Posted by shaina | 18 December 2013
I am an empathetic person and, as a result, I generally find it quite difficult to attend charitable events which involve visits to places like retirement homes, animal shelters, or crèches. It makes my heart hurt in a way that I find uncomfortable and distressing, so like most people who try to avoid the things that upset them, I like to do charitable things at arm’s length.
But this year, having had a job that didn’t involve making any kind of constructive difference to this world (which left a very large vacant space inside me, usually somewhere in my chest area), I decided that I needed to do something. I needed to do something that mattered in some way, and have been fortunate enough to join a company where philanthropic giving and altruism is actively encouraged.
The first event I had the privilege of attending took place within my first month at Safarinow: a visit to the RGG crèche that our company sponsors. Again, I had to put several feelings and ideas aside to attend. I’m not going to lie: the thought of going into the depths of a township does not fill me with wild anticipation. I was honestly extremely worried that something would happen to my team, me or my car.
However, I decided to ‘man-up’, so to speak, and decided that if people have done it before, I could too. And so off we went on a dismal, overcast day, about 15 of us, cars laden with goodies that had been collected the month before I arrived, apprehensive and excited. The drive to the township was long and took us through areas I had never driven through before; this alone was an experience for me.
On reaching our general destination, I still have no idea how we eventually found the crèche. If you had spun me around twice, I would have had no idea where I had just come from or where I should have been going. It’s an absolute maze in there and, while it is gorgeous and full of vibrant colours and textures, it is not a maze to be trifled with.
Finally, we reached the school. The weather was only just holding up as we stepped inside; it felt like it matched my mood, that any minute it would start raining and I would start getting teary-eyed at seeing the hardship these kids experience every day. But it was everything I didn’t and would never have expected. The walls are brightly coloured, and covered with fun and educational posters. There are little tables and chairs for them to sit and draw and eat at.
The true prize of the day, however, was the children: they were gems. They predictably started off very shy and sort of milled around us, seemingly not really knowing what to do with these giants that had invaded their school. Then again, we were just as awkward; if you’re not around children a lot, which most of us are not, then you do tend to feel a bit out of your depth when you’re suddenly surrounded by 20 of them.
But it only took one of us getting down to their level and offering a bear hug for those little munchkins to warm up to us. Within seconds, they were all over us, hugging, jumping around, dancing, wanting to be picked up and swung around, leaping from person to person, wanting more. We got the gifts out the way early in the visit: each child grabbed something that we brought along, and then lined up against one of the walls and broke into a sweet little song of thanks.
Then we got down to the real fun: play time! Drawing, making origami swans and paper planes, and just generally playing silly buggers; there’s nothing like being around kids to bring out the child in you that you had forgotten long ago. And lunchtime was incredibly structured, which was wonderful to see. The two women running the crèche didn’t take any nonsense from the little ones, and any griping or naughtiness was quickly put in check.
However, it was far from being all sunshine and daisies. On exploring the school a little further, you can see the true state of it: disrepair. The lovely colourful walls are dirty; the wall connected to the outside is mouldy. There was water everywhere from the rain Cape Town had had during that week; there were small lakes of stagnant water outside the back-room with all manner of insect and algae breeding there.
There is very little by way of educational material, which for me is always disappointing to see. As it finally started to rain, it was splattering into the front room, and the room was also very cold, never a good thing for children. The floor needs to be redone, and the roof is leaky. That place is simply not good enough for the massive task that is looking after kids.
In the end, while I didn’t get to be part of collecting the treats we shared with all those gorgeous little ones, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to put aside my preconceived ideas and give them their goodies, to see their faces shine in delight, not so much because of the treats but because of the attention that was being lavished on them. But they need so much more. They need an extraordinary amount of help to get their crèche to the standard it deserves to be, and I look forward to continuing to be part of that.