Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reflections on 2011

Thinking back over the past year, I am struck with amazement at the growth and provision God has blessed Themblethu with. With the addition of three new funders, we were able to increase the reach of our care, add valuable members to our careteam and care for needy children from our offices on a weekly basis. We are so thankful to the generous support and prayers we have received! Let me take you through some of the highlights of our past year and a glimpse into the work we have been busy with.  

Centralizing some of our work
2011 enabled us to really put our new buildings to use which were completed at the end of the previous year. With a generous donation of a solar power system - our donated desks, chairs and a computer and printer were plugged in and put to work. We also added Vusi, our part-time admin assistant/data-capturer to help us with the making copies, and database entry and filing required for improving our care and for reports to our funders. He has been a tremendous help in the office!
In November 2011, with the insertion of funding from the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, many of our caregivers, heretofore always volunteers, started to receive small stipends to support their work. While our number of caregivers had stayed about the same (26 currently), the our number of home-based care patients has increased from 80 to 280 and the number of orphaned and vulnerable children from about 15 families per month, to 90 children monthly in their homes, and an additional 40 in the soup kitchen project. All this growth, with a slightly increased professional staff (part-time volunteer nurse and part-time pastor) and yet we haven’t had the funding to add another vehicle to increase the number of people we can see in their homes. Centralizing our care so that we could seeing as many clients as possible (those well enough to come to us) in our offices has became paramount to our being able to provide good care. We now host a Wellness Day nearly every Wednesday where our volunteer nurse (Jules), social auxiliary worker  (Xoli) and pastor (formerly Phillip, now Challom – a YWAM missionary from Nigeria) come together to provide professional care to our patients needing support. We see cases of our patients who have every symptom of TB, but have been sent home from the clinic without further investigation, diagnosis or treatment (-> refer to the hospital clinic for query TB and an X-Ray).  

(TB remains the number one killer of people with HIV – the bulk of our patients, so we are vigilant about this.) We also had two sick boys whose TB was not improving after months of treatment (-> query bad adherence or drug-resistant TB), one of them whose HIV status was unknown (-> speak with his aunt about importance of re-testing him and send the caregiver to accompany them to clinic).  The mother of another patient in her forties couldn’t understand why her child continued to deteriorate, despite the medicines she had been given at the clinic. (-> Explain her diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease as written on her clinic card.) And social and spiritual problems galore – from domestic abuse to in-law feuds to husbands who refuse to go for an HIV test even after the wife has started ARV treatment. Each Wellness Day starts with a Biblical devotion and opportunities for each patient to receive prayer and counselling, at their choice. Many seek this out and we have had some make commitments to Christ through this. The great thing about our Wellness Days is that we can see many of our patients (sometimes as many as 15-18), and provide them holistic individual care in one day without needing an extra car.

We also continue to do home visits to all our orphaned and vulnerable children, as well as our patients who are so sick or immobilized by stroke or other ailment that they are bedridden.

Soup Kitchen
The funding we received from Breadline Africa to start a soup kitchen for feeding orphaned and vulnerable children has been a big help to us. Without all the bells and whistles of other big-time funders, Breadline Africa has been a funder that has allowed us to really focus on doing quality work with the soup kitchen children we have taken into our program, instead of focusing heavily on the paperwork, record keeping and database entry. We have received another year of funding with a significant increase to support our general operating costs, as well as to add a small expansion of our soup kitchen project to our most remote area –Slimangamehlo village at the top of the Injesuthi valley. We will be feeding thirty-five orphaned and vulnerable children at our Mandabeni offices each week, as well as an additional twenty in a hut granted for our use by a generous community member.

Our relationship with the Hospice and Palliative Care Association (HPCA) of South Africa has also strengthened in the past year and we received funding this past year to buy some Play Therapy equipment and toys to support our soup kitchen project. This has been a tremendous joy to the children. Over the Christmas holidays, we also received a donated jungle gym from a Rotary friend which is filled with joyful children each afternoon.

Volunteers & Outreach
We have been very blessed lately by the visits of some volunteers. The first group was a small group from YWAM who came to do outreach to us and our community, sleeping on the floor of our building for a week. They did beautiful work on our garden and shared God’s love with many of our patients and! Just today we met our new Peace Corps Volunteer, Kristen from New Mexico, who we look forward to working with for the next two years. We are also in the midst of planning a nine day outreach by another, much larger YWAM outreach team who will come to share God’s love with our community in mid April. We are very happy to have their involvement and support and strengthen our Christian impact!

