How volunteering put life in perspective

SYLVIA Morgan nearly burst into tears when she returned from Africa and shopped at Tesco's for the first time. It was a culture shock in reverse: the in-your-face abundance of western consumerism contrasting painfully with life south of the equator.

SYLVIA Morgan nearly burst into tears when she returned from Africa and shopped at Tesco's for the first time. It was a culture shock in reverse: the in-your-face abundance of western consumerism contrasting painfully with life south of the equator.

“I couldn't cope,” admits the retired nurse. “Now, of course, I will think twice before I buy anything - and feel guilty about it when I do.”

Hardly surprising. Months spent helping Zulu children in South Africa - some with HIV, some with a history of abuse, all needy - is enough of a reality check for anyone. In Britain we fret about decorating our bathrooms with fancy tiles; at Khayelihle Care Centre a bath-plug might be a stone wrapped in a rag. Showering often involved a bucket and yoghurt pot - and possibly sharing space with a large frog or chameleon - and the electricity supply was unpredictable. There were ferocious thunderstorms that, on occasion, cancelled the children's bathtime because of the risk of lightning striking the tin roofs.

Worse, robberies were frequent as desperate people sought items to sell. Sometimes they held up people with knives; once they had guns.

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Sylvia didn't suffer directly in this way, but she did endure dreadful homesickness - and a lingering abscess, caused by a spider bite, that left her wondering if she shouldn't really pack it all in and go home.

She's eternally glad she didn't. The pensioner returned to Suffolk passionate about the project. By her own admission not a natural publicity-seeker, she hopes that by talking about her experiences she can continue supporting the cause.

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“My life is now in perspective. I honestly have got no patience with anyone who moans - like the man complaining about waiting in the queue at Tesco a few weeks ago. I didn't say anything because I knew I would get angry and it wouldn't have made a difference, but he was so rude to the assistants and managers.”

He should take a trip to the province of KwaZulu-Natal, in the valley of 1,000 hills, and watch local people wait patiently for much of the day to see a doctor.

Or feel the sense of helplessness experienced by Sylvia when she saw a baby boy with a burned bottom. He'd fallen into a fire: a common hazard for youngsters.

The grandmother, who's from the Woodbridge area and celebrates her 67th birthday this month, has a long-held deep love of Africa, its wildlife and people.

The seed was planted when she was a teenager by TV programmes presented by Armond and Michaela Denis, and more recently by David Attenborough and Charlotte Uhlenbroek. But it was only in the last decade or so that she set foot on the continent for the first time, visiting Kenya and Tanzania. Since then she's added Uganda and Gabon.

She's also been to Rwanda - twice - falling in love with the people and feeling moved by the way they are trying to recover from the terrible genocide that tore the country apart.

An episode a few years ago demonstrated how different life can be, depending on the circumstances into which you're born. Sylvia's sight-seeing party was surrounded by soldiers with guns, though they didn't point their weapons at the tourists.

“We were taken to the police station for a couple of hours. I thought to myself that I knew my mum would be looking down on me: 'I told you not to go! You'll get yourself into trouble!'” she laughs. “'Yes, Mum, I know! But we'll get out of this.'”

The visitors were accused of being journalists bent on making money out of the pictures they were taking.

After a series of calls to the British embassy in Kigali, and the tour operator, the party was released - but not before a sum of money was handed over on the orders of the local authorities.

Sylvia's desire to go to South Africa and help at the children's home stems from 2002, when she saw The Young Zulu Warriors perform at Orwell Park School, just outside Ipswich. Some of the dancers and singers live at the centre, or used to. She also talked to Heather Reynolds, who founded God's Golden Acre Khayelihle 20-odd years ago.

Retirement in April 2005, after a 40-year nursing career, gave her the opportunity to volunteer, and early in the new year Sylvia boarded a plane for Johannesburg, apprehensive but excited.

Khayelihle (it means beautiful home) was looking after about 90 children at the time, with the carers a mixture of Zulus and volunteers from around the globe. Some of the youngsters are orphans whose parents have died from Aids or violence; some have been abused; some are street children with no family; others have some kind of physical or mental condition.

Home for Sylvia was a round cottage called a rondavel. Her shared room was quite luxurious compared to other rondavels - if a chipboard bed with a thin and uncomfortable mattress can be called luxurious. Still, she managed to avoid the fleas and bed bugs that afflicted other volunteers.

Sylvia's job was to look after the creche babies: about seven toddlers aged from 12 months to three years old. She was known as Gogo Sylvia; it's a respectful word for a grandmotherly type. Younger carers are called aunties.

It was a bit of a culture shock for someone steeped in British nursing protocol. The area where the children had their nappies changed was also where bottles were made up. “I got used to having hankies for the snotty noses in one pocket and cleaning gel and tissues for my own use in the other!” she laughs.

It's worth telling the stories of a couple of the children.

One - we'll call her Anna - was something of a miracle child. She had nearly died of full-blown Aids and hadn't been expected to live beyond the previous Christmas. The frail orphan was about two-and-a-half years old, and a fighter. Against the odds, she had responded well to drugs, though was very wheezy. If she didn't want to go to the clinic for her twice-daily nebuliser treatment, she let people know!

During Sylvia's time there, Anna took her first steps - and would also provide the Suffolk volunteer's most treasured memory.

