Having grown up in Ecuador and experiencing ER’s outreach to the poorest of the poor first-hand, Rheanna Cline created the following list to encourage everyone to celebrate 20 years of ER Christmas parties in the Quito Dump.
By Rheanna Lea Cline
Through the work of Extreme Response, thousands of people living in extreme situations are experiencing significant life change. With programs and partners in nine countries, ER provides many opportunities to get involved in our life-changing work with at-risk people. Here are a few of those opportunities:
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Alyssa Carrel recently returned from a brief stint as a volunteer with ER partner African Hope Trust. Here she details its work with vulnerable children and its plans to build a new safe house.
My time at African Hope Trust was brief, but oh how refreshing. I struggle to adequately describe what it felt like walking into the two African Hope Trust safe houses, but suffice to say, acceptance, love and peace were a big part of it. The women who run the homes aren’t devoid of struggle, but they all exude a sense of peace and quiet confidence.
Located in the South African township of Masiphumelele, just south of Cape Town, these homes are a safe haven for abandoned, orphaned and abused children. Each employs one to two trained house moms and provides a stable environment for five to seven kids.
Judging from a letter one of the children wrote for Mother’s Day, it’s evident that they know how much they are loved – even when discipline is involved. I couldn’t help laughing when I read, “Thank you for shouting at us in love so that we can understand that it is wrong.”
In addition to its work with kids, African Hope Trust cares for people in emergency circumstances. In the five years since it opened its doors, African Hope Trust has been able to address some 15 short-term emergency cases, such as relocating a child from an abusive uncle’s home. The Trust’s philosophy is while it cannot care for every child in need, it can love as many as possible.
Approximately 40,00 people reside in Masiphumelele, with 50% of them believed to be HIV positive. While anti-retroviral drugs are readily available and free of charge, many still live in fear of the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, and therefore refuse to be tested or treated. Consequently, countless children are left to fend for themselves.
Before African Hope Trust began, only one orphanage existed in Masiphumelele, and it was created for older children. With African Hope Trust, a gap is being filled, at least in part, for younger children in need.
African Hope Trust now is seeking to build and open a third home in Masiphumelele, which would allow for the care of six more children. That would mean six fewer children living in extreme circumstances and wondering where their next meal will come from.
These children need someone to love them and African Hope Trust offers exactly that. The “mamas” care for the children as they do their own. In one of the children’s words, “They give me more love that I didn’t have before.” All these mamas want is a chance to love them – to show them a love that is greater than life. Listening to these kids, it’s evident they have succeeded.
Click here to learn more about African Trust and its plans for a new safe home.
Children are known for their wild imaginations, the stories they create, the way they dream. But for a child growing up in poverty, dreams are a luxury they typically can’t afford.
That’s why the South Africa Dream Centre is so important to children like Kayleen.
This adorable little spitfire from Zimbabwe is a joy to be around. Consider this recent snippet of conversation:
Me: “Do you like school?”
Me: “Why not?”
Kayleen: “It’s a lot of work.”
I think we can all relate. Her honest answers mirror that of the typical 6-year-old, but don’t be fooled: This girl knows how to work.
I have been privileged to watch Kayleen in action, and let me tell you, when she puts her mind to something, she gets it done. For example, one day I watched her, surrounded by the sort of distractions that come with the territory in an after-school children’s program, set laser-like focus on a story she was reading about go-karts; she didn’t look up until she read the final word.
I was impressed. If she can maintain that kind of focus, she’ll go far – despite odds that are stacked against her. Living in South Africa, Kayleen is part of a system that puts the expense of education in the hands of the parents. And many of those hands are occupied with finding work to keep food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads. Education is viewed as a luxury, not a necessity.
South Africa has 11 official languages, but most teaching is done in English. For Kayleen and many other children, English is a second, third or even fourth language, which makes homework a struggle. If the parents haven’t learned English, it can be downright impossible.
That’s where the Dream Centre seeks to fill in the gaps. Run by ER staffers Ron and Amy Townsend (pictured here with their children), the Dream Centre is a safe place for Cape Town-area kids to receive food, love, tutoring and the chance to dream of a future free of poverty.