God has really been good to us! Please join us in celebrating the people we have been able to share love and hope with through our growth.

A BIG thank you to all of you who, through your support of me personally, make so much of Thembalethu possible. God bless you for your generosity!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October Update

Phillip (otherwise known as Mfundisi or pastor) opened the Wellness Day in the customary way with a gospel song and a prayer. He then shared a devotion with those sitting in the room about God's faithfulness and steadfastness, even amidst illness or countless other difficult circumstances. Thembalethu held its fourth Wellness Day, the first the I was able to be part of.

We started Wellness Days in response to the increasing numbers of patients and orphaned and vulnerable children who are under our care - with the desire to be able to better provide them with care beyond what our home-based caregivers can offer - a nurse for unresolved or unexplained medical problems, a social (auxillary) worker for complicated social/familial/emotional situations, and a Zulu pastor for sharing God's hope and comfort in the midst of illness and difficulty. Our home-based caregivers bring their patients for our weekly Wellness Days when they see that their problems are beyond their knowledge, experience or training. Jules (the American nurse volunteering with us), Xoli (now a social worker auxiliary) and Phillip (Zulu pastor) all meet together and the clients able to come to see us (ie, not bedridden patients) can come for more professional help. We can see up to 12 or 18 patients in a few hours this way instead of trudging up mountainsides and getting stuck in the mud going from house to house to see people mobile enough to come to us. We are working to get the caregivers to really identify patients who are too sick to come to us so that we can continue to prioritize their care at home.

One of the recent touching cases we saw recently at a Wellness Day was a HIV positive patient in her early 40s who was suffering from Parkinson's Disease which had never been explained to her or her family and her poor mother wondering why her daughter was getting progressively worse. Jules was able to explain the diagnosis and disease to the mother and daughter who, though saddened by the news, were relieved to find resolution to all their questions. Another patient was a sickly skin-and-bones 11 year old boy who had been on TB treatment for nearly one year - but incorrectly. He walked with a cane and assistance to sit and go up stairs. We used our referral system to get him readmitted to hospital where they corrected the treatment error and are looking at the likely possibility of drug-resistant TB.

A girl smiles while eating her lunch at
Thembalethu's OVC soup kitchen.
At Thembalethu, things are going well. I have been busy A LOT in the administration of things lately, trying to catch up on many different things that got behind while I was gone. But this week, Xoli was away at a training so I took over the delivery of food parcels to some of our orphaned and vulnerable children. Some of the cases were heartbreaking - families headed by 16 year olds without any support or income or food, and wearing rags five sizes too small for them. I am very glad to hear that our caregivers continue seeking out really needy cases to love, support and make a difference in their lives and for the increasing resources we have to share with them. It has been really encouraging since I returned from the US to see that the local church-unity group has launched community worker encouragement/support as one of their new priorities. It is great to sit down with others in the area who are also involved in sharing God's love, according to their gifts, with those in need in the community. On Friday we met with a guy from YWAM Pretoria about some of our struggles and joys of being God's hands and feet in the community. I am very much looking forward to taking part in various mission and worldview workshops held by YWAM in the next couple months to help me better understand how similar and different my Western context is from the lives of the Zulus with whom I work.

It's nearly the end of October already, and I can't grasp how the time has flown since we returned from the US six weeks ago. We hit the ground running - getting ourselves moved to Winterton and then settled into our new house, getting a grasp on things at Thembalethu and for Eugene his new renewable energy business, and trying to find our place in the Winterton community again. Lots of changes and adjustments for us in these past few weeks.

We are now living in a 60 year old thatch-roofed mud-walled cottage on a dairy farm. When the cows are grazing in the pasture in front of us, all 620-something of them can really make a noise - and even when they're not bellowing, the sound of so many chewing grass is really remarkable! Joshua's favorite word has become "cow, cow" now, or alternatively "kandakanda" (Zulu for tractor). He has really settled in well here. He's such an adaptable, easy little guy - we are so blessed! We started potty training, decided he wasn't ready yet, and now are back into it again as he's started to take initiative himself. He seems to be a very quick learner as we have had very few accidents in the last couple of days. (Thank goodness for cement floors!) Very exciting not to have to do diapers so much any more!

Eugene's business is coming along, slowly as they do at the beginning. But we are trusting God that all his hard work and connections will turn into some sales as time goes on.

It was so great to be able to connect with so many of you this summer after so long away. Thank you for all your hospitality, generosity and all your prayers. Please keep them coming! We would also love to hear the latest from you - please let us know how you are doing.

