We arrived at the ADP, a modest collection of small buildings, and were warmly greeted by the Project Manager Ledile and Maite her colleague. They welcomed us back to their project like long lost friends, which in a way we are!
We were eager to hear news of Dieketseng’s family and sadly it was not good. Both of Dieketseng’s parents were unwell – they were unable to work, which was very worrying.
Our first stop was Dieketseng’s secondary school to collect her and take her to her home. Before we leave the school, Dieketseng had a request – can we take a photo with her best friend?! Happy to help, we waited while she rushed off to find her one friend. But obviously she wanted more than one to join in the attention and be cool for the day – so she came back with a gaggle of friends! Amongst much giggling, we managed to get a photo of us and the group of girls.
At Dieketseng’s house we were greeted by Joseph and Angelique, her parents, as well as her sister and niece, and it is like we are returning to our own family. Both parents looked very unwell, and were struggling to breathe, but we respected their privacy and did not ask directly about their health. Although, Ledile teased Joseph about the impact of his roll-ups on his coughing, especially as he uses strips of old newspaper in place of a Rizla!
We wanted to see lots of the successful projects around the ADP and Dieketseng must get back to school, but none of us seemed to want this time to end. The sweetness of sharing time with them is, in the moment that we actually leave, overwhelmed by the bitter feeling of having to part. Deep breaths, and a few tears, in the car and we were off to see some of the community projects the ADP and Choko are supporting.
We left Dieketseng’s village and headed to another one nearby, called Enable. On the very very edge of the village, beyond which lies bush not dissimilar to the vegetation we see in the wildlife parks, we saw a very smart sign telling us we had arrived at the Phafogang Piggery Project, supported by World Vision.
We were excited to see this project because piggeries are Choko’s next focus. We were welcomed by the ladies who run this women’s co-operative. The piggery project is essentially about 15 pig sties built in two continuous rows, with an alley down the centre. Nearest to us, the pen is filled by two large sows, making quite a noise because it is near feeding time. Further down are suckling sows and very cute piglets. In total there are about 100 pigs.
The leader of the ladies showed us a certificate they have already won in a local competition for entrepreneurship. She was very proud, and deserves to be. Ledile explained to us how the project works. The ladies raise the pigs from one (very contented) male. After 8 months the pigs are large enough to be of interest to the local butcher, and the ladies can sell them.
World Vision has given these ladies support to build the pens, and purchase feed in that initial eight month cycle. Clearly there is a need for a lot of capital to start this project – building materials and the eight months of feed etc – before any income is created through meat sales. World Vision also help with the business and banking skills, and by getting the state vet and advisors to visit the project and help the ladies. Then Ledile explained that the pigs’ final journey to the abattoir happens in her pickup truck, and she was quick to establish that the ladies must clean the truck afterwards (and not on the outside!).
The co-operative consists of ten women, plus 27 other staff who are paid on some sort of welfare-to-work scheme the government runs. So almost 40 people are deriving an income from the project.
And with employment so scarce, this probably means over 100 people directly sustained day to day by this project alone. And, once they are over this initial start-up phase, the project is totally self-sustaining.
It is a cliche I know, but this is a classic example of World Vision’s mantra of ‘a hand up, not a hand-out’.
From the piggery project we travelled through the village of Worcester to Butswana, to visit an orphan drop-in centre that is a part of the Water Project supported by Choko. A range of sheds house hundreds of chickens – bought as day-old-chicks and then raised for meat by another women’s co-operative supported financially and through training by World Vision.
Ledile pointed out another advantage of these community-based enterprises: they will sell produce in whatever quantity a customer can afford. So, even if an orphan only has the money for one egg, they will sell just one egg, not a packet of six. This means that for families where money is very tight, they can at least afford some food, if not much.
At the other end of the yard we saw the market garden. After six months with virtually no rain, the whole of this part of the country was brown, but here was a literal oasis of green amongst the dead vegetation.