The Townsends are fully invested in this venture. They desire to live life alongside these kids – to see them through graduation and on to college. Their hope is that by working with and loving on the children, their families also will be positively impacted.
While much of this is a vision toward the future, I have already experienced the impact they’re having on families today. I have seen parents pour out their hearts with gratitude to the Townsends for all they do for their children. Love is a powerful communicator. It needs no translation.
The Townsends – and the rest of the Dream Centre team – want these kids to know, above all else, that they are loved. They’re teaching families that there’s more to life than just survival – that poverty can be overcome and dreams can be realized.
Click here to read more about the Townsends and the Dream Centre.
Alyssa Carrel is native to Michigan. She’s passionate about the written word, children, South Africa and the melodies. Alyssa is native to Michigan. Alyssa visited Extreme Response Africa and spent time working at the Dream Centre, where she worked with at-risk kids in the after-school program.
Canadian Aimee Hurtubise is helping to change lives through Ignite South Africa. Extreme Response Canada is pleased to be the sending organization for Aimee.
The first time I drove into Qwa Qwa, South Africa, I knew I was home. I still feel that way 10 years later. Although I have spent half of the last decade living in Canada, the moment I moved back to Qwa Qwa last year I knew I had returned to a place that will always be my home away from home.
Qwa Qwa is a place filled with challenges, endless potential, cold winters and the warmest people. It is where I get to make a difference in the lives of orphaned and at-risk youth while being surrounded by my African family, and I can’t imagine doing life any other way.
I am able to do this work through Ignite South Africa. This organization is dedicated to developing leaders of all ages and empowering them to impact their schools, communities, country and homes.
Many young women in Qwa Qwa struggle with unplanned pregnancies. The girls typically range in age from 13-18, although I’ve seen them as young as 12. Most will keep their babies because adoption is seen in a very negative light in our community, although we will walk with the girls through either parenting or adoption.
Statistically, 25% will be HIV positive and suffer from hunger and poor nutrition. Those who will be staying with us have no where else to live. They are afraid, alone and overwhelmed. If they are orphaned or have been kicked out of their home for being pregnant, they also may be dealing with abandonment issues.
While there are no accurate statistics on teenage pregnancies in our area, we believe they are on the rise. There are flyers advertising “safe” illegal abortions on every pole, board or free space in our community. So many girls choose abortion because there is no support for them should they decide to become a parent or gift their child through adoption. We want to provide an alternative and make parenting a viable option for these girls.
House of Refuge
The Ntlo ya Setshabelo (House of Refuge) is a maternity home for orphaned or at-risk pregnant teens that we are in the process of developing. Our vision is to offer a place of safety, mentoring and encouragement to provide a solid foundation.
The girls who enter our program will be in intermediate or high school, have limited or no support from their families and must agree to fully participate in the home’s practices. This means they want to learn how to be a good mom and are willing to put in the effort.
The girls will be expected to continue their education and attend classes designed to help their development, including budgeting and life/parenting/small business skills needed to help support their families. We try to offer everything they will need to parent on their own. Our goal is to see them graduate as capable and confident mothers who will positively impact their children and their communities.
Our mentoring program will connect each girl with an older female from the community who can guide and support them. Each girl will begin this relationship while living in the home with the hope it will continue throughout her lifetime.
Ignites’ Executive Director June Blanshan shares this background on why we are introducing the the home.
“We decided to move forward with the home when we discovered that the girls were experiencing abuse and manipulation by providing sex in exchange for food, toiletries and other items. Their situations already appeared hopeless, but adding pregnancy into the mix made these girls feel trapped. Often they choose ‘safe, pain-free abortions’, which translates into illegal abortions. We believe the death rate, sterility and other complications from these unregulated clinics to be astronomically high.”
The Story of Mpho
Blanshan also shares this story about a girl who Ignite helped.
