I had the lovely chance to meet two of the people who read my Blog and they asked me what had happened between the visits to the orphanages, and where the other mentions of these places came from. So, let me turn the clock back, metaphorically at least, and fill in those missing details.
When I was in Francistown, on my first visit, I was invited to spend a week speaking at the wonderful Clifton School. One of the group of ladies who had been responsible for inviting me, knew that I was also interested to find out about the Aids orphans, and she took me to a wonderful Orphanage in Francistown for Blind Aids orphans. It was a very moving experience. I had a mother who had been blind when I was born, and I had also acted as a guide for a couple of St Dunstan's people (For those who don't know, St Dunstan's is a fantastic charity devoted to the care and support of blind ex-servicemen). My mother, before going blind, had been matron of an Orphanage, so I had grown up knowing about them and how important they are in certain societies. I had an affinity with them because my mother had taken me to visit 'her' orphanage when I was about 13, and I found it a very sobering experience, coming as I did from a home that never went short of anything, and love being in abundance from my parents.
To watch these children playing football with a ball containing a bell was beautiful. They ran about, barefoot, but as happy as any sighted children would be, kicking a football. I found it very moving. As I did seeing them sitting rapt in wonder 'watching' a large TV showing a Disney cartoon. They were laughing at just the same places we would have been, and quite how they did that left me staggered.
I had decided to try to help them, and left a substantial amount of money (to them, but not to me!)
for their disposal whilst I was there, and they were overwhelmed to receive it from a total stranger - although my dear friend who took me there was someone they knew well for her own work with disadvantaged people.
She had also taken me to visit a Women's Co-operative, which I found utterly fascinating. The women wove, dyed and printed fabrics, and I was able to buy a lovely table cloth from them which I use on special occasions.
When I returned to Gaborone (flying by tiny plane from Francistown airfield to Gaborone which was a great adventure in itself!) I told Vic and his business partner Geoff and his wife Di about the orphanage I had seen for the blind. Di asked if I would like to go and see the project that she was involved in. It is called the I AM SPECIAL School. It is really very special, as it is, or was at that time, the only school for special needs children in Botswana. I did not have time on that visit to go and see it but since I knew that I would be returning if I could raise the money for the Gaborone orphanage, I knew I would make enough time on my next visit to take that school in, as come what may, I would be back within a few months.
I came home at the end of October, and was on a flight back in the middle of January. Between times I had fitted in a trip to stay with the wonderful German couple I had met on my first visit to Kasane. (Yes, another story of chance encounters leading to wonderful friendships).
I had, as you will know from an earlier posting, overheard a conversation about the lack of money for the St Peter's Day Orphanage to get on with being built. At that stage there was just two small block built structures, but big plans. I came home determined that I would attempt to raise some awareness of the plight of these children, and also see, if it could be at all possible, to raise the 10,000 Pula (£1,000) that was their shortfall at that time.
I bought myself a digital projector, as I discovered the first time I needed to borrow one that the cost of hiring such a piece of equipment was very high. It cost me £75 to hire the thing for one 1 hour talk, after which people donated craft items and pens and pencils for me to take back the next time I was going. I charged a minimal fee for the talk, to go into my 'Orphan Pot' but of course, I paid my own expenses.
Now I was better equipped, I was invited to speak to various groups of people - some more generous than others. I was asked to speak at the Monthly U3A meeting in Carlisle. The Speakers organiser was a friend of mine and she suggested that I ask for £50 fee, because many ask for much more than that. I was rather annoyed when I was handed a cheque for £35, afterwards, but of course, that was better than nothing. Many of those who did hear me, though, were very generous in their donations of pens and pencils for the children. Most of the places I went to speak at, and some were as far as 150 miles away, were very generous and I would come back with a car loaded with things to take to the children. Some gave lots of wool, so I got a very willing group of my friends together, and they knitted most of the wool up into hats for the children.
Winters in Botswana, as anywhere else are relatively cold. Even in hot weather though, the Motswana (as the Botswana people are called) they still wear their woolly hats.
This time, I had a suitcase packed with pens, pencils, embroidery silks, makeup for the stage donated by lots of my friends, in fact, you name it and you would find it in my suitcase. I had learned from experience that Nostar, Vic's maid, would wash and iron my clothes for me, so I didn't need to take so many for this 6 week trip - I didn't have room for them anyway!