May the rain of God's blessing shower down on you today.

Betsy, Eugene & Joshua Meyer

Prayer Requests:

  • Thanks for God's provision of a lovely cottage at just the right time, and the right price.  

  • Thanks for the ability to spend three months in the US - the chance to spend time and reconnect with family and friends and supporters. It was really precious to be able to introduce Joshua to my family, and to spend time with my nephews, and for Eugene to get to know everyone better. 
Joshua was 'smothered' by the
love of two cousins.

  • Thanks for the renewed generosity and support of so many old and new friends over the past few months. We are tremendously blessed to have such lovely people behind us!

  • Healing for Roy, our peace corps volunteer who has now left us to recover after an illness.

  • Wisdom for how to help Mpume Hadebe, who I have known since I arrived in South Africa in 2004. She is now 13 years old, ran away from the orphanage where we moved to four years ago after being repeatedly sexually abused by an older boy where she was previously living. She has an addiction to boys now, and her granny isn't able to keep her away from trouble either. She will have to repeat the 9th grade since she's dropped out and moved and needs a strong, loving place to live. Pray that God will really do a miracle in her life - fill all her needs and give her hope for her future.

  • Wisdom and provision for Eugene in his business as he's increasing his contacts and the word is starting to spread in this area. Provision for us as a family as we live without his monthly salary we have been so accustomed to.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April Update

A Day in the Field
We fetched Bonisile, our home-based caregiver, at the pre-arranged spot on her dirt road intersection, standing with her umbrella in the midst of a drizzling rain. With all this rain and the resulting mud, it was far from an ideal day to be doing home visits. Especially because I hadn’t been prepared for the drizzle and didn’t have anything but my fleece with me - no rain jacket or umbrella of my own. And neither did our two new Thembalethu staff whom I had set out to orient to our home-based work: Roy, our newly-arrived Peace Corps volunteer for two years had arrived the week before, and Philip, a Zulu Pastor who has just joined our team to support our caregivers, patients and orphaned & vulnerable children as well as other clients.
Bonisile climbed into the back of the pick-up (bakkie in South African lingo) to join Roy, as we still only have our one two-seater truck and I was orienting Philip in front. (We are trusting God to provide us with a five-seater vehicle in the coming months. If you would like to assist, please let me know.) Bonisile then directed us through the grass and mud paths to the first of her patients’ homes where we parked the bakkie a short distance away and walked the rest of the way through the wet grass.
We arrived at the homestead, a row of mud huts, where Bonisile tucked her head in one of them that was pouring out smoke, and then invited us to follow her as she entered. As our eyes adjusted to the dark, windowless room, we saw a weakly warming wood fire pouring out smoke and immediately my eyes started to water. Just behind the smoky fire were nearly a dozen buckets and dishes of all kinds that filled up nearly half the room, placed strategically to catch the water pouring through the roof onto the mud floor. We arranged our Zulu grass mat to sit on the floor just outside the muddy radius and greeted our patient, a middle-aged woman dressed in navy blue. From the duk head-tie of navy cotton through to a navy cloak, navy top and navy skirt, seemingly every inch of our patient was covered in navy blue – the clothing of a recent widow. The woman went on to tell us that her one daughter had married off, and with her husband passed away in December, she was now alone and without any income or assistance.
To make matters worse, because of traditional restrictions on widows, she was unable to make or sell any of her handywork, or even earn any money from her skilled mud-cement plastering of the exterior walls of people’s homes. Her in-laws, whose compound she lived in, perhaps because of their own limited income, left her to fend for herself. Which was difficult, in fact nearly impossible for her to do as long as she is wearing mourning clothes. She would be allowed to burn those clothes in June/July at a traditional party and when a cow had been slaughtered for the ancestors.
We prayed for Bonisile’s first patient; Philip encouraged her and shared God’s love and hope with her, encouraging her to not give up, but to continue persevering through this difficult period. We said our goodbyes and left her with a large bag of maize meal, as well as some beans and soy protein mix, making a note to refer her to Xoli who, having completing her studies, is now registered as a social auciliary worker.
Bonisile then continued to lead us onto the neighbor and her other patient, who, we found out, was also recently widowed in a very similar situation; without family support or any hope of making an income as long as she was in mourning clothes. We listened to her sad, lonely story, Phillip encouraged her and we prayed for her, buying some Zulu grass mats from her to support one income-generating activity she could, as a widow, be involved in. We also left her with a bag of maize meal to give her the local staple.