Mpho (named changed to protect her privacy) was planning to end her pregnancy as she was already was struggling to support her three-year-old child. It was difficult for her to even to put food on their table and most days they did not have electricity. She was HIV positive and the father refused to be involved. She was alone and scared.
“One of our Ignite leaders knew her and shared about adoption. I was called in to talk with Mpho because I had gifted a child for adoption. Mpho was excited about this opportunity and decided adoption would be a good choice for her. We promised to walk alongside her and help her connect with services in the community.
“Unfortunately, Mpho’s delivered her baby the next week, prior to contacting social workers. She informed the nurses and a hospital social worker of her intent to place her child for adoption and therefore she did not want to see the baby. The response was…I’m sure you can guess.
“Mpho was basically ignored, or when spoken to, demeaned. The social worker and nurses were downright cruel. Finally, the social worker informed Mpho she would be in the hospital for six months if she wanted to adopt her baby because that was how long court time would take. Mpho already had a child at home who needed to be cared for, so this was not an option. The social worker sat down with us and shared a ‘secret’. If Mpho said she would keep her baby, they would discharge her. What she did with the child after that was completely up to her.
“Mpho chose that option and we cared for her baby as she thought through what she wanted to do. After a week she decided to keep and raise her baby. We remain involved with the family and help as we can. All three are doing well.”
Based on this experience, we decided to provide the support systems and identify other community support for the young mothers. Currently, my efforts are focused on building a solid foundation for the home. This includes applying for grants and fundraising to allow us to purchase and furnish the actual dwelling. Our goal is to open our doors to our first pregnant teens by the end of 2016.
Interested in helping Aimee? Contact her via email, follow her on Facebook or click here to partner with Ignite South Africa.
Olivia Hoppen was part of a team from Muskegon, Michigan that served with ER South Africa in May 2015. Her experience was so profound, she plans to return for a month-long internship this spring. She shares her story here:
When people ask me about my time with Extreme Response in South Africa, I can’t help beaming with joy. From the moment I got an email out of the blue about joining the team, to the moment I got home, it was clear that I was meant to have this experience.
My team had the opportunity to work with several ER partners while we were there. We toured the Cape Town Aquarium with African Hope Trust, spent our mornings painting and playing with children at God’s Little Lighthouse, and in the afternoons helped run sports camps alongside ER staff and life skills educators from Living Hope.
I have countless stories from my time in South Africa, but one that sticks out the most comes from the sports camp in Masiphumelele Township. Because of my lack of soccer skills, I worked with the preschool group. The first day of camp we had about 25 kids; by the last day we had around 130 – talk about overwhelming!
Since these kids were too young for school, only a few of them understood English, but they were still excited about our time together. We sang simple songs, which they quickly learned. During this time, one little boy caught my eye. I reached out to make friends with him, but whenever I looked the other way, he would wander off by himself. I grew to love this little boy even though he was a bit of a troublemaker,
On the next-to-last day of camp, one of the ladies who works with these kids every day told me his primary caretaker at home is his 6-year-old sister (who also attended the camp). Though I was heartbroken to learn this, I had peace knowing that through Extreme Response and Living Hope he is being loved and has some of his basic needs met.
Even before I left South Africa, I knew my time there would not be enough. I had fallen in love with South Africa and knew I would leave part of my heart there. I immediately started talking to ER’s Lindsey Fisher about the possibility of returning, and eventually the opportunity arose to go back as an intern for the month of May. Primarily, I’ll be working with God’s Little Lighthouse and the ER South Africa Dream Centre.
I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity because it is something I feel very called to do. Because I’m majoring in social work and minoring in youth ministry, I also see this internship as an opportunity to further discern what my future entails. I am so grateful to Extreme Response for this opportunity to serve!
By Kim Merrefield, Extreme Women’s Communications Writer
Extreme Women volunteer Kim Merrefield recently returned from a visit with ER partners in South Africa. Here she describes her experiences meeting women of uncommon inner beauty.
“The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.” –Audrey Hepburn
At the beginning of 2015, my husband and I decided to join a short-term trip to Cape Town, South Africa with Extreme Response. Specifically, we were going with the Women’s Advocacy team – Extreme Women – to love on the women and children we advocate for.
