At St George’s Home for Girls (SGH) the noise level can be deafening. Imagine 30 girls coming through the doors in waves after school. They are hungry, full of energy, and chattering away. They settle down to pray grace, eat (and they clean their plates….no whining!), and pray again after. Some of the girls want to do their homework right away. Others try to convince me they have no homework. Some just want to sit on my lap and read. Every day there is something new. Who knew I would be conducting a math class by my third week!
My relationship with the girls of SGH started with skepticism. Who is this woman? Will she want something from me? Should I trust her? Add to that the fact that they are used to college age volunteers. Instinct told me to take my time, observe, and let the girls’ actions dictate my approach. I started by taking a few children’s books to a table and reading by myself. Within a short time a little one wondered over to look over my shoulder. Then another, and so on. I was over the moon. It wasn’t long before some opened up and let me in a little bit. By week two I could read their moods as they walked through the door and I tried to react accordingly. Most of the girls don’t want to talk about why they are sad, but they will give you an earful when they are mad at someone! Sometimes they just want to be held while they cry (without asking any questions). The parents reading this will know how hard it is to not ask questions. The girls of St George have been let down or harmed by the adults in their lives. SGH provides a safe and loving environment for them, but as human beings we all want to feel connected to and accepted by our own families.
In my last blog about SGH I mentioned that the girls began to open up about their dreams. I spent a day “interviewing” ten of the girls on our make-believe red carpet. We started with easy questions like ‘what is your favorite color? Pink and purple reigned. Favorite food? Mac & Cheese (some things are universal). My last question was ‘What do you want to be when you grow up’? This took some time. They hadn’t seemed to have thought about it. They don’t have a lot of role models outside of their immediate world. But in the end they were up to the challenge and here are their answers:
- Teacher – 4
- Waitress at Spur (similar to Applebees) – 3
- Careworker – 1
- Limo Driver – 1
- Lawyer – 1
As the weather warmed up in week four, I decided a little organized outdoor soccer was in order. Organized? Order? Not happening. I bought a soccer goal and balls and set it up in the yard. What I know about soccer would fit on a pencil eraser. Everyone wanted to be the goalie, they would pass the ball to an opposing team member, they were running out of bounds. It was happy chaos. But I was saved by one of the local high school kids who enthusiastically coached and played with us. Thank you, Robinson. As you can see in the pictures, the girls play barefoot. Which bothered me more than them.
On my last day at St George, I felt like I was gritting my teeth all day. Part of me wanted to slip away unnoticed so I wouldn’t have to say goodbye. How would I leave these girls who now owned my heart? In the end I did say goodbye. And I got so much more than I gave. Graeme Cairns, the director of SGH, hosted a little going away ceremony and three of the girls gave speeches. There were hugs all around and I left with a very big lump in my throat.
As a child I remember playing with a wood burning tool. You would plug it in and the metal tip would get very hot. You could then burn designs into a piece of wood. I thought about that on my last day at St George. I feel like all of these beautiful little faces are burned into my heart. I hope they stay with me forever. I want to always be “Aunty Kathy”.
I want to end with a few words about the staff at St George, and my hosts in South Africa – Ed and Heather Scott from Via Volunteers.
Graime Cairns, Delia, Neelsie, Allrick, Vreda, Yvonne, Joy, and all of the other good people who care for the girls at SGH – thank you for letting me come into your home. Your love for the girls is evident and they clearly feel the same about you.
St George receives only half of its funding from the government. The rest they must raise themselves. So in addition to the care, feeding, housing, and nurturing of the girls, they must do the work of raising awareness and funding.
Ed and Heather Scott from Via Volunteers were my lifeline in South Africa. They not only arranged my volunteer assignment, housing, transportation to/from St George, they served as problem solvers, arranged social opportunities, introduced volunteers to each other, organized tours and airport pick ups, and many other things that made me feel at home in such a faraway place. One of the young volunteers told me that Ed and Heather were like parents to her. Ed and Heather work with several organizations in South Africa – environmental, animal welfare, children. Ethical volunteering is a priority for them and they will not work with an organization whose ethics are questionable.
You can learn more about St George’s Home for Girls and Via Volunteers at the links below, or feel free to contact me.