Anna's elderly grandmother was brought up from her village to see the little girl and be with her at supper-time. “I escorted her over and I felt quite privileged,” says Sylvia. “Then she took my hands between hers, in the Zulu way, and said 'Thank you' and 'God bless you.' That was my best moment.”

Then there was a two-year-old boy abandoned in a hospital when only a few months old, and very ill. His grandmother claimed custody of him, backed by a court order, and Sylvia watched him leave the place that had become his home. There were suspicions the grandma had discovered a government grant was available to a carer.

Some time later, during a food drop in the village where he was now living, it became clear the little boy was again very ill. He was dehydrated, lethargic and had lost weight. The charity managed to get permission from a magistrate the following week to take him to a hospital.

Sylvia, who has photographs of “her” seven African children on the wall by the stairs, has kept in touch with how things are going back at Khayelihle.

She's seen a picture of Anna taken last Christmas, looking bonny and happy. The young boy, meanwhile, had been very ill, had nearly died, and had spent nine months in hospital. “I've just heard that he's back home again with his grandmother, on the proviso he has regular health checks at the hospital.” Everyone has their fingers crossed. Sylvia points out that charitable work brings its dilemmas: sometimes it's difficult to find the balance between helping and being seen as interfering in family affairs.

While caring for the children was rewarding, if tiring, those robberies were enough to rattle one's spirit. “I even said to myself 'What are you doing here?' But Heather did say at a meeting 'If you go home now, you're deserting the children.'“ Emotional blackmail, most certainly - but a forthright approach is necessary when children need care and time and resources are limited.

That spider bite and subsequent abscess under her neck came when “I was at a low point and said 'I hate Africa!' I was also finding it quite difficult physically, being . . . old, as the kids would put it! We lost the buggy at one point” - older children used the wheels for a go-kart! “My hip was quite sore for a while when I got home. I would go back if I were 40, fit and free, but it's something you really need to do for perhaps a few years in your 20s.”

That said, the worst thing about her stay was something relatively innocuous: being unable to wander in the lanes near the complex to watch deer, monkeys and other animals. With potential robbers around, it was simply too dangerous. Sylvia found the lack of independence somewhat claustrophobic.

Returning to England hasn't broken the connection with God's Golden Acre. Sylvia would love to go back and visit in the future, and for the moment is helping to organise toiletries for The Young Zulu Warriors when they come to the UK for 15 concerts. She particularly needs sets for the older members. Anyone who would like to help with these items - such as flannels, deodorants and pants - can contact Sylvia on 01394 386675 (email to check requirements.

Set against the growing western commercialisation of Easter, it's another reminder of global inequality.

Sylvia, a mother of three grown-up children and grandma to six youngsters aged 10 months to 16 years, is aghast at the mountains of chocolate and related toys on the shelves. “I wasn't going to buy my grandchildren Easter eggs, but I have relented for three of the little ones.

“Can you imagine how I feel when they're spending lots of money on fashionable clothes for these special film nights” - the BAFTAs and Oscars. “I get quite angry. And at lottery winners wasting their money on expensive houses and cars.”

Sylvia admits: “I think myself lucky when I go to bed each night: a warm, clean bed. And it was so nice to be independent. I didn't have transport there, and so to be able to jump in my car now - to go where I want when I want - is a luxury.”

The washing-machine played up at Christmas. Her son repaired it, installing new parts. “To buy a new one would be £260, and that's too much money,” she says. “How many families could you feed for a month for that? It changes your attitude.”

GOD'S Golden Acre Khayelihle, a charity, runs outreach projects to help children stay with their families or communities by developing their natural talents. For youngsters who cannot live with their parents or relatives, there's the centre run by foster parents and carers with support from international volunteers like Sylvia.

The charity says KwaZulu-Natal is the worst-affected area in the world for Aids, with 36% of the population HIV positive. Dozens and dozens of people die each day and many orphans need looking after.

Its latest newsletter tells of new areas for rugby, netball, tennis and volleyball. Life-skill sessions are under way. Leathercraft is also on the timetable, along with drawing, painting, stencilling, sewing, knitting and photography. Work is progressing on a craft centre for welding, metalwork and pottery.

Students are taught computer literacy skills each evening on five computers recently installed in the library. Three pupils have enrolled on a one-year electrical training course at a college.

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And now Sylvia's diary, in her own words:

In January 2006 I spent 4 months in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa to do volunteer work helping to care for children at God's Golden Acre. This is a home for children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic, victims of violence, physical, sexual abuse, street kids, physically or mentally impaired. The home is called Khayelihle, (beautiful home) and the complex was once a holiday resort so there were many useful buildings for housing, offices etc and playgrounds with swings etc as well as a swimming pool and a water slide. An ideal place for these beautiful children to recover from their tragic past.

I first met Heather, the founder at a school in Nacton, Ipswich when the Young Zulu Warriors were with their concert tour of the UK in 2002. I was so impressed by their exuberant dancing, talented singing and with Heather's talk about how she came to be involved with such a wonderful project and of course the AIDS pandemic. Her story has now been told in full in a biography. I decided then that when I retired I would become a volunteer and fulfil a lifelong ambition.

So on a Sunday afternoon 9th January 2006 my son drove a very apprehensive mother to Gatwick airport. On the long flight to Joburg I read a bit more of Heather's biography to take my mind off things. Who will meet me at Durban, will I be able to cope with the challenges that lay ahead, perhaps a dying child, as that is a frequent occurrence where AIDs is so common?

