I made my way downstairs after a shower and a slightly restless night. My mind was full of ideas and thoughts; a new country, a new venture, new opportunity, new sights, sounds and emotions. Today we attended the Illovo tree, an outreach project that Bobbi Bear has been supporting for over a decade.
The volunteers and Bobbi Bear staff are busy in the kitchen making up hundreds of sandwiches to take down to The Tree. Friday at The Tree is for mums and their babies, Saturday is for children. We pack the cars up and jump in with anticipation of the morning ahead. We aren’t sure how many children will be there. We prepared for over one hundred. Jackie says they have over 300 some Saturdays. We weren’t sure if the rain would stop the gathering. There is a fierce river the children cross, and this river has taken the lives of children before with its ferocity and unpredictability. The Bobbi Bear staff try to persuade the children not to travel the distance to The Tree if the weather is bad and the river is high. They come anyway.
Children continue to come for hours. More and more gather, arriving solo, and in groups, smiling faces, brothers, sisters, babies, hoola-hooping, playing, laughing and dancing. Jackie is so natural with everyone and knows most of them by name and their individual story, and sometimes their mothers, grandmothers. She introduces some girls to me. One was a very young mum. A mother as a result of rape and was 15 when she was abused and fell pregnant. Anther girl is introduced. A very pretty girl, a poet, and living with AIDS. Jackie found her almost dead and rushed her to hospital and made sure she received all the drugs she needed. Jackie tells us stories of recovery. She isn’t showing off. She is sharing her story and passion to care and help those in need. She is doing what she was born to do. We watch little children, twins running around, having fun. I think of my nephew who is 18 months old and realise there is no difference between these beautiful children in front of me.
The children sit down and the sandwiches we prepared earlier are given out. They have to eat one there, that is the rule. They tend to hide them for siblings that couldn’t make it to The Tree. The sandwiches are distributed and Jackie tells us how important it is that these children have a choice. They have very few in their lives. The children form lines to patiently wait their donations and water. Some of the volunteers have put a package together containing dental hygiene donations. The little ones wait so patiently. Used toys, broken toys, piles of what we would consider junk, means everything to these children. Their need is real, and I feel we have been dominated by greed in the developed world.
I am exhausted after experiencing such high levels of stimulation. We return to the Bobbi Bear house and sit and talk about the racial tensions that are still so high in South Africa over a much needed coffee.
Jackie wants to take the volunteers for lunch with Makelya. We drive to a huge soulless shopping mall. Consumer heaven. We all feel the irony and contrast from the morning under The Tree. We are all hungry and tired though so we accept lunch and order pizza.
The volunteers organise a dinner at a restaurant to say goodbye to one of the Dutch volunteers leaving in the morning. I decline the offer, as I want to absorb all of the stories I’ve heard, think about what I have seen and spend some time alone. An amazing day at The Tree. So much love and care shown throughout the Bobbi Bear charity. The passion is astounding and inspiring.
For the opportunity to join Bobbi Bear