Today should have been our first our first COPT meeting for the year, a day to start the process of working out how this year would unfold and what we can do to to achieve those goals.
But on Tuesday night, we received an email from Yvette asking for a meeting first thing Wednesday morning. We had found out that during the previous week, there had been a fire on Lamontville (about 100 metres from our Good News Centre) which had destroyed 25 homes in only a few minutes. Known as a “shanty town”, these homes are made out of timber and corrugated iron — usually stabilised by leaning on the shack next to it. The landlord who owns the land makes R200 per house per month, so the more of these little huts he can fit in, the better for his wallet.
On the night of our fire, a 7 year old girl (from our Grade R class — we teach brain gym there) was locked in her “Shack” with both her 9 and 2 year old brothers. (The mum had apparently gone to sleep with another man in his shack). The young girl had woken up to use the toilet (a bucket inside the locked shack) and had lit a candle so that she could see. Unfortunately the flame touched the curtain and the fire began. Her older brother broke through a window and tired to pull her out but the brother says she wanted to try and save the little brother and unfortunately neither of the 2 younger ones made it out. The 9 year old however was able to save many lives by waking up the adults in the surrounding huts with enough time to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
As always, while trying to get our heads around this devastating news, we also needed to work out how best to help. The idea of rebuilding came up — but everything here must be looked at from all angles. If we helped rebuild, we would be encouraging the municipality (Local council) not to help, as well as putting money right back in the landlords pocket. We decided the best thing we could right now was be there for support and love … and try and do what was immediately needed: provide food. It was agreed we would make food parcels for the 35 adults (now homeless), get packs for the 9 Sunday School students who attend (who had lost everything as well) and also the 9 year old brother. And we would give them a nice warm meal, take the time to talk and find out their stories.
Sonya and I spent Thursday organising the food parcels. We headed out to a big bulk food store (Makro) and began trying to put together the best, healthiest, cost effective, long-lasting food parcel we could make. A few hours and 2 full trolleys later, we were satisfied with what we had chosen. We then focused on the Sunday School kids. We began putting together stationary packs when Sonya remembered hearing how many times, children who had gone through trauma needed and loved stuffed toys as a “comfort” toy; so we found a nice- sized, cuddly soft-toy for each child to add to their pack.
Thursday night, Glenn had purchased all the food needed to make our meal. Between Rick, Sonya, Glenn and I, we began the preparations. Glenn had decided on a delicious but simple meal of pap, chuckalucka (an African dish consisting of capsicums, beans and onions) and curried mince with a bread roll. We chopped, diced, crushed and sautéed for about the next 4 hours before our tired bodies headed to bed.
Friday morning was our first COPT meeting for the year. It was hard to focus knowing the day we had ahead of us. Glenn did however treat us to a delicious cooked brekky to welcome us all back together with our working family.
After the meeting Sonya headed back to our place to begin putting the packs together. There’s always an overwhelming good feeling when working hard for something so beneficial. A simple food parcel, not even $10 per bag and yet you know that the food in that parcel will feed a family for almost a week! A family who right now have nothing…. nothing! Even making the packs for the Sunday School kids was amazing. We started with the purchased items, but then I went through my little cupboard of donated goods I still have from many people back home and was able to add a soft blanket to each pack, as well as pencils, scissors, a notebook, and small toys and an article of clothing for each.
It makes me so homesick wishing those who had donated could have the blessing of putting the packs together with me, knowing that a simple pencil or rug is making such a huge difference to these young children.
At 4 o’clock we had managed to work out how to transport all the food and parcels to Lamontvile and as we climbed into a very squished car, we were anxious to get there.
Upon arrival, people were already waiting. We got the food set up as quickly as we could while Yvette welcomed everyone. She explained that it was thru God’s blessing that we here and had the ability to help. It was not just those of us they could see, but a community of Christadelphians around the world that had donated money, goods and time, that was making this possible. As they came to get food, they were quiet and not very responsive — though I’m sure they were grateful. A couple of ladies had very bad burns on their arms. My heart went out to how many of the women had young babies in their arms — the fear that must have gone through them as they tried to grab small babies and children while trying to flee.
After the meal, it was decided that we would have one-on-one chats with each of the adults to find out more about themselves, their children and their needs. I know I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I was. I think we all were. Every single persons greatest need was educational — either for their children’s education (uniforms, books, stationary) or for themselves if they were studying. Such a desperate need. Such a realisation that without education, they are stuck in their poverty forever. We decided to go and see their homes and again; nothing prepares you for the sight.
The thing that shocked me was just the size of the land. How little room there is between shacks. What fear and confusion there must have been trying to work out which way the fire was coming even though there was room to get safe, just having to get the 10 meters much have been terrifying. We were told how the fire bridgade had arrived only to find no running water in the area and had had to leave again to collect water. All this happening at 2 am in the morning. If I ever wondered why God chose or us to stay another year, this was it. Such a sad and humbling experience and yet uplifting to know that we are here … and with the help of many Brothers and Sisters we are able to help, and change lives. Feeling truly blessed.