Monday 17 October 2016
My second week volunteering at Operation Bobbi Bear began with a visit to Bekethemba Police Station with child safety officer (CSO) Sarah*, who was scheduled to meet a client for counselling. She introduced me to Captain Thomas*, a long serving police officer who has recently returned to work after a heart operation. We looked over the interview room used to question the children brought to the police station and made a plan to brighten it up with posters and toys. Sadly Sarah’s client was unable to attend today as her baby was unwell and so instead she dealt with a case of a young boy who is considered a suicide risk due to the death of a close family friend who has been a father figure to him. The colonel of the police station drove Sarah and I back to the Bobbi Bear centre along some of the roughest hill trails I have ever seen, or indeed felt, so as to show me what real ‘African roads’ look like. I will certainly never forget the experience!
Tuesday 18 October 2016
After a quiet day at the centre, at around 8pm I went with Bradley, one of the Bobbi Bear staff and drivers, to G.J. Crookes Hospital in Scottburgh to collect Steven*, a local man suffering with multi drug resistant (MDR) tuberculosis. Bradley explained that MDR tuberculosis is becoming a serious problem in South Africa in part due to the weakening of the immune system caused by the HIV virus. (For more on HIV/AIDs, read: The devastating link between HIV/AIDs, child sexual abuse and women’s rights in South Africa) Bradley had dropped Steven off at the hospital at 6am that morning in order for him to take further transport to Murchison District Hospital, roughly an hour’s drive away from Scottburgh, and where Stephen needed to go to restart his treatment. Steven has been without medication for some weeks due to an inability to get to the hospital as he did not have the money for a public taxi (hail and ride mini buses that drive around Durban which are the closest thing to public transport available). When a concerned neighbour called Bobbi Bear Steven was very ill, weighing just 33kgs and desperately needing help. When we collected him this evening, however, he was pleased to report he had gained 10kgs and seemed to be back in the system in terms of receiving his medication and getting treatment.
Wednesday 19 October 2016
Today I went with Bradley to drop off two CSOs to Prince Mshiyeni Hospital in Umlazi who were attending to a call that had come in late on Tuesday involving a child rape case. The mother had contacted Bobbi Bear as she said that she was turned away from a child safety unit at her local hospital when she went to report that her daughter had been raped by a family member. This was particularly concerning as physical evidence becomes more difficult to gather long after the incident. I also visited a local Christian school where Bradley and I chatted to the principal about the challenges of integrating technology into education. He was keen to move towards a model that focuses on how the child learns and away from old fashioned didactic methods. I spent the afternoon looking after Joe*, a young boy that is being cared for by the centre in lieu of his severely alcohol dependent parents. He was visited by his step brother George* and step sister Rachel* – a brief moment of family time for a child so neglected.
Thursday 20 October 2016
Today was spent taking Lindsey, the young girl I met last week who had been beaten by her mother and raped by her father for the past ten years, to and from the safe house in which she was staying to three police stations and finally to a hospital in an attempt to open the rape charge against her father, which the social worker had not done. Indeed, Bradley, *Theresa and I rushed to the safe house to do this as we had received a call to say that Lindsey’s social worker was planning to return her to her mother. Having started the process at 11am, by 8pm we had successfully lodged the compliant with the social workers at the local hospital, however not without a degree of frustration that I have never endured before, as well as threats made toward Theresa by police.
Friday 21 October 2016
Friday was spent at the women’s clinic at the Illovo Tree where I was blessed and given my new African name: Ntombenhle, which means beautiful girl. According to kabalarians.com, it also means that I have the talent to excel in inspirational lines of endeavour as a dramatist, musician, writer, or artist. We shall see! I was fighting back the tears when Jackie translated one of the prayers said for me. After touching my head, arms and hands, a prayer woman asked God to give me the strength to overcome the sadness in my heart and do his work. In the evening we got a call to say that Lindsey had in fact been taken home. Bradley made some calls and it seems the situation may be better than it seems; the social worker claims she has investigated the situation and talked with the mother and has judged that a re-unification would be best, largely because the father is away most of the year. The social worker is scheduled to meet with Francis and Theresa tomorrow.
Saturday 22 October 2016
On Saturday morning we received a call from a woman concerned about a five month old baby that was being regularly locked in a room all day as the mother drank. Bradley and I dropped Sarah to the police station to begin the process of visiting the house while we returned to the Saturday morning children’s tree clinic. There we found a dead and decomposing dog very close to where the children were playing and so with the help of three of the older boys and a borrowed shovel I set to work removing it. It was a fairly big dog but we managed to get it onto a bed of bin liners and throw it down a hill on the opposite side of the road. Once finished at the tree we raced back to fetch Sarah who with the help of the police had removed the child. We met her and the police close to the child’s house and I grabbed the baby girl as we rushed to get the paperwork done at the police station so we could get her to Jackie for a health check and to be cleaned, fed and clothed. After being very quiet in the car the baby began screaming in the police station which still didn’t motivate the officer in charge who was concerned largely with how tired he was. Bradley filled the forms out for him and was even given charge of the police stamp so the tired officer could get back to chatting with colleagues. Jackie happened to be at a large local shopping mall and we had no choice but to take the baby to her there. After we scrambled for supplies at the pharmacy the waitresses at the restaurant Jackie was at helped us prepare a bottle. The baby was covered in sores, a severe nappy rash and is suffering from colic – all of which made for a sleepless night. We do not know her name and so for now she has my new name; Ntombenhle. In the evening Bradley and I got a call from a local bar to say two drunk parents were falling over and hitting their child. When we arrived mother and baby had disappeared while the father was cagey. After a time the mother reappeared with the 18 month old girl. After lots of negotiation they agreed to let us follow them home. After the father mounted the curb at the bottom of a dead-end road Bradley managed to convince the father to allow the mother and child to ride with us. We got them home and will follow up next week.
Sunday 23 October 2016
Today I helped Bradley to interview a local woman named Beth* who was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and is now wheelchair bound. Despite this she is in the final year of studying for a degree in marketing as well as interning full time at a local bank. Remarkably this has actually led to her mother ejecting her from the family home as she would rather Beth stay at home rather than work and study, possibly to claim disability benefit. Despite this, however, Beth is determined to graduate and launch her own catering business with her best friend and dorm mate. We took some food to the dorm room she is staying in on the university campus and I helped Bradley to interview her for a documentary he is making about her for a national film competition.
*Real names are concealed so as to protect children and staff
For the opportunity to support Operation Bobbi Bear and volunteer with them in 2017