The first week of March, Steve Wilent and I had the privilege to travel to the country of Lesotho, Africa. We went with a group of other artists, mostly musicians, to observe the work of World Vision, the Christian humanitarian relief organization. Master’s Image Productions is pleased to represent World Vision as partners in this ministry. This trip would focus on the work being done to bring help and hope to those suffering as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is sweeping many of the countries in Africa. What follows are my journal entries for the time we were there. If after reading this you feel you would like to know more or would be interested in sponsoring a child through World Vision, I invite you to give me a call or send me an email at email@example.com. I would be delighted help you get involved!
Feb. 28th to Mar. 1, 2004
The flight over was a test of endurance. Cramped airline seats for 15 hours from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. Got in at 9 AM (10 hours ahead of Oregon time). A 6-hour layover then off on a small plane to Maseru, Lesotho. Greeted warmly by World Vision staff and taken to the Lesotho Sun Hotel, which is VERY nice and is a sharp contrast to the rest of the area–very western, modern and even has TV with a half dozen channels. Two restaurants, a casino, health club and more. It also has an internet-equipped business office, but it doesn’t open until 8AM and it closes at 8 PM so at this time I am doubtful I can use it.
We were ridiculously tired on the first night but met at about 8 PM for dinner. Food was good but took way too long to be served. We Americans are used to quicker service and our impatience around the table proved this. Sleep well but awoke every two hours for some reason. Bed was comfortable and even came with good pillows.
Up at 6:30 AM. Actually went down to the health club for a short workout this morning–what is wrong with me?! Good breakfast buffet but find I am more at ease trying to stick with more western foods–I like bacon and eggs.
On the road by 8:00. Our first stop is the World Vision Headquarters for Lesotho. Cramped office but we arrive in time to join in for devotions. They had asked us to perform something this morning and so Junko, Andy Allen, Jason Gay, and Steve Wilent are nominated. When we arrive for chapel we crowd into a very small room with a huge table in it for board meetings. Devotions are great but the room is not conducive to performing, although we manage. However, since we are running late we cut our program, which means, of course, they cut the drama. (You can tell that musicians are running the show 🙂 So Steve doesn’t get to perform, but no problem really, as there was standing room only in the space.
After we sing a few choruses and we are totally blown away by the World Vision Staff who jump to their feet and sing for us. Very good! We sing together a familiar song and then they sing in Sesotho and it is stunningly beautiful. We are very welcomed and this time of worship together was very cool.
Next it is time to go to visit a project. We load up in the vehicles. Mostly Toyota 4-wheel drive pickups with four doors and back seats. A driver and 3 or 4 passengers. A little cramped but doable. Our driver is Chris and he is very knowledgeable and fun to be around. Jenny, Steve, Junko and me in our vehicle.
We drive about an hour in some very beautiful country. Think Utah for a comparison. Flat-top mountains, canyons and at this time of year, green. Also the day is marked by a constant change in weather from clouds to sun to wind to rain, which repeats over and over. We arrive at the project headquarters, a fairly modern building with offices and a large meeting room. We all sit in a large circle in the meeting room- about 20 people representing staff, volunteers and committee members. This is kind of an awkward meeting. Introductions and then we decide to sing for them, only as Andy is pulling out the guitar to start, they immediately start singing at the same time. I think it was a missed signal. But they are great and I sort of feel like they out-shone us artists. Language is more of a barrier than I expected. Like Kenya, this country is bilingual, but it is clear that English is a second language for them. Most of the Africans are speaking to us through an interpreter.
Next stop is a World Vision school. This was AWESOME. There were riders on horseback that escorted us from the highway to the school (about two miles). Halfway there they were joined by people from the village: school children, dancers and singers. It turned into a huge parade and it was so humbling to see the outpouring of good will and excitement from the people just because we were there. The whole village sang for us and then we sat at school desks and girls from the school performed several dances for us. The people are beautiful and have the most awesome smiles. Like Kenya, the kids love to touch you. We were told that many Africans in this part of the country think of white people as having no fault and that to be white is a blessing. Touching a white person brings them luck.
We had lunch after the performance. They prepared a rather interesting porridge for us–traditional–it was edible but not something I wanted the recipe for. Fried Chicken and French fries for lunch.