About 20 years ago Heather was working in Uganda when she came upon a dying child on the floor of a hut. That is when she decided to help every child in need she could. When she returned to her home in South Africa she learnt that there were thousands of children in her own country in need of care due to the AIDs pandemic. At first she and her sculptor husband took children into their own home to care for but soon there were too many to cope with. They used their savings and often faced financial ruin as well as prejudice from the white community and the black! What does this crazy white woman want with our children? They did have some help from the Zulu community especially the women and eventually the likes of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu and the King of the Zulus King Zwelithini Goodwill KaBhekuzulu. Now at Cato Ridge, Kwa Zulu Natal Heather and her husband have established a home for approximately 90 children at the time when I arrived. They are cared for with love from Zulu carers assisted by many volunteers from all over the world.

The plane landed at Joburg on 10th January on a very wet morning, which was very disappointing, as it is not the Africa I know and love from my several visits in the last few years. Then I reminded myself I wasn't here for a holiday anyway so made my way with two big bags and a rucksack for the domestic connection flight to Durban. One of my cases was full of things for the kids, clothes and toys so I was rather annoyed to be charged for excess luggage. An hour later I was in Durban and was most surprised to be approached immediately by a man who introduced himself as Petrus from God's golden Acre. How did he know I was a volunteer, did I look as lost as I felt? There were about 5 other volunteers to meet off different planes and eventually we piled into a Combi for the hour's drive to Cato Ridge. The countryside was a lush green with purple jacaranda trees and flame trees. The roads were also good compared with the other countries in Africa I have been to and there were lots of hills. So again there were many differences to what I expected.

At God's golden Acre we were met by our co-ordinator, an English lady and I was so relieved she was about the same age as me. We were shown around where the children lived in purpose built houses with about 30 in each, the rondavels, (roundhouses) were used for offices and storage etc. There was a house with a tin roof, which is where Heather and her husband first lived with the children, now it is a crèche where I would be helping to care for 6 toddlers. We were taken to our various accommodations and I was to share a room with our co-ordinator in a rondavel for about 7 people. I was given supper by my housemates until I would be taken to the local supermarket, (more like a corner shop in England) to get my own basic supplies. There was a shower, which made a loud knocking noise due to airlocks, a small oven and two rings, but you had to make sure nothing else electrical was on before using it as the switch would trip. The washing machine didn't work so I got used to hand washing for the duration of my stay. It dried quickly so we only needed one set of bed linen and towels. My bed was extremely uncomfortable as it was made of chipboard and occasionally we had to deal with bed bugs and fleas. Our accommodation was quite luxurious compared to what many people have in the nearby villages so we had nothing to complain about. We just had to be prepared for the occasions when the water was off by having a collection of full containers and of course candles for the power cuts. What a learning curve this would be! Also communal living was another thing to have to adjust to.

The next day I was feeling like a fish out of water but reassured that everyone feels like this at first.

We were taken to the Spar shop and I made friends with the other English girl who arrived with me. She was the only black volunteer so it was no surprise that the children and people in the shop etc spoke to her in Zulu at first, which of course she can't speak. We helped each other at the ATM machine by keeping watch, and we shared food supplies, as large amounts would go off quickly in the heat.

Back at GGA we had an orientation meeting and we soon learnt that security was a big issue for our safety in South Africa so we never could to leave the complex except accompanied by staff in a vehicle. This was a bit disappointing as I would loved to have walked in the nearby tracks where there some wild animals like monkeys and deer etc. and down to the villages but that was a “no go” area especially for whites! Very sad, and what a culture shock.

The days were hot and sunny and the evenings and nights misty very quickly from the nearby hills and valleys. Now it was summer in South Africa so I thought of my family and friends back home in the middle of a cold winter.

It took me about 5 minutes to walk to the crèche on my first working day and the children were playing in the playground, some still in their pyjamas as it was still the 6 week school summer holiday in South Africa. I met the two I would be working with, an American lady, one of my housemates and another young English girl. She was volunteering for the 2nd time for a period of a year each time. They were already changing nappies, washing and dressing the toddlers so I approached the nearest little girl and made friends with her first before picking her up. When I did I needed to remember that babies have rather a full nappy this time of the morning. Anyway all went well and she accepted me without any fuss bearing in mind I was a stranger to her so I was relieved about that. Her clean clothes were all to hand and so were all the other baby needs, creams etc and gloves from a donation of surgical hospital gloves out of date and were needed. When they were all ready we piled 3 into a buggy and the rest had to walk over to the dining room to join the other 80+ children for breakfast. In the dining room it was very noisy until the Zulu Auntie got them to be quiet and say grace. An auntie is a young Zulu lady carer as some of the children may have a mother. A Gogo is a grandmother and we had several Gogos and of course that is what I was known as, Gogo Sylvia. A child said to me “You're very old”, as many of them do speak English. I was a bit taken aback as that would be impolite in my culture but in fact it was a compliment, an elder is held in high regard. They had a kind of cereal or porridge for breakfast and milk. There were also 2 or 3 volunteers to help supervise the mayhem and everyone always wanted second helpings. After breakfast we helped our babes to clean their teeth and do any nappy changes etc. We took them to a playroom where there were books, crayons and toys to play and a sort of sandpit outside. The bigger children went in the playground under the watchful eye of two or three volunteers. The gogos and aunties had chores like washing and cleaning to do

It took me about a week to get to know the babe's names and two of them looked similar and they were both great mates and loved each other's company. The little girl I picked up first was a little miracle as she was dying from full-blown aids in Autumn 2005. She had reached the stage where treatment is not usually attempted but she was a little fighter so it was decided to give her a chance. Anti-retroviral drugs were commenced and she responded. When I arrived in January she had improved considerably but she was very thin and had lots of chest and breathing problems. For this she had a twice-daily nebuliser treatment with only salt and water solution, as well her many drugs for AIDs several times a day. She was a strong willed little girl and often threw a paddy if she didn't want her treatment. So we too had to be as strong and determined if she was to survive. The older children on Anti-retroviral drugs mostly came to the clinic routinely on time for their many medications.