In the months leading up to the trip, our fearless leader, Kelly McClelland, told me many times that when I actually met the ladies we advocate for, I would be forever changed. I was excited, yet had no clue what to expect, having never gone on a short-term trip before.
After months of prepping and planning, the day finally came to board the plane and see the ladies. Over the course of the 10-day trip in August, we got to sit with several different partners to hear their stories, ask them questions, and most of all, just love on them. Each day I was filled with emotion, from heartbreak to gratitude, as I listened to their stories, hugged their children and tried to comprehend their circumstances.
I heard stories from women that made me laugh. I heard stories of rape and poverty that made me want to cry and hold them tight. But most of all I heard stories of hope and strength. In the midst of uncontrollable and desolate surroundings, the beauty that flowed from these women – many who have few material possessions – left me in awe. Their smiles had not been withered by the storm, their hearts had not been hardened, and their eyes still had that flicker of light beaming from them. Their beauty was as radiant as ever.
Kelly was right: I am forever changed. I cannot un-hear their stories. I cannot un-see the look in their eyes. I cannot go back to where I was before going on the trip.
Extreme Response exists to “change the lives of those living in extreme, often life-threatening, situations,” but I think the ones most changed are the individuals who volunteer to work alongside them.
Somehow the love in their hearts and the beauty in their eyes manage to leave a lasting impression – one you cannot help but be forever changed by.
For additional information on Extreme Women, contact Kelly McClelland at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.extremeresponse.org/our-programs/womens-advocacy.
It’s almost that time of year again. The television commercials have already started and it’s time to break out the Christmas music (much to my family’s chagrin).
We at Extreme Response start planning for our Christmas parties in January, so we’re well on our way to another great year. We have almost 90 people signed up and ready to travel to Quito, Manila and Cape Town. We’re in the process of gathering thousands of small toys, hygiene items and school supplies. Emails are flying back and forth across the globe. There are parties to schedule, buses to rent, sleeping arrangements to make and food to order.
Yes, things get pretty crazy this time of year. My husband Jerry and I will be on the road for four weeks as we travel to the South Africa and Quito parties. It’s exhausting. It’s a bit overwhelming. Why do we keep doing this after 18 years? What difference can a little party with food, games, crafts and a “token” gift really make?
Last year was our fifth year leading the South Africa Christmas team. There we put on more than 15 parties in 10 days, sometimes as many as three per day. Our sixth party – and the second of that day – was in Red Hill, one of the communities that ER partner Living Hope works in.
The team was getting a bit tired. It had been “one of those days.” The gift bags didn’t make it with the rest of the supplies, the crafts were nowhere to be found, we had 200 hotdogs to cook over an open fire, the kids were wound up, and one of our team members had an accident and was taken to the hospital (he recovered!).
Needless to say, I felt a bit discouraged. But the party had gone well, all things considered. It was time to hand out the gift bags, so I grabbed my camera to get a few shots of the kids opening their gifts. It’s one of my favorite things to photograph. As I came around the corner, a girl, probably around 8 or 10 years old, ran up to me and opened her gift bag. She shouted, “Look! I got a Colgate! Of my very own.” She proudly showed me her full-sized tube of Colgate toothpaste and skipped on.
Wow. That much excitement – over a tube of toothpaste. No, she wasn’t being sarcastic. She was genuinely excited. She appreciated the gift. She appreciated the party. She appreciated our time and effort. She appreciated your generosity. She doesn’t take things like this for granted. Our being there and providing that party for her made a difference in her day (at the very least).
She had a reason to smile. A reason to skip. A reason to celebrate. She helped remind me that we do all this to bring a little hope, to build trust and to cultivate the relationships. That day, I realized that something as insignificant as a tube of toothpaste can make an impact.
Are we ready for another great year of parties? You bet we are!
If you’d like to help with this year’s Christmas Celebrations, you can donate HERE (Designation: Christmas Celebrations).