Next stop was a meeting with caregivers for HIV/AIDS patients. Now we are getting into the more serious stuff. These people are nurses that visit the sick daily and help with caring for them. Nursing tasks, cleaning and cooking are just a few of the things they do. All volunteer. This is not an easy task. Most people who are sick live in denial that they have the disease. World Vision is doing all it can to educate and care for them but it is hard when the people don’t want to admit they are sick or at risk, and won’t get tested. This meeting turned emotional. They, too, sang for us and we prayed for them.
Then we visited some HIV/AIDS patients. First was a young teenage girl, living with her parents. She has “TB” but it is mostly what they feel comfortable calling the disease because TB has some hope of a cure where AIDS does not. Her father is also infected. Then we visited a woman who is quite sick (more visibly with the sores and all). She has a beautiful daughter who is 7 and is feared that she, too, is sick. This woman, even with this more advanced stage, doesn’t want to admit she is sick with AIDS. So sad.
We have one more visit to make and this one is a bit of a drive up a mountain road–although to call it a road is a bit of joke. It is a good thing we are in a four-wheel drive. Here we meet grandparents who are caring for a one-year-old whose mother died from the disease just a month or so after the baby was born, and the baby is also infected and will not live long. Very moving.
At the same time the people of the village are with us as we visit this child, and the mood is strange. They are all in hyper-celebration mode with us there but at the same time we are confronting a very sad situation. The women make a high-pitched screaming noise to communicate their happiness and welcome to us.
We return very tired to another late night meal and rest before we start up again for another full day beginning at 7:30 AM.
Wed. March 3
After a good breakfast we load up at 7:30 for an hour and half drive to another ADP. Our day begins with a meeting of healthcare workers and volunteers that make up the support group for HIV/AIDS patients. We begin with devotions and more singing. These villagers love to sing and so far every meeting includes them singing for us. Singing seems to be almost a form of gift giving and both sides are appreciative of what the other has brought. The meetings consist of introductions and Q&A.
We also visited a plant nursery where young men in the 20-30 age range are learning to grow trees and vegetables for the village and also for micro-enterprise. These young men are very industrious and it is pointed out that this job is in addition to other responsibilities in the family and village. When questioned about their dreams for the future their answers are in sharp contrast to the values in our own country. They want to help develop their country. They want to help make their village better so they can be proud of it. Try getting that kind of answer out most of our youth in America.
The “highlight” this day is a visit to the home of a couple of AIDS orphans. Relebhile, 14-year-old girl and her 7-year-old brother, Tsepang live on their own after losing both parents. We see their former home: a broken down brick building, windows broken, holes in the thatch roof. It is one room with a cowhide for a bed and a little fireplace for cooking and heat. World Vision has built them a new home, and latrine. While certainly no palace, the new home is two-room, cinder block and has food storage, a bed and a more modern cook stove. Keep in mind that NONE of these homes has electricity and all the villagers live a very primitive lifestyle. The children are pulled from school to come and visit us. The girl is happy and, while I think overwhelmed by us, she is happy to share her home circumstances with us. Several on our team are quite moved by this situation. Even though their situation is improved they are still quite vulnerable–their grandfather has taken their house key and comes whenever he wants, basically stealing their provisions. World Vision is aware of this and the project manager is working on a solution.
Andy and Pam Allen on our team are moved by these two precious children, and notice that the bed the children share is not very impressive and offer to buy them a new bed. While this gesture is appreciated, it makes for a difficult situation because to help them also singles them out from others in the village, and we come to understand the reality of trying to help one child and not all the others in the village. This is something that World Vision is very aware of and I am even more appreciative of their sponsorship model of helping the entire project not just the sponsored child. A solution is reached: we shall buy the bed for the children but also buy each of the 8 surrounding families some pots and pans. All of us are going to chip in for this.
We visit a couple of other AIDS patients and this proves difficult for all of us. We feel awkward staring at what one might call “living dead.” The entire team seems unsettled by these visits.
An hour and a half drive back to town and pizza for dinner! A good time!
When I look in the mirror I am surprised by the red glow coming off my face and regret that I did not cover myself in sunscreen.
Thursday, March 4
After another good breakfast we are on the road again. This time to visit beautiful preschool children. They are unbelievably cute, as they, of course, sing for us and we for them. It is photo opportunity time as we each get pictures taken for our use in promoting World Vision. I am drawn to one little boy and spend time trying to communicate with him. I decided before leaving on this trip that sponsoring another child is a possibility. I ask if the little boy is sponsored and am told he is not. We are not certain if he is in the World Vision program so they are going to check that out for me. His name is Masilo Nbabeni and he is only 2 or 3. Very adorable–I think Lorie will approve.