AIDS means Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome caused by the HIV virus. The virus slowly kills off the immune system thus making the person non-resistant to normal infections and more serious ones like tuberculosis. A healthy person can normally overcome these infections with antibiotics. Ant-retroviral drugs improve the chances of survival but there are many to take and must be take regularily and strictly on time. If doses are missed or stopped AIDS will develop become more severe and untreatable.

11am was snack time and they would have a peanut butter and jam sandwich and water or sometimes fruit or yoghurt if there has been a donation. Sometimes we bought them yoghurt, as they really needed it to help their digestion. The Zulu diet is mainly beans and we felt it was a bit harsh for their digestive system and may have been part of the cause of their persistent diarrhoea. Lunchtime was similar but occasionally eggs for a treat, bananas, biscuits, cakes etc if a donation or just bread and marge.

12th January 2006

Heather returned from a Conference and fundraising trip in the UK and she gave TV and Radio interviews. After lunch everyone gathered on her veranda to welcome her home, all the children, gogos, aunties and volunteers.

For our babes 1-30-was “Lala”, (nap) time and for the volunteers on morning shift time to go off duty and hand over to the afternoon shift. The babes slept for 2 hours, (sometimes). One little boy was particularly difficult to settle but the only way he would was if you lay down with him and cuddle him. Perhaps he missed his mother maybe. The gogos would be doing their ironing in the same room and the older children were playing noisily outside. January is very hot and humid

I had been here only a few days and already was feeling very homesick and missing my grandchildren more than I expected so I met up with my English friend who came the same day as I did and she too was feeling the same.

There was a phone and the Internet for the volunteers, which you had to book time on and if you were lucky it worked. I never did manage to use the Internet successfully. The younger volunteers did manage to use the Internet a lot. I phoned home a few times, but when I heard my children's voices it made me miss them even more! You had to buy “Air time” at the supermarket.

After the babe's had their afternoon Lala time they would have a drink of water and perhaps a biscuit then play with the older children. They were very active, climbing trees, making karts from rubbish, there was as skateboard, which they took our babes for rides on. It was a rather difficult to keep and eye on them with nearly 90 children playing everywhere on the swings and slides. We had to make sure the older ones didn't get too rough and keep them out of the long grass because of poisonous snakes and spiders. There were several volunteers on patrol and playing with them and it was great to see so many young men and women from many countries really enjoying helping these children. There were many German young men as their country allows them to do something like this if they do not want to go in the army. Some were going onto university to become doctors or social workers, others were into computers so they could help with teaching the children computer skills as now there was a computer room set up by charitable organisations such as The Rotary club.

Suppertime was 6pm and they had a cooked meal of maybe chicken, beans, rice and water. One baby loved his food and tears would be streaming down his little face while singing Grace. After supper the older children could either play outside or do their homework with the help of volunteers. Each house had Zulu carers for the night and volunteers doing various activities with them till about 9pm. Also of course they were bathed or showered.

As for our babes we bathed them altogether in the same bath and could wash 5-6 at once in the same bath. That was fun as they liked to play with the water and pull the plug out, (this by the way was a stone wrapped in a piece of rag). It was great when we had bubble bath given to us by one of the volunteer's mother on Norway. After reading them a story in English, which they can understand very well we settled them in their very nice wooden cots and the Zulu ladies stayed with them all night and slept in the same room. One of the Zulu aunties was one of the Young Zulu Warriors when they toured the UK in 2002 and now she is caring for the babes with her own baby as well as keeping the crèche lovely and clean

One evening in my house we were talking till late and suddenly a loud knock on the door and by now we had locked the metal security gate as well. Anyway it was Heather's sister shouting didn't we hear anything as the rondavel nearby was being broken into. The security guard had heard the would be robbers trying to cut the metal security gate and had even tried to remove the thatch off the roof to get in. During the day that rondavel was being prepared for a group of visitors from America who were going to do some building work. Maybe the Zulu ladies were being watched from the long grass taking in linen, electrical appliances. This was to be the first of several robberies while I was at GGA so “Welcome to South Africa”. There is not a security fence round the complex as it would be too expensive.

The next day the American group arrived and a new security gate fitted to their rondavel. That evening my room mate and I joined them to have a meal with Heather and what an experience that was. We sat out till late talking on the veranda and Heather was interested in each one of us and our reasons for wanting to volunteer. She remembered me talking to her at the young Zulu Warrior concert in Nacton! She is an amazing woman and spoke about her experiences, good and bad since taking on caring for these children. She also takes in stray animals so there are several cats, dogs, a pony and two sheep, which were meant for the dinner table but they never made it. Her husband is a very quiet man and in her words a saint to put up with her. He is a well-known sculptor and his work is in great demand in South Africa and in the UK now. This of course is their income and he also does sell some of his work to support God's Golden Acre.

