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Smiles in Soweto, South Africa

  • February 12, 2012

Sometimes, opportunities are given – and we just need to take them.

I had to go on a business trip to Johannesburg, South Africa. And thanks to a great manager I was allowed to leave a day earlier than initially planned. A whole day was given to me and what I would use it for was more than clear. Bringing smiles 🙂

From one to the other day Dynal managed to get me in touch with Daisy, an old school friend from Zambia, who is currently based in Johannesburg. Thanks to her we managed to come up with this project to bring smiles to children in South Africa. We’ve targeted Soweto, a township in the southwest of Johannesburg. It’s population is about 1,3 million and predominantly black. Many parts of Soweto rank among the poorest in Johannesburg. Daisy located the orphanage Othandweni, caring of about 50 children. We got in touch with them, asking for essentials, things they urgently need for the children. Within 24 hours we were perfectly prepared for this mission 🙂

After having arrived on Sunday morning I was picked up by Daisy and Allim, a friend of hers. Funny people 🙂 Prepared with a list of age groups and the amount of children within them, our first target was a big game store. From cuddly toys, LEGO bricks and Barbie dolls for the smaller ones, to toy cars and sports equipment for the older ones – we’ve made sure that we would have enough for the about 50 children. Next stop was a baby care market where we bought what the caretaker told us initially: so we bought baby cereals, milk powder and diapers and took mainly everything what the shelves were holding.

With a car full of bags we arrived at Othandweni and were welcomed from Mama Lerato, who brought us to a room where we were expected already by the 5 – 11 year olds. Initially the boys and girls were a bit shy, had obviously no clue about what to expect when having a blond woman coming in looking happy as hell. After I’ve started talking, asking them for names and favorite sport, the ice was broken. Lot’s of laughing, dancing and singing started after the first soccer balls flew through the room. The first Barbie doll dresses were swopped immediately. One of the guys asked to go ahead right away to build up the small soccer goals that we’ve brought. The official indoor games where opened 🙂 And we left quietly to the next group of children, this time the small ones.

Just entered the building, some 3-4 year olds got my attention by laughing loud while jumping on the beds. It was a small room with quite a lot of beds, but even with the few means that are given to the caretaker of this orphanage – they managed to give this bedroom a very warm and caring touch. Impressive. My first interaction with these little kids already made them laugh: One little girl asked me for my name. When asking back, she told me hers with a look of expectancy. I tried sooo hard to repeat but must have looked like an idiot, trying to repeat the click consonants in her name (that by the way seemed to also be the longest name I have ever heard). With a big smile of her when touching my hair she released me from this pretty funny situation. When getting the bags with toys into the room, I did not even take out a half a cuddly toy, a little guy started happily screaming “Wiiiinnie Puuuuuuuuh” and looked at me with big shiny eyes. The moment of goose bums is complete when they hold their toys the first time, seeing their happy faces, while slowly walk backwards to start playing.

The next room in that building was full of latticed bedsted’s, holding 17 little babies. Between the beds there were more that 15 little children with about 2-3 years sitting on the floor. Daisy, her friend and I brought all the bags in and started giving the playthings. The room now was a mixture of children playing with LEGO bricks and softballs, running around talking into squeaky phones and brushing Barbie dolls’ hair. I was fascinated by a two and a four year old girl, sitting closely on the floor, totally concentrated on feeding a mini baby doll with a mini-mini baby bottle. So caring 🙂 I’ve spent about two hours in this room, enjoyed sitting and playing with the children: I had to take (squeaky) phone calls, changed Barbie doll dresses and served as a comfortable seat while tickling one or the other 🙂

After a while we’ve used their meal break to get ready to leave. I spend the last minutes watching a little girl, barely able to walk without falling over her own feet; she was holding her Tigger (who by the way was almost as tall as her) so tight with both arms, walking up and down the room. She was still when we left the room…

With this project we gave a lot of children something to play with, something to own, something to love. That’s what I call a success 🙂

Again a big thank you to Daisy & Allim who made this spontaneous project possible!

Gina