Next we meet with another support group for HIV/AIDS patients. This meeting is better than the one yesterday, at least for me. After the sing-off we ask questions. The numbers here start to hit home as they share with charting how many have the disease and how many have died in the past month–over 40, both male and female, adults and children. During this meeting a shift seems to take place among our entire team, as we start to realize that these people need something from us. Something more than us telling them we are going to tell their story when we get home. We stand and give them words of encouragement. We express our gratitude for them being the hands and feet of God. These are people who regularly visit and care for these sick people. They have a difficult job and yet seem to do it with a good attitude. I share with the group a few insights from my own recent experience with the death of my mother in-law: the idea that sharing Christ becomes the most important thing in what remains of their time on earth. It strikes us all that these people are God’s hands in caring for the suffering. We are in awe of them.
We visit a young woman who is dying of AIDS. She is actually a sponsored child and though now in her 20s, her sponsor family is still supporting her. While this is not normal, World Vision is keeping her in the program to keep her health care coming.
Off to town to buy a bed for the orphans we met yesterday, then back to the hotel for dinner and a emotional time of sharing our impacts for the week so far. We leave at 7 AM tomorrow for a few more visits.
Friday, March 5
One thing we won’t be able to say is, “I miss the rain down in Africa” because it is pouring today. Rain is considered a blessing here. The fact that it rained on the day we arrived and on our last day here is considered by the local people to be a very good thing.
Last night we bought a bed for the orphans and today we are off to deliver the bed, as well as purchase some pots and mealy meal for the local neighbors to the orphans so they won’t feel neglected when we bring gifts for the children. This outing proves to be a bit of an adventure as we somehow miscommunicated our meeting place with our main host, “Lucky” (we can’t pronounce his name but it means “Lucky” so we call him that). After our purchase we go to the home of the orphans and deliver the goods. This was so neat. The kids are grateful, if a little unsure quite how to respond. The phase “too many chiefs” comes to mind as we deliver the bed. The adults in the village want us to leave the plastic covering on the bed to protect it. However, we think it should be removed to keep it from mildew and to allow it to breath (even though wrapped in plastic, it is wet from the rain that has found its way inside from the trip to the village). We compromise and slit the plastic to remove the bed so it can dry but leave it for them to put back in later.
The gift of the pots to the villagers prompted more songs from them and then back from us. Music has become our common language. The pots immediately go up on their heads creating a great photo opportunity. We leave the village with a good feeling of having done something significant to help.
Next we go to a primary school for kids in more the junior high age. More singing and finally some DRAMA. These kids put on a play about HIV/AIDS that is excellent. Even though we can’t understand the words we get the message and understand the story. Steve and I are very encouraged to see our art form used in such a way. Once again we share a Q&A with an HIV/AIDS support group and feel we were an encouragement to them. Steve takes the opportunity to perform a portion of The Gospel of John before our closing prayer and it seems to connect with them. So now Steve is an international performer.
It is time for goodbyes as we go back to the project headquarters for a final meal in the field and farewell speeches. The World Vision staff here give us gifts, each of a traditional Lesotho straw hat. Nice, but I don’t know how I am going to pack it. Maybe I’ll just wear it home…NOT. We get into party mode and join them in trying to do some of their dances. Lots of laughs, more pictures, more singing.
On the way back to the city we take a detour in the country to drive by the king’s palace. We can’t get too close but the view is incredible. A fun bit of trivia: Prince Harry arrived while we were here. He has apparently been bad (partying and such) and so the Queen has sent him to Lesotho for some character building time, supposedly 2 months. He is to help the poor while he is here. I have no idea what that means for him. Anyway, our hotel was overrun on Wed. with the British foreign press who were following the story. When we get to our hotel tonight, who is there but Prince Harry! I am not sure, but assume he came there to play in the casino–such discipline!
A bit of a surprise when I get to my room: my key won’t open the door! The hotel master key also will not unlock it. I am thinking the worst–that someone got into the room through the window and stole my stuff and bolted the door from the inside. But fortunately this is not the case. They have to break the lock to get the door open and I am moved to a new room.
Off to the Italian restaurant we ate at a couple nights ago. Many of the World Vision national staff are there to join us. Good time around the table.
Tomorrow we leave. We will finally get a few hours in the morning to do some shopping. I am ready to endure the long ride home. I miss my family. I miss my wife.
Posted by Chuck Neighbors