The next few days were a mixture of events, I watched a man teaching the children to dance the Zulu way and in the evening I watched a rehearsal of the Young Zulu Warrior concert preparing for a tour of Germany and Holland in March. Heather came too and it was so funny to see her being followed by a pony, sheep and dogs. It was quit difficult trying to film the proceedings with a sheep nudging my arm. Heather was also nursing one of our crèche babes who is nearly one year old now. She has been at GGA since she was about 1 month old and came from hospital after being found in a forest.

One day I got my shift wrong, which upset me a lot but it didn't matter as a Canadian family had arrived so were helping out at the crèche. One of the gogos gave me a big hug and she knew I was missing my own family. The father was a teacher so it was ok to take their two daughters out of school. He was going to be helping at our pre-school and the mother was going to get involved with the farm in another place nearby. She was also going to help out at the crèche sometimes so I showed her how to use the nebuliser at the clinic. Sometimes we brought the toddlers to play near our rondavel so that they could play in a paddling pool we had and a climbing frame. Also sometimes the older ones would get too rough with them so it made a change to do something different.

One of the girls who arrived the same day as me came down to our rondavel in tears. It seems that some of the teenage girls were giving her a hard time with bad behaviour. So one of my housemates who is in the same team with these girls gave them a good talking to about their unkindness and that she would not give them some gifts she had received from her family in America until they improved their attitude towards the new volunteer. It worked so a few days later things were much improved and they got their gifts of pretty clothes form America.

There were several dramatic thunderstorms with torrential rain and very loud thunder and lightning. The rain came into our house like a river, as there is no sealing between the floor and walls. In the crèche area it was very scary as the thunder made the tin roofs rattle but the babes took no notice and carried in playing while the volunteers were frightened. The Zulu Gogos did not bath the children that night though.

The older children go to school in a big white bus donated by Oprah Winfrey and the children look smart in their blue school uniforms. When they come home after school they have to change their clothes immediately.

I was having a difficult time with one of the toddlers; she really had behaviour problems and yet could be so loving at times. She would throw a tantrum over something as simple about putting on her clothes. We tried different strategies like letting her choose, then she would still throw them on the floor and even wet herself intentionally, (she was potty trained). We bought her some pretty new knickers but that didn't work. Sometimes she would hit the other children when you weren't looking. She would also go into a sort of trance for a minute or two so the clinic nurse arranged for to be seen at then hospital and have investigations including an HIV test. Sadly there is a stigma about having AIDs so that doesn't help the people in the villages to seek medical help. Also there are a lot of myths eg it is widely believed that to have sex with a child it will cure your disease. Education of course is very important against the fight of AIDS. So some volunteers would have special meetings with the teenagers regarding health education and relation ships etc. Health care is free in South Africa but for the people in the outlying villages means walking many miles and waiting for hours at the hospital or clinic and the public hospitals are overwhelmed. Many babies are born in the bush so don't have birth certificates, which they need for school etc. Also when one of the German lads was organising some of the children's passports for the young Zulu Warrior tour to Germany he had many problems over this. He had to go to police stations to establish the child's identity or see the chief of the village before eventually getting a passport for them.

While most people in the complex were watching an impromptu concert one evening in the theatre one of the permanent male staff was being robbed at gunpoint and left tied up. The robbers took all his electrical appliances, bedding, clothes etc and of course was very scared. After he got himself free he raised the alarm, and the police were called. He moved to a rondavel near the offices and of course it took several weeks for him to replace his things. The goods would be sold of course to buy food etc so after this we began to have serious meetings about the security problem. Lighting would be improved some kind of alarm system and more security guards. We did have a pepper spray, which is like CS gas and legal in South Africa and when it went off accidentally it was very unpleasant for our breathing for several minutes. At a meeting Heather was complimentary that no one had decided to leave after this but she also said that if you did you would be deserting the children. We have to understand that we seem to be so rich compared to them so that makes it ok!

The theatre by the way was built with the funds raised from the UK tour of 2002 and it not only benefits the children at GGA but the people in the local villages can come and use it for concerts and other events. It still needs a decent floor and seats. Our children often have impromptu concerts and sing and dance in there if the weather is too hot or raining.

A church service is held in the dining room most Sundays and all the children are expected to attend. They are being taught Christian values but at the same time keeping their Zulu culture. It was quite an experience very exuberant singing and even some dancing.

My housemates visited a Zulu village and also attended a “Shaka”, which is a healing ceremony with strange happenings. Then they were made very welcome at a church service. They also visited a hospital where there were many burnt babies due to them falling on to the open fires for cooking and the parents were perhaps drunk.

At a meeting we were advised on how to deal with two particularly difficult children who are hyperactive. We also had sad news about one of the children who went home for Christmas to her aunt but has not returned. She has been taken by another relative and may be being used for prostitution somewhere.

A volunteer and her friends were enjoying a day out at a beautiful gorge when they were robbed at knife point of their money, shoes, picnic, her mother's necklace and ring and watches. She was thankful they never harmed them and they didn't take the car keys so at least they got home in bare feet though!

At the end of each month a birthday party is held for all the children whose birthdays were in that month with a cake and presents.