A borehole, pump and dam installed by World Vision and funded by Choko is bringing water to this patch of ground – and a range of crops are growing, including tomatoes, a sort of spinach and beetroot. The crops grown here are used to feed the orphans and any surplus is sold to fund other food that is not easily grown.
Many of our friends in Choko have worked hard to raise funds for this project, and it was so heart-warming to see it working on the ground.
We left the drop-in centre and hurried to the Morabudi Disabled Centre, hoping to catch the children before they go home.
When the first Choko trip came here in 2007, we met Agnes Mashumu, an ordinary mother who had set up a place for children with disabilities to come and interact with other similar children (they are not allowed to attend school and are often hidden away in the villages).
Five years ago they were meeting in a ruined church with no floor, no windows and only half a roof. On top of the mental and physical disabilities these children faced, their surroundings were abject. As the Choko group left, in tears, in 2007 we vowed to do something about it – and we raised £35,000 to build a purpose-built facility for Mrs Mashumu and the children she cares for.
In 2009 we visited the building site for the project – and saw a line of bricks six inches high where the building would be. It was moving to see things started, but it was still a dream, not a reality.
As we pulled up outside, neither Bev or I could believe what we saw. The building was complete and the hard work of our friends in the UK was there before our eyes. It was hard not to cry with joy.
We went in and met Mrs Mashumu and her team. We were told that 49 children now attend the centre and that having the building and a more solid basis has allowed them to receive government funding and that they have the support of social workers and health professionals, none of which would have happened without Choko’s fundraising and World Vision’s management.
We went through to meet the children, who were very excited to have visitors, and they sang us a couple of songs, which we were later told were hymns. Never before have I witnessed such an out-of-tune, out-of-rhythm and awful sounding choir. And never again will I hear such a beautiful sound.
The children range in levels of disability, of course, but they do not range in their excitement and welcome, and it was one of the most moving moments of my life.
I wish so many people could have been there to share it with us – those who have sky-dived, used Choko as the beneficiary of their wedding gift list, sold bric a brac at car boot sales or run many and various events, including our annual Beer Festival. These young people have a better future because of those fundraising efforts, and that made me very proud to have been involved.
We saw the children having their lunch. Many cannot feed themselves, many cannot speak and most have trouble controlling their movements, but this is a truly happy place. We told Mrs Mashumu how inspiring she is and thanked her. She was bemused that two people from a long way away would think this, but was happy to accept our warm words.
Again, we didn’t want to leave, because being here feeds the soul, and helps one believe that whatever despair one feels or sees, there is always hope. Especially when Ledile is on the case!
From the Disabled Centre we returned to the ADP office and Ledile dropped into the conversation what she will have to show us ‘next time you come’ – and we laughed together at her deliberate assumption that we will return.
Back on the road home we tried to process all that we saw and felt in that whirlwind day. This community has made huge strides since we first came in 2005, we saw many instances where the drive and initiative of the community, coupled with the funding from Choko and the knowledge of World Vision, has really started to make a sustainable difference to many lives.
But we also saw abject poverty, malnutrition, illness, suffering and despair. There is still work to be done, and we left with the resolve to carry on doing what we can to help. And we want to share our stories with whoever we can, especially the supporters of Choko, who can know their money is well spent and achieves great things.
We felt very lucky. Lucky to have the material wealth we enjoy in the UK, lucky to have our health, but mostly lucky to have had a short insight into the lives of this community, their struggles, their victories and their hopes. We especially felt lucky to have met the likes of Mrs Mashumu, the ladies at the piggery project and especially Ledile the ADP Manager.
And she’s right, we will be back….
Sadly, four days after our visit Angelique Maakamela lost her battle with tuberculosis and passed away, robbing a poor household of a loving mother and grandmother, and the only wage earner. In her memory, we have renewed our determination to help the community of Kodumela overcome the poverty, HIV/AIDS prevalence and poor access to healthcare that contributes to the untimely passing of someone like Angelique. May she rest in peace.