Lufthansa were wonderful, and even though my baggage was way over the limit, I opened it up, showed them all the stuff I was taking and they waived the excess baggage fee! What a gift that was to me. I had expected to pay a couple of hundred pounds excess, so it was with a very happy heart that I boarded my flight from Birmingham to Frankfurt, then to Jo'burg and finally to Gaborone.
I had told Di that I would love to see the I AM SPECIAL school so she arranged to take me. I took with me a supply of my Sunshine yellow caps (bought in Gaborone from a very generous Chinese importer who let me have them - and everything else I bought - at cost price because they were for the orphans!)
Working and having fun at the same time
Class Room at I AM SPECIAL School
They have been loaned this range of buildings by a local organisation which was no longer using them, but ultimately, their dream is to have their own buildings. The Government has donated land for the building of such a school but of course, the work to raise the money for the actual construction is a long hard slog - particularly in the global climate as it is at present.
Using the equipment to help Autism and this young man is benefiting greatly from it.
The exercise classes are never a problem in the Botswana sunshine - indeed, the search for a shady tree often takes a greater effort than anything else.
Exercise Class at I AM SPECIAL School
Another way in which they try very hard to be self-sufficient is in growing their own vegetables for their mid-day meal. The children all love the chance to help in the garden, and it is hoped that some of them will one day be able to work for people as gardeners.
Tending the cabbage patch.
Of course, some of these young people are no longer children, but are young vulnerable adults, but the care and consideration and education they receive is second to none and they all consider themselves very fortunate to have a place at the school.
When I left the I AM SPECIAL School, I gave a large amount of money (again, by there standards it was enormous - some 4,000 Pula) which I hoped would help them with their wonderful work.
I was soon on my way back up to Kasane, again in a borrowed car that dear Terry had provided for me. If it were not for the unrivalled kindness of Vic and Terry, the people they have introduced me to, and the hospitality Vic has given me, I would never have been able to do half the things I have been able to do.
This time, I was able to find the Orphanage at Mahalapye. It was indeed a case of taking the last turning after the village (no sign posts, of course, just a dust track!) and with fingers crossed, I drove on, until I came to a magnificent building adorned all over with Disney characters. There, on the front of it, was painted the internationally recognised badge of the Mother's Union. So, my friend in Elgin would be happy - at last, I had found her orphanage that had set me on the path of finding the one in Gaborone by chance. I had a huge haul of goodies to deliver to them too. As Mahalapye is a very small town (little more than a village by our British standards) it was an enormous shock to find that they had 109 orphans being cared for. The place is beautiful.
The Mother's Union Orphanage, Mahalapye
I left a large amount of goods for the children, and each one had to be entered carefully, by hand, into a large ledger. This took an age, because it was painstakingly accurate. Every pencil, crayon, eraser, cap, toy all was entered, and my name written beside it! It ran to pages of things, but apparently it is to make sure that nothing is taken by any helper that belongs rightfully to the children. I was impressed, even if a little delayed in my departure. The children had all sung a lovely thank you song to me, which I found very moving and had to pretend that I had dust in my eyes once again. I am always emotional at these outpourings of thanks for something so tiny and insignificant as a set of coloured crayons!
Soon, however, I was on my way north and heading for Francistown and my lovely friends again. This time I was staying with the lady who had shown me the orphanage for the blind children. She is married to a lovely man who originates from Preston. She herself is a descendant of one of the first settler families. I asked how long her family had been in Africa and she said, very matter of factly, 'Oh, they arrived in 1620 with the first settlers'. My head was spinning after that. This is a photo of their lovely house. Originally built on stilts, the ground level has been 'filled in' with walls and french windows, effectively doubling the size of the property. She and her husband are both geologists, he in geo-physics and she a geologist. Both fascinating people to talk to and lovely warm people I am very proud to call friends. They have been to see me here in Scotland, which was so special.
Martie & Jerry's lovely house
I had a lovely few days with Martie and Jerry and Josh, their son, who I had met before at Clifton School, but now it was time to take to the high road again, for what, to me, was always the best part of the journey because once I left the confines of Francistown, it is very common to see Elephants browsing by the side of the road.