One of my housemates has received lots of lovely toys as a donation from her friends in America after being in store somewhere in Durban for several months. The shipping company wanted a large fee to release it, far more than the goods were worth so she called their bluff and said they could keep it. So at last they have reduced the fee to a more realistic amount so we had lots of lovely gifts for the children and some useful medicines. Actually if we get a parcel at the post office we have to pay a fee to collect it and it takes a long time to get stamps etc from the post office. I have to smile to myself now that I'm home and people complain about long queues at the post office and checkouts at super markets etc.

I like everyone else am getting a lot of mosquito bites becoming infected but thankfully it is not a malarial area. My friend gave me some Aloe Vera cream to ease the itching. At the clinic when giving out little girl her nebuliser I was able to read up and make notes about the treatment of Aids. The clinic nurse was also very helpful and we are looking after her little boy in the crèche when she is working. She is German and came bout 5 years ago and married a Zulu. Her son is very talented and can speak Zulu, English and German and will make a very good Zulu dancer one day.

I managed to get a lot of much needed towels from the warehouse and I had several letters from friends and family at home. I can't tell you how much it means to get letters from home. I thought of people like my granddad in the First World War in France being so out of touch with his wife and family for many years while fighting in the trenches.


On a weekend off 19 of us piled into a 15 seater, (no such thing as Health and Safety) minibus to go to the shopping mall in Durban. It was nice to get away from the complex and have some “normal” retail therapy and enjoy a meal out with the others. The Canadian family are involved with the farm project and now have some chicks. They will eventually be given to families and when they produce chicks to give them back for other families. Two of the people I arrived with are fed up, as they still don't have a toilet or shower at the farm project. The return trip was even more cramped with our shopping and the driver had to pick up some donations in Durban.

I phoned home and my daughter said she was well and that all was well with her pregnancy. I was so happy when she asked me if I would help her with the baby when she goes back to work eventually.

A group of Indian people came and cooked a BRAAI (BBQ) for the children and volunteers and this happened again during my stay.

April 7th was

A VERY EXCITNG DAY our dear little girl who was dying from AIDS last year took her first steps and she was so proud. Everyone on the complex came to the crèche to watch her walk then emails were flying all over the world to former volunteers and I thought that her parents must be so proud if they were looking down on her.

I got talking to two girls who were admiring my bracelet I had bought in Kenya. It became apparent that they didn't know there were many other African countries other than South Africa. They also asked a lot of questions about me, how old was I, who did I sleep with, where was my husband and children. They also seem to think that white people don't die as some of us are so old who visit God's Golden Acre. This reflects the fact that the life span of many people is 46-50 if they are lucky.

I was hoping to go on a food drop, which is a monthly event delivering essential supplies to granny or child headed families. A grandmother or older sibling may be caring for as many as 13 children. The families are chosen by a social worker in the village. This is one of Heather's projects and for which she fund raises for. This is where the likes of me come in because we can raise awareness of these things when we get home and get sponsors for each family. Anyway as I said I was hoping to go on a food drop but when I realised how much lifting of the sacks of beans etc on and off the lorry I decided against it. I was already beginning to get lots of new aches and pains from having to carry the babes for A to B for a few weeks. Some children had pinched our buggy and made a go-cart with the wheels and it was several weeks before we could find a replacement in the warehouse. Of course the Zulu women don't have prams as they either carry their babies on their backs or the older children do.

One day a child went missing after a fight with another but thankfully found by a volunteer later outside the complex.

On Valentine's day we had a dress rehearsal of the Young Zulu Warrior concert Thula Sizwe. It was fantastic and tells the story of a Zulu a baby born to be a chief and one-day when his parents are killed in a politically motivated attack from another tribe. He is cared for by his uncle and as a grown man trains to become a doctor. The Aids pandemic is devastating South Africa and his sister dies as a result. He eventually marries there are some amazing Zulu dancing for the celebrations. I managed to video it and we had a party afterwards for Valentine's day.

There was a photo shoot of the Young Zulu Warriors for and brochures, postcards etc to sell when on tour. Heather came too and as it was very hot her sister came with loads of drinks. I saw what I thought was a snake next to where Heather was siting but it turned out to be a very large worm.

On evening was very extraordinary-

I joined a few volunteers and some visitors for a trip with Heather to some villages to give out some clothes, school shoes and uniform, some food and toiletries like soap and toothpaste in a couple of villages. We all piled into a Landy, (like a covered pick up truck) and Heather drove us up into the mountain round hairpin bends. We soon arrived near the village of tin roofed round huts and lots of children waving and running too hitch a ride. Heather stopped and about 30 kids piled into the back. Heather told me the lady who has 13 grandchildren to look after. We gave one lady a dress and she was so grateful. One man was being very angry and was trying to tell me something but I think he was drunk or ill. Heather sang some songs with the mainly women and children then the kids piled back into to the Landy to go to the next village with us which is where they came from. They must have got to know we were coming by bush telegraph. The next village was at the top of the mountain and on the way she point out where some people had connected themselves with bits of wire to the pylons to steal the electricity! It was very cold as we neared the village high in the mountain and the kids didn't have very warm clothes. The people here were outcasts as some were prostitutes so Heather is working on a project for the children to take part in football activities with the other villages. She also gives the women some help avoid the need to be prostitutes and one lovely young woman hasn't been a prostitute for 7 years because of her help and support. She is even organising the children to form a choir. Heather gave out footballs and some sweets and some money for one teenage boy's school fee. What struck me was that that although the huts looked very poor and bare they all seemed so happy and smart another elderly lady was delighted with her dress and another lady came up to us and gave us a bag of sweet corn. One young mother didn't look much older than 15. They sang a few songs for us then we made our way to the landy to go back down the mountain. Several of the children climbed the pylons to wave us off and then they piled in the Landy for one last ride a little way. We could see our rondavel in the distance, what a contrast our life was to theirs. On the way Heather suddenly stopped and shouted at a man in Zulu and afterwards said that she gave him a piece of her mind as she was pretty sure his sons were responsible for some of the robberies at GGA. . Afterwards we joined Heather and her husband for a meal along with all the animals wandering in and out the house.

