way. In some, the children seem confused, disoriented – and this makes sense. Many of them have lost their families and have no idea who the people taking care of them are. At one centre the children form a flash mob and surround me, chanting “Mama! Mama!” and touching my hands and arms. I know that “Mama” is a term for woman, but I check with Mandindi. “Are they calling me Mama because I am a woman?” I ask. “Yes,” she says. “Mama is an older woman.” In mock offense I say, “Are they calling me old?!” and she laughs but explains that many of their mothers are no more than teenagers. She says she gets called grandmother.

After Vergenoeg we go even farther, to Scenery Park. It is here that I see the first of the LAFN structures. Mandindi calls it a hut but it is a solid wooden outbuilding, about 15 by 20 feet with a peaked roof, lighting, and insulation. An LAFN employee negotiated with the company that was selling the little houses to let them go at a reduced rate. “This is one of our extreme makeovers,” she explains. “We want to do the baby’s shack next.” I ask about the word painted on the wall: zinkwenkwezi. “It means ‘stars’. These kids are reaching for the stars.”

At the next centre the children run up to the gate yelling, “How are you! How are you!” I am used to not understanding; I don’t even hear them. Mandindi says “They’re speaking English, saying ‘How are you?'” and their words come into focus. “I am fine!” I say, then “Hi! H! Hi!” because it is the other thing we all know. Later, I ask Mandindi what I can say to them when they speak isiXhosa to me and I don’t understand. I hate just standing there, shrugging. “Say ‘I love you’,” she tells me. “They all know that.”

The final place we stop in is Khayelitsha, a cluster of RDPs at the top of a steep dirt road several miles away from Scenery Park. The dirt is dry and rocky; there are few trees. Like almost all RDPs, these are painted in candy colours: pink, sea foam, yellow, blue.  It looks like a bag of allsorts has spilled over the mountainside and the implied playfulness is weird. I ask Mandindi about it and she says the government paints them these colours.

Khayelitsha is desolate. There is no grocery, post office, or gas station, just gaily-coloured RDPs and litter. “All these people are from Duncan Village,” Mandindi is saying. “They lived in the shacks but the government didn’t want them there so they moved them. But there is nothing here and it is too far from the city to walk in to find work. They have to pay for taxis. Sometimes they borrow, but what if they do not find work for that day? Then they are in debt and cannot get home.”

There is a single centre in Khayalitsha, so every child except 20 or so will not have any childcare. As we drive through Kayalitcha I see children and toddlers playing in the dirt among the litter and barbed-wire and sheet metal and rocks.

I am beginning to understand what Loaves and Fishes is doing. They place a lot of emphasis on the details of child development. Tiny playgrounds coerced out of the dusty ground are more stimulating when the fence is painted bright yellow. A bit of carpet in the baby shack means fewer scraped knees. A desk to sit at, a place to wash your hands.

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Meeting at LAFN

Dr. Trudy Thomas is warm, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable. Instantly, I feel comfortable and energized about the work. We are joined by board member Brendan Connellan and within forty minutes we have established a two-phase plan for my time and effort. Phase one is PayPal implementation for the LAFN web site and phase two will be a structure and content overhaul.

Here is something that I did not know: In South Africa it is very typical for a business to provide you with a receipt which you will pay at some later time by direct deposit. It’s handy (it saved our bacon when we discovered we were short on cash after breakfast on our last day at Kei Mouth) but totally foreign to westerners. In the west, we pay for things up front, and if online, we pay through a service like PayPal. I believe that getting a PayPal button on the LAFN site is an essential part of maximizing their fund raising ability.

Phase two is a longer-term project, and one that I can continue to contribute to from anywhere in the world. I hope to build and implement a clearer site structure so that visitors can easily access the information they want. Once this is achieved, we can go forward with other aspects of their communications strategy.

At the end of the meeting I make a plan to go out on a ride along with an LAFN trainer and special needs worker to see the work in person.

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Intro to the Loaves and Fishes Network

I’ve finally been in to visit with the folks at the Loaves and Fishes Network, but getting there was not easy. I had been given the street address: 9A Dyer. Craig and I were out running errands in the BMW before my appointment so he suggested we do a “test run”. The wisdom of this became readily apparent as we cruised down Dyer, past – in order – 35 Dyer, 2 Dyer, 9F Dyer, 16 Dyer, and finally pulled up at 5 Dyer. Stymied, Craig pulled out his phone and dialled LAFN. As he tried to explain the predicament, I let my gaze wander and directly above us, about 20 feet above the sidewalk, there was a Loaves and Fishes Network sign with an arrow. Sorted.

34 Dyer, 2 Dyer. Incidentally, 9A isn't even on this street but a street that branches out from it like a tine in the peace symbol.

We arrive at 2:55pm, five minutes early. The office manager, Pateka, sits us down and gives us an extremely detailed and illuminating overview of the organization and their programs, followed by a tour of their space in East London. Loaves and Fishes – a non-denominational organization, but so named after the Bible story in recognition that there is enough for everyone – runs several programs, all designed to assist the children of the Eastern Cape who are affected by poverty, violence, and AIDS (PVA).

One of the things that strikes me immediately is the organizational recognition that it is essential to provide the kids with what they need developmentally, emotionally, and physically. In other words, LAFN does not simply drop off food parcels. To this they also take into account the provision of safe spaces with age-appropriate toys that stimulate the kids. They train care-givers (often young girls) in the communities on curricula that will provide education in various subjects, as well as in health issues. They have an eye to sustainability; the LAFN projects are designed to empower people within the communities they serve rather than to create scenarios of dependence.

