We stopped at the entrance to this community of destitute people who make the best that they can with everything they have. We walked around some of the Shanty’s and came upon the remains of a makeshift home that had burnt literally to the ground killing the owner. One of the homeless residents walked around with us, talking about her life and the man who had died in the fire. She clearly had been friends with him and despite her tough exterior there were moments where the emotions came through.
As I walked the area, I was impressed with how much effort the inhabitants put into creating a normal living space with little to no money. It was also apparent; the massive scale of the work CWSAWR was doing on a daily basis to support the people living in this community. It was sad that people were living in such poverty, yet inspired at the same time, by these people who were showing the resilience of the human soul in the face of such adversity!
We all loaded back into our vehicles and drove deep into this large community of less fortunate people, and the scale of poverty was almost beyond comprehension, and this was only one of many poverty stricken communities around South Africa. The silence in the truck told me that Neale, Anthony and Don were all having their own thoughts on the poverty before us.
I noticed the CWSAWR truck stop by a large group of women dressed in ethnic clothing endemic to the area, and as we pulled up, they erupted into the most amazing African song! We followed them for a short distance as the lead us towards a small building. We stopped the truck and all of us were out, taking photographs and enjoying the soulful song from this incredible group of ladies!
We continued to follow them as they entered the small compound where Ouma was sitting with a young child suffering from HIV related illnesses in her arms. This diminutive 84 year old woman was taking care of at least 6 orphans, some of whom also had HIV. The children were interested in us, and seemed to respond well to using the small LCD display on the back of my camera to show them the photos I had taken. I went inside the home, a wood frame covered with tin, a dirt floor, and no modern amenities. I was struck by a wealth of emotions that conspired to prevent me from capturing images for Ouma, the children, the CWSAWR, and our group. I stayed behind the lens for the rest of our visit, trying to capture the emotions, the conditions, and the essence of Ouma and the children. The volunteer group of singers continued with African songs, which resounded deeply with my feelings, as I continued to capture the scene.
Johann and Anthony were quickly adopted by specific children who would mimic their actions, showing a rapport despite clear language barriers. I tried to capture the children in a unique way, many of them posing for me, smiling with their eyes, and appreciative when I would take the time to show each of them what they looked like in the photo. It struck me that the camera was helping break down barriers despite our inability to understand each other’s language.
I gave Ouma a bag of toys that I had brought with me, and the children swarmed around, grabbing up what they could. Soon the sound of laughter, resounded with smiles, let me know that my small gifts were a huge success. Soon we had to leave, and as I reached the truck I looked back. There was Neale alone with Ouma, helping her stand and then walk towards us! I ran back to the compound and started taking pictures of this courageous lady who wanted to walk to our entourage to say thank you and goodbye! I was awestruck, and that moment of Neale walking with her will remain with me for the rest of my life. There was a bond, something between them that went unspoken, something you can see in the photos – that show that raw moment of bonding and friendship. Absolutely incredible!!!
On the way out we visited another area of the community and homes, but time meant we had to continue with our journey. As we drove back to the CWSAWR building everyone donated what they had in their wallets to the cause. As we said our goodbyes, Neale made a commitment to come back and help Ouma and the orphan children of White River. We had a late luncheon with the CWSAWR staff and then were on our way back taking a short cut through Kruger Park to the Maroela Chalets.
We entered Kruger Park at the Pretoriuskop Gate and were again treated to seeing wild African animals in their natural habitat. We stopped to look at some elephants just off the side of the road and suddenly a huge battle erupted literally right in front of us between two African bull elephants! We were all mesmerized, and the snapping of camera shutters mixed with the thundering trumpeting from the battling Pachyderms! As Anthony drove us away, the two elephants were still locked in a close battle with one another, leaving me to wonder how it would turn out. What makes one the victor over the other?
We arrived at Maroela Chalets just before dark settled in, taking the time to absorb the experience of the day in our own ways. I packed up my gear for tomorrow’s flight home, and was grateful for the life I have, grateful for the friends who have blessed me with their time, grateful for THIS adventure. As I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep I wondered what sleep was like for Ouma and the orphan children of White River, a tear fell from my face as the darkness enveloped me.