Another day I had the opportunity to go to a pre-school project, which had been funded by the Rotary club in England. I was amazed; the building was a converted slaughterhouse with many rooms for classrooms, office etc. toilets, washrooms and a kitchen. The children are from the surrounding villages as well as ours from GGA. The teachers include volunteers, and Zulus who have a small wage.

A cooked meal was given to the children about 11am, as many would not have had breakfast. The lessons were structured and included reading writing, maths and dancing. The playground had swings, slides, climbing frames etc and there were lots of bikes and wheelbarrows etc for the children to play with. I'm not sure how many children there were but a rough estimate of several classes with about 30 to each class. They all had to wash their hands before lunch and clean their teeth afterwards. I also learned about another similar project in another village being planned so fund raising would have to be ongoing to achieve that.

On Friday 24th February

We had news that one of our little boys was to return to his family, which of course may be good news, but why was he abandoned very ill in hospital as a young baby a few months old? His mother had died and his father was dying so it was his grandmother wanting him back. He came to GGA when about 18 months old and has learnt to walk, talk and play. Was she now aware that there is a grant from the government if you bring up an orphaned child All would become clear later?

I was having a problem with one of the older girls with Downes Syndrome. She loves our one-year-old but she was so overwhelming with her kisses etc it frightened the little one. Also it was decided that the Zulu gogos would have more responsibility of the children as they were rather naughty with us sometimes and they are stricter with them.

We had a party for the little boy going home to his grandmother then on his day of leaving we were all feeling very emotional and just hoping it was the right for thing for him. The journey was not easy as the village was very remote and not very safe so there was a police escort for our two volunteers and a Zulu social worker and carer. The car got a puncture from the rough terrain but our little chap was having a ball helping the policeman to change the wheel. They found his family in the village and the grandmother seemed so happy to see her grandson again. There was also a great grandmother who had to crawl as she couldn't walk and he had two older sisters. Our volunteers gave them clothes, food and toys etc which they were very grateful for. It looked as though he may be cared for although they were obviously very poor, but of course as long as he was loved that was the most important. He would certainly have been better off with us though as we were to discover a few weeks later.

Another group of students arrived from a Japanese university to do some more building and repairs of houses in the village. Also we had a new roommate from America. She gave a massage to a 9-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and you could see the difference in the way he could relax afterwards. Also she was instrumental in obtaning a new and better wheel chair for him and funded by a rotary club in the UK. Another friend we made and a visitor was a member of the rotary club so she could ascertain exactly where funds were needed.

My new roommate was also HIV positive so she was able to give me lots of information about her drug therapy. She certainly had days of feeling quite unwell though and had to rest for the day. She was amazing and was getting married when she returned home to America.

Another great Experience

The local ANC party was celebrating a victory in the elections and the chief of the area had won. We were invited to join in the celebrations and my goodness they know how to celebrate. Our wonderful choir came too and we were made to feel most welcome. There were some political speeches and we were thanked for the work we were doing in the community. Our choir sang beautifully and was really enjoyed by everyone there at the community centre. There was a braai, singing, dancing lots of hugs for us in appreciation and very exuberant dancing which you couldn't help but join in. One young lad said to me “One day Africa will have peace”. I do hope he is right but I think there is a long way to go since Mandela fought so hard for equality with the white community. I think maybe another couple of generations for the end of apartheid to be a reality.

Our little girl who had Aids had a visit from her grandmother when she was brought back from her village in the lorry on the food drop. What a wonderful sight to see her playing with her granddaughter then I had the privilege of assisting her over to the dining room to be with her granddaughter for supper. She took both my hands in hers and said “God Bless you and thank you in Zulu”. What more reward is there and perhaps this was my favourite moment among many others? She wanted to know if it were possible for her to take her granddaughter back to the village to visit her very disabled husband, the grandfather but that was too risky as it was important for the child to have her medications and situations were so unreliable. She was returned to her village after a couple of days when another errand was going that way. I believe a volunteer took the child there eventually who stayed with her all day so would attend to her care.

16th March

The young Zulu Warriors returned from their concert tour of Germany and Holland after a very successful tour and had standing ovations. The Germans and Dutch people were wonderful hosts and made them very welcome and they provided warm clothes, transport, accommodation etc.

Also a new child arrived at GGA for care. She was bout 8 years old and looked very ill and thin with a lot of sores on her body. The other children had gone to school so she would spend the day with us and the babes. She was very withdrawn and maybe even frightened of us, as perhaps she hadn't seen white people before. It took a while for one of our visitors to gain her trust and did some plaiting of coloured plastic to make a necklace then she played with our babes. I have learnt since from the internet that she may have gone back to her family now; I wonder if she is ok?

