South Africa – I am Aunty Kathy

Fun after their math lesson

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!

After school speed walking
After school speed walking

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.

Soccer time
Soccer time

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.

Aunty Kathy’s farewell ceremony
Aunty Kathy's farewell ceremony
Aunty Kathy’s farewell ceremony






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”.

Someone got a hold of a cell phone
Someone got a hold of a cell phone

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
Ed and Heather Scott

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.

Hugs from Naledi and Lelitha
Hugs from Naledi and Lelitha


The baking lesson
The baking lesson


Homework with Lelitha
Homework with Lelitha







South Africa – Feeling at Home

Live music at Mama Africa's
Live music at Mama Africa’s
A swimming pool carved out of the Atlantic
A swimming pool carved out of the Atlantic
Hugs from Naledi and Lelitha
Hugs from Naledi and Lelitha


September 8, 2015

Feeling at home in a place so far away and so different from my home in Pennsylvania only comes with time and perspective. As I sat in a movie theater the other day I realized I am living like….well, like I live here. I’ve been to a couple of movies. I go to the grocery store. My gray roots were showing, so I colored my hair 😳.  Just some of the things we do in everyday life.  But of course, I am really just a visitor. Unless you have really lived here; had a child in the public schools; lived on South African wages; experienced 25% unemployment; had a beautiful mountain view opposite oceans and beaches… are still a visitor…..albeit a happy one.IMG_1011





I have checked off most of the sights and activities on my list.  Tomorrow we will tour Kayalitsha, an informal township, in the morning.

The rest – Robben Island, hiking Table Mountain, safari in Kruger National Park – will wait until Matthew arrives this week.

On another note: Oh the people you meet!  Ed and Heather from VIA Volunteers invited me to go with them to Broadlands Farm to visit Pat Cavendish O’Neill.  What a life Pat has led! Winston Churchill, JFK, royalty from every country, stars from the Hollywood of the 20th century….Pat (and her mother before her) counted the rich and famous among their close friends.  But the most important things to Pat are her animals – everything from lions to racehorses to peacocks and dogs. Pat’s fortunes were mostly lost to unscrupulous advisors and she lives a more cautious lifestyle now. Less lavish – yes, but certainly not dull.  For more information about Pat, read her book – A Lion in the Bedroom. You will see what I mean about this incredible woman and her even more incredible mother.

Pat Cavendish O'Neill's Broadlands Farm
Pat Cavendish O’Neill’s Broadlands Farm

My last day as a volunteer at St George’s Home for Girls is fast approaching….sigh. There is nothing ordinary or everyday about this experience. A few weeks ago I wrote that I hoped the girls have dreams, but it was too soon for me to ask. They have shared! More to come.


Pat Cavendish O'Neill's drawing room
Pat Cavendish O’Neill’s drawing room
The mist floating over Table Mountain
Restaurant at Muizenberg Beach
Restaurant at Muizenberg Beach


South Africa – The Children

August 27, 2015

20150904_062927000_iOSI’ve been going to St George’s Home for Girls (SGH) now for two weeks and I learn something new everyday – like how out of practice I am with children!  But the girls at SGH are very patient with me. They have taught me that even the very smallest things are valuable – like a tiny piece of an eraser, or a single sticker, or a hand on the shoulder. They have taught me that trust takes time and must be earned. I have learned to stand back and let them decide when they want or need me.  The youngest of them love to read with me. 20150822_052215000_iOSAnd by that I mean I read while two of them are on my lap, two of them are bouncing up and down next to me, and one is standing on a chair re-styling my hair. Who needs hair product when there is peanut butter 😳


The girls at SGH have not had an easy time of it and sometimes they are sad, or angry, or scared. But they also laugh, and sing, and squeal…..really loud! That’s thirty girls from 7 – 17 years old all talking and giggling (and sometimes fighting) at the same time.

They haven’t told me about their hopes and dreams yet….and I haven’t earned that. My hope is that they do dream.




South Africa – Splendid

View of Table Mountain from the Company's Garden
View of Table Mountain from the Company’s Garden

August 23, 2015

I’ve devised a bit of a routine for weekdays. I go for a walk in the morning and pop into a cafe for coffee and breakfast. Then I’m off to one of the sights on my list of places to see. After which it’s back to Ashanti Lodge for a snack before the taxi picks me up for the ride to St George’s. I spend the afternoon there working and playing with the girls. Evenings it’s dinner, writing, and reading. I know….a real snooze Fest! But the weekends are more fun.

African National Gallery
African National Gallery

Last Thursday I went to the African National Gallery where I saw an exhibit of paintings by Irma Stone. I had not heard of her, but you can see in her work that she was influenced by Modigliani, Van Gogh, and Picasso….all of whom I love. So I will be doing some research on Irma.  Sorry no photos from inside the museum, but above is a photo of the outside.

I’ve found that Cape Town is an amazingly affordable city. Even with all of the dining mentioned above, I have a hard time spending $15 a day! This morning I sent out two small loads of laundry to be washed, dried, and folded – the tab? $3.87! Delivered!  Now I’m sure you can spend a lot more for a meal at a truly upscale restaurant, but I haven’t had a bad meal yet. And at home, well let’s face – I have to do my own laundry.

The affordability is primarily the strength of the dollar versus the South African Rand. In 2011 a Rand would cost .14 or .15 and today it was .077.  So if you are thinking about coming here, now is a great time to just do it.

20150823_055837000_iOSI never get tired of looking at the ocean, whether it’s walking along the beach, or on my ride to St George’s each day. The South African coast rivals those in Northern California and Ireland. On Saturday, Andrea and I decided on a Cape Peninsula Tour.  We spent the day with a group riding down to the southern most tip of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, went for a bike ride near the Cape of Good Hope, had lunch, went to Boulders Beach and saw the penguins, visited Cape Point and rode the funicular up to the lighthouse, and were safely driven back to Cape Town at the end of the day – all for $54 US!