However, this time, I met something else browsing by the side of the road. Traffic Cops!! Yes, I had been 'gunned' speeding. My heart sank. I was very nice to the cops, and said that being a total idiot, I had not seen the speed limit sign. They heard my British accent (now, Yorkshire means nothing to them, just being British was exotic enough for them). They were going to fine me on the spot, 600 Pula (£60). I said of course I would pay, but it would mean that the children in the orphanages would get less. This worked the oracle. I opened the boot and they could see dozens of sunshine yellow caps, lots of coloured pencils sets and various other children's toys. 'Are you really going to give those to the orphans?' they demanded of me. 'Of course, I bought them for the children in the orphanage in Kasane'. 'Well, if you will give me a cap for my little boy, and some coloured pencils for my little girl, you can go on your way' I am all for a bit of bribery in situations like that - so I gave both policemen their treasures and off they went as happy as could be - and I was back on the road north.
I love the way the name of the lodge is carved into the Thatch at Nata Lodge.
I stopped for a bite to eat at Nata Lodge - the magnificent hotel/Lodge Vic and Terry had taken me too on my first trip north with them.
Soon I was on the really interesting leg, because there is little mobile phone cover for about 200 miles and not a lot of traffic, but I love every yard of that drive. There are animals galore, from elephants to giraffes to zebra and of course, the ever present baboons and warthogs. Magic does not begin to describe this leg of the journey. However, it is imperative that I get to Kasane before dark, and I was just going down the hill towards Kazangula, where the Zambesi forms the border between Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, when I got stopped again. This time I was not speeding, it was just two traffic cops who were bored! So, two more caps and two more sets of coloured pencils lighter and I was on my way. I managed to get to Garden Lodge just as dark fell. It falls like a brick there, with little twilight, but just sudden and total darkness. You dare not drive after dark because with 120,000 Elephants roaming free in Botswana, sods law dictates that at least one is going to decide to cross this one and only road north to south at the very moment you want to use it.
It was wonderful to see my friends again, and we talked and laughed well into the night.
I had known there was a little orphanage in Kasane from a notice Gabby has on the reception desk, asking that any loose change be put into a dish for this little place. A couple of days later it was arranged that the owner of the orphanage would come and pick me up and take me on a visit to it.
I was not prepared for the sheer numbers of children I was to see there. I had taken 100 yellow caps with me, and about 20 pink sunhats. (Those, because by now I had exhausted the supply of sunshine yellow caps in the whole of Botswana!)
It is housed in a few little buildings and has a series of classrooms for children from babies of about 1½ years up to 5 years when they go to the primary school.
In each little classroom the children sit on the floor around the room but they are happy, because they are also fed whilst they are there.
Proudly wearing their sunshine yellow caps, but the wee girl was not going to be persuaded to let me tighten the laces on the back of her hat to make it fit!
This little orphanage was started by a wonderful lady who herself is HIV positive. She was infected by her husband, who promptly left her when she tested positive. She keeps going by taking the free Retrovirals that are available to all sufferers in Botswana, and is determined to make a lovely orphanage for her charges. The Government has given her land to build one on, but again, as with other similar projects, it is up to her to raise the funds to do it. It is totally independent, without the backing the the Mother's Union one has at Mahalapye or the St Peters one has in Gaborone. It is a huge challenge, but she is determined and is very deserving of the help that everyone tries to give her.
Again, I was delighted to be able to leave a load of equipment for her, and also to give her some money to help her keep the place going. The money I have given to each of these places has been from my own pocket - the money I raised specifically for St Peter's was given to them in full.
I think this has now filled in the missing links to the other Orphanages I try to support in my own little way. There is this one at Kasane, the Orphanage for the blind children at Francistown, The Mothers Union one at Mahalapye, the St Peter's on at Gaborone and of course, the I AM SPECIAL school also at Gaborone.
My philosphy is that whilst I know I cannot feed and clothe all the children, at least I have more than I actually need to stay alive, and I feel that the only reason any of us had more than we actually need (not to be confused, ever, with want!) it is on condition that we use that little surplus to help those who don't have the most basic necessities in life. I have no desire to be the richest woman in the world but if I should just continue to have the chance to help someone else along this rocky road we call life, then that is sufficient reward for me. I am just a pensioner, but my husband was a saver and I think he would be happy that I am using some of those savings to bring a few smiles to the faces of children who are growing up poorer than any child we have ever seen here in the UK. I have been truly blessed with the wonderful friends I have been lucky enough to make, and those are my real and abiding riches.