And what about those food parcels? The LAFN feeding program (Children4Children) works in the spirit of the name of the organization: children bring food (like cooking oil, rice, sugar) to their schools and it is collected by LAFN. Volunteers re-package the bulk products into portions, and assemble boxes for distribution to the children in the townships. Each parcel has the basic items for one child per month. Occasionally, local businesses will donate products (overstock that might be expiring soon, for example) and in that month there will be additional items included. The idea is to redistribute what is already available, and it seems to be working well.

The food is rebundled into monthly packets for the kids.

The food is rebundled into monthly packets for the kids.

The LAFN space is a large warehouse which has been modified to include a couple of small offices. Most of the space is allocated to storage. There is a toy/books area where donated items are marked according to type (i.e. soft toys) and age group. This way it is easy to collect items for a care centre as needed. The parcel storage/assembly area takes up a good part of the floor. This is where food and other goods are broken down into the monthly per-child parcels. There is a list on the wall of the contents: Milk, Pilchards, Maize Meal, Rice, Samp, Sugar Beans, Baked Beans, Oil, Peanut Butter, Jam, Sugar, Soya Mince, Morvite, Soup, Soap. Beside this is a bank of shelving on which boxes of donated clothing sits. Each box is hand-marked for easy identification: women’s blouses, size 8-9; children’s shoes, size 4-5; winter hats. In the back, LAFN has a workshop/laundry. They wash all donated clothes in-house. The far wall has a clothesline strung from end to end where a dozen white shirts are drying. Under it, there is a work bench used for construction. Pateka shows me how a donated set of shelves has been modified into smaller units.

Donated clothes are sorted and stored.

Donated clothes are sorted and stored.

Toys and books ready to be redistributed to centres.

Toys and books ready to be redistributed to centres.

Two things strike me: the LAFN space is extremely organized; and nothing is wasted. The people working here are not working with a lot of budget or resources, but they have managed to implement some very successful programs.

We make an appointment for a second meeting, when I will meet Chairperson Dr. Trudy Thomas and discuss what I can do to help.

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Eight days out

The intimidating list of to-dos is steadily being whittled down, leaving only the chores I am avoiding (meningitis shot), and the trivial things (update housesitting document with a paragraph about Mendoza’s frequent barfing). I leave in eight days.

I spent some time this morning reading documents sent by the Loaves and Fishes Network. They paint a grim picture of the living conditions in the Eastern Cape, the poorest province in the country. Poverty, AIDS and HIV, unemployment, inadequate infrastructure, high number of child-headed households, high suicide rates, drug and alcohol abuse, violent crime… The LAFN states that these factors are preventing children from enjoying normal childhoods (enough food, care, stimulation, guidance, safety), and the organization is trying to remedy that through the development of a sustainable and cost effective model to respond to the needs of these kids. The “loaves and fishes” idea is that there is enough for everyone.

“We need to elevate all children to the entitlement of a full, stimulated, normal childhood. It’s a birth right, and if their parents fail, we as a community must step in.”
– Dr Trudy Thomas, Chairperson

This just seems so basic and on-point. I am really excited to meet these folks and to be able to contribute to the work.

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Five weeks in South Africa

On September 14 I will be boarding a plane for – easily! – the longest flight I have ever taken. Twenty-nine hours later (including a full day of pubbing in London; looking forward to seeing you Roxy) I will land in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I will get a connecting inter-country flight to East London, a city on the eastern cape. After three years of living alone (if you don’t count the company of my cat Mendoza, and his cat, Noodle) I will be moving in with Craig – a man whom I have known for a full 760 minutes, or the time it takes to play 8 games of soccer.

I met Craig in London, U.K. when we were both drafted to the same soccer team for the duration of an international tournament, and we instantly recognized each other as the groovy and outstanding folks were are. Facebook makes fostering these tenuous and distant relationships simple, and for the next year we stayed in touch with the occasional “like” or status comment. I am pretty sure we never poked each other, and when I saw that he’d moved to South Africa to continue his research work in the AIDS and HIV field, I filed it away under “won’t see him at next year’s tourney”.

In the early summer of 2009, my contract ended and I found myself underemployed. Worse, I couldn’t even contemplate what I wanted to do next. I felt utterly exhausted, uninspired, disconnected, and more than a little sorry for myself. In search of adventure and meaning, I began exploring “voluntourism” opportunities. For several weeks I lived on the fantasy of spending a glorious fortnight in Costa Rica massaging baby sea turtles. But the more I looked, the more skeptical I became, and that’s when I remembered Craig. Given his work and travel connections, I figured he’d be just the guy to talk to about legit opportunities.

Craig responded to my inquiry with the bouncy energy I remembered from the field, and so when he invited me to fly across the world to live with him for a month while I volunteered (“Don’t worry – I will find you a ditch to dig or some policy to change!”), I accepted. The days since I booked my flight have been legendarily busy. What do I know about volunteering, about living with someone for a month, about travelling across the world alone? What do I know about South Africa? Apartheid, wine, elephants? Apparently not penguins, as I had thought. “Well, I saw a dead one wash up on shore once,” Craig told me. “But that’s probably not what you’re after.” Indeed.

So, I am going to South Africa, and it looks like I will be doing volunteer work with several organizations. One group that I have had quite a bit of contact with, the (non-denominational) Loaves and Fishes Network needs some help with their web site and communications. How perfect. I have also been in contact with someone from JAG Foundation, which seems to be an organization in the vein of Right to Play. And in a rather cryptic note from Craig last night, he mentioned a sustainable gardening project that might need some ditches dug.

The short lead time between booking and flight has thrown my fund raising plans into mighty disarray so I have added a PayPal button to this blog. If you want to contribute to what I am trying to accomplish, or if you enjoy the writing, please make a donation.

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