Penguins at Boulder Beach
Penguins at Boulder Beach

In these first ten days I have not been disappointed in this spectacular country…..and there is so much more to see. But I also came here to work with the girls of St George’s and I can’t wait to tell you about them. Next time.  IMG_0691

My fellow volunteer, Andrea from Venezuala
My fellow volunteer, Andrea from Venezuala




Cape Town, South Africa – First Impressions

August 14, 2015

20150827_193358000_iOSAs I exited immigration at Cape Town International Airport, I was met by the smiling face of Ed Scott. Ed and his wife Heather are founder/owners of VIA Volunteers in South Africa

IMG_1360They have provided support and guidance during all of my research and planning for this great adventure. If not for them I may not have felt so comfortable stepping out of my comfort zone and into Africa.

IMG_0553The western coast of SA is breathtaking.

Mountains meet ocean in a way that reinforces the mystical aura of Africa. Ed was kind enough to show me the coast straight from the airport and I felt immediately in awe.

20150816_020129000_iOSThen it was off to my digs for the next month – Ashanti Lodge, a backpackers or hostel. Those of you who know me –  know that this was really, I mean really, stepping out of my comfort zone. Ashanti is comfortable, basic, lively, noisy, and friendly. Bathrooms are down the hall and my fellow residents are mostly half my age. But after almost 4 days I am starting to feel a part of things.

On my first evening, Ed introduced me to Andrea, a young Venezuelan volunteer also spending some time at Ashanti. Andrea became my sightseeing partner for this first weekend in Cape Town. Stay tuned and good night for now.


Doha, Qatar






Someone once told me that if you are flying to a faraway place (for which there are no non-stop flights) pick a really interesting stopover city. When I was researching flights to South Africa, London seemed to be the most common stopover city. But then there is Qatar Airways, now flying out of Philadelphia with very reasonable fares. Their stopover is in Doha, Qatar. The stopover is 19 hours, just enough time to see a good bit of this very small country.  If you fly business or first class, QA will provide a hotel room, a tour, and access to their world class airport lounges (gourmet meals, fine wines included). If you fly coach, you may get the hotel room, depending on availability.IMG_0409

On August 13, 2015 it was 104 degrees and humid in Doha, so the hotel room with its air conditioning and shower were a welcome benefit.

Doha is the cleanest city I have ever visited. Not once did I see a single display of graffiti. The buildings are all in various shades of tan so that the blowing desert sand does not dirty the exterior look.  New buildings are being fitted with windows that clean themselves (don’t ask….I didn’t understand the explanation). Qatar is oil rich and it shows everywhere. But in this ancient area of the world it is disconcerting to be surrounded by all that shiny newness.  The city is growing…..stand on any street corner and you will see several construction sites. I’m not sure how sustainable it is. Surrounded by ocean, but with little fresh water, Qatar uses expensive desalination processing to provide water to its continually growing population. Oil prices are expected to remain in a slump for at least the next two years. For now the people of Qatar are living in the moment…..the shiny, glorious moment.20150814_011211000_iOS20150814_005959000_iOS

Continue reading Doha, Qatar

I’m glad I went….but

IMG_1100I think yoga and meditation are good for the spirit and the body. Not that I have a lot of experience with it….just some yoga classes at my local gym and a meditation session or two. When I wrote about transitions last week I thought a few days at an ashram would be a worthwhile transition activity from work to retirement. I’m glad I did it, but it will probably be my one and only ashram experience.20150707_135432349_iOS

What I liked: the yoga and meditation. The teachers were very good and the hours devoted to yoga and meditation were generous – 4 hours a day. And I took full advantage. The lectures, chanting and singing were interesting. The setting in the Catskills was beautiful, peaceful. The common areas of the ashram main building were clean, functional, and nice.IMG_1099
What I didn’t like: the food. I had convinced myself that I would be fine with vegan and/or vegetarian meals (most were vegetarian). I have had vegetarian meals prepared by my friend, Joan Fleming, and loved them. But at the ashram, at the end of three days I was weak from lack of food! The accomodations were basic, which I expected. But they could use a good scrubbing. The mood among the residents was off. Most of the people I met had been living at the ashram for months and seemed to be trying to find themselves or find a way to happiness (bliss). They didn’t seem to feel comfortable or happy when they were out in the real world, but I felt an air of sadness at the ashram.
I’m glad I went. The experience confirmed my interest in yoga and meditation….and my love of meat!


20140818_151648000_iOSHappy Independence Day! For me, today is a personal independence day of sorts. I retired from a very long and rewarding career in commercial banking. I’ve worked with some really talented and hard working people over the years and I will miss them. But it’s time for a new phase, a new life, and new adventures. This week I am thinking about transitions. Retirement is a big one!

I  knew I would have to find something interesting and rewarding to fill the void left after the end of a career that was interesting every day. So how to transition from the fast paced life of the fully employed to a fully engaged retiree? With the help of Holly Bull at The Center for Interim Programs, I have planned an exciting year of travel and experiences.  My goal was to marry places I want to visit/live with experiences that would help grow my world view.  I don’t want to just be a tourist, but rather part of a community.  So I will spend a couple of months volunteering in South Africa; studying French in France and Art History in Italy.

But this week is about the transition. So what better way to go from long, stimulating days of work and responsibility to a slower pace of learning and helping, and experiencing new and wonderful worlds?  How about an ashram in the Catskills?  Works for me….I think.  Yoga and meditation will be a new experience and hopefully a smooth transition to a new life. Wish me luck.