17th March

A baby boy was born to one of the volunteers who has been here for a couple of years and her parents are over here too from England to be with her.

I have a very large abscess due to a spider bite and also not feeling too good. The spider is very small and gets into the washing and very common. Others have been bitten too and like me had to go to the doctor and have it incised and a course of antibiotics. We went to a private doctor and in fact for us the treatment was cheap. It took 3 lots of antibiotics and 3 weeks for mine to heal.

We were having problems with the sewer and water breakdowns so at the moment I'm wanting some home comforts. Having to wash by throwing yoghurt pots of water over yourself was getting a bit of a pain.

One day I took a walk with some friends to a cemetery where some children who had died at GGA. It is quite a normal thing for people to be buried near the family home.

By now it was getting near the winter of South Africa so I was thinking that at home it would be approaching spring with daffodils coming out in my garden at home. Some days were actually quite cold so I was wearing my fleece most of the time and of course we put warmer clothes on the children. I got some sturdier shoes from the warehouse but they kept taking their shoes and socks off just like my own grandchildren do!


My two daughters at home were having birthdays soon and the one expecting a baby was having Braxton Hicks contractions so I was getting excited about being a grandmother again in the next few weeks.

It was Easter holidays and there were a lot of outings planned for all the children paid for by various charities. The older ones went to an animal park and were told all about he animal's etc and a sports day was organised. The younger ones including our babes went to an animal farm. We took 30 children in the Oprah Winfrey's bus and at the farm the children could feed the goats, milk a cow, have pony rides and of course a picnic. Our little boy who loves his food wouldn't give the animals any food and ate it himself! It was a great day out and the children really enjoyed it. It was spoilt for me by one white woman making racial remarks to me but all the other white families were really happy to see our children enjoying themselves so much. Again we came to the conclusion it would take a while for the effects of Apartheid to disappear.

One night nearly all the volunteers living in the cottage accommodation block were out at a party and those that were left were asleep when all the food from their fridge and freezer was taken as well as electrical things for the kitchen, but no harm to the sleeping volunteers. Once again the police came to take details of everything taken but I don't think they took personal belongings from their rooms.

One of the policeman who came to interview my English friend who was black as she was the one who discovered the robbery first. He asked her some strange questions about England like was there was any racism in England, she said a little but she had never had much. He was also rather critical about the number of children we were looking after and the rather basic facilities so I asked him where he thinks these kids would be if they weren't here do he replied “On the street I suppose”.

I had a weekend in Durban with my housemates staying in a Back packers, which was extremely luxurious. We did some shopping at the well-known Victoria Market craft centre and of course bought lots of beadwork and other crafts. Sadly I was shocked to see some rugs from lion and deer skins so I returned the things I was going to buy from there and told them why, that it is so wrong for wild animals to be used in this way.

I learnt about a project in Durban where babies were regularly rescued from a dump and after treatment were rehomed.

April 18th

On a return visit to our little boy who had gone home to his grandmother a shocking discovery was made. He was very ill indeed and the other villagers said you must take him back or he will die. It was dangerous for them to just take him and would also be seen as kidnap by the law so they reluctantly left him there to his cries of mama as he called the volunteer. Over the next few days lots of phone calls to magistrates to get permission to take him to hospital. Permission was granted and it took a second attempt to rescue him and this time the grandmother was agreeable for him to go to hospital. By now he was extremely ill and was attended to immediately at the hospital. It turned out that his grandmother was a witch doctor and had been treating him inappropriately. In January 2007 I learnt that he has gone back to his grandmother after hospital treatment for nearly 9 months. She must bring him to the hospital for check ups so I wonder what will become of him. The volunteer who rescued him is going to return to South Africa in June so she will visit him on a regular for drop. She did organise a sponsor for the family to have supplies.

April 27th was Freedom day in South Africa

There were lots of parades and party's etc to celebrate the day Mandela got the vote for black people in1994. However there is still a way to go for equal rights. Many black people don't have decent jobs and of course live in poverty in shantytowns. The prisons are mainly full of black people and AIDs is now a big problem for the country. One of our kids was wearing a T-shirt, which said “I would like to be a politician but I don't know how to be corrupt.

This was my last day in South Africa, as I was needed at home by my own children.

I have had a life changing and worthwhile experience and have some wonderful memories. I would love to go back one day for and visit and see a bit more of the beautiful and historical country where the English had many battles with these great Warriorrs.

I am now happy to be helping to look after my new baby granddaughter and be home with my family and friends. I would recommend the experience as a “must do” at least once on a lifetime as it certainly puts your own life into perpective and know how fortunate we are in the West. I certainly don't have any patience for people who complain abut the trivial inconveniences of daily life any more.

Now I am doing what I can to raise funds and awareness of Aids pandemic in South Africa and of course over the world. At the moment Heather has given me the task of organising the toiletry needs for The Young Zulu Warriors when they come to tour the UK with their concert in June -July. There are some concerts in London but I'm disappointed that they are not coming to the East of England this time as they have too many venues in the West and Scotland. Many of my friends have helped me get about 20 sets together but I need a few more for the older lads and girls. If anyone is interested in helping me with this project please contacts me on 01394-386675 or email

Anyone interested in sponsorship the UK organiser is a Mrs Ann Smith at-

The web site is

Also I have some beadwork and Heather's biography and will be selling them at various charity events through out the year in the Woodbridge area

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