Joshua has a brief rest during a day at the office. He enjoys a drink of water on top of the bags of maize meal for distribution to our OVC.

Blessed to Be a Blessing
Thembalethu has received and been able to pass on tremendous blessings to the Amangwe community in the past few months. Below are some of the highlights.
• In March we started a soup kitchen with new funding we received from Breadline Africa! We are now cooking for 19, soon to be 35 orphaned and vulnerable children three days a week before and after school. We also provide these children with home work assistance, and also fun!

 • We have also received funds to add a pastor on part-time to provide spiritual support to our caregivers, patients and OVC. Phillip Tshabalala joined our care team in April and has already received very positive reports from our caregivers as well as some of the patients and OVC he has been able to visit.
• With the funding we received from NACOSA (The Global Fund to Fight HIV, TB and Malaria), we give 42 OVC food parcels each month, and we also assisted 64 OVC with full school uniforms, school bags, blankets and other material support. (Some are pictured here.)
• We have also added a Peace Corps volunteer, Roy Griffin from Oklahoma, to our team. He is living with a Zulu family near to our centre and will be working with us for two years. He has already been a great help with our data and reporting to funders and will hopefully help us get a big, flourishing veggie garden going as well.
We are so amazed at God’s goodness and provision to us. Thank you also for your prayers and support to make all this work possible!

Betsy, Eugene & Joshua Meyer

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January Update

Compliments of the New Year to you all!

Cleaning and sweeping and cleaning some more, installing new locks and sorting through keys, repairing donated furniture, assembling desks and bookshelves, installing sinks and computer software on new donated computers, installing outside lights and a whole new solar system (panels, batteries, regulator and inverter), and training our new admin assistant. It’s been a very full couple of months for Eugene, Joshua and I as we’ve been back and forth to the Berg countless times recently getting things in place.
Eugene (standing) and metal workers inspect their
installation work. 

I can’t tell you how exciting it is to have moved into our new building, and to set up as a functioning office!! For so long, Xoli and I have both been operating with our homes as offices and they have been taken over by boxes, filing cabinets, home-based care supplies and food for orphans as well as all our patient files and computers. Finally we have been able to move much of our work into our new buildings, which we have done with great flourish, and we are very thankful to have such a beautiful new building to operate from!

Our new offices open,
now powered by the sun!
Eugene and I spent much of our Christmas leave at our Thembalethu Centre setting up and installing a new solar system donated generously by Blue Oak Energy (big thanks to Janie and Tobin Booth!). There is no electricity in the Injesuthi Valley, and having electricity allows us to have a functioning office, powers our computers and copy machine, gives us the capacity to do so many more things from our offices. We have come far from working out of our bakkie (pick-up) house to house! We feel very blessed to have received so generously!

So much has happened in the past few months since our last October update. It has been a busy couple of months as both our little boy, Joshua as well as Thembalethu have undergone a tremendous amount of growth.

Not only have we moved into our new offices, but we have also grown up tremendously in our work with our new Global Fund to Fight HIV, TB and Malaria grant:
· In home-based care, we jumped up from 85 patients to 210 in the period of a month, and the visits to these patients has also increased greatly to provide more thorough care and support of the sick, primarily those infected with HIV and TB.
· We have added five dedicated caregivers in our community-based care of orphaned and vulnerable children as well as additional children (120 per month) that receive psychosocial support as well as some receive food parcels, others school uniforms and school supplies for the new school year.
· We now have 17 caregivers who are now receiving stipends for their work, being able to receive some support for their generous heart-felt care of their sick and vulnerable neighbors.
· We have added one of our patients on as a part-time admin assistant to help us meet the reporting requirements of the Global Fund and with general admin tasks such as maintaining the database and all our client files.
· I have also learned a lot about finances through our new funder in producing financial reports as well as better managing and monitoring our organizational finances.

Joshua, meanwhile, has also undergone many changes since our last update. On 5 February he will be celebrating his first birthday, hard to believe the little guy is nearly at such a seemingly monumental milestone! In the past few weeks he has gone from doing the ‘butterfly stroke crawl’ to truly being able to move himself around the house, and in the past two weeks has started to really explore, leaving little ‘piles’ of books, CDs or other household items as signs of his exploration. He is ‘cruising’ around the furniture, and we don’t think it will be long before he starts walking on his own – he has taken to grabbing our legs and walking with us wherever we are going any chance he gets. Joshua cut four new teeth over Christmas, and is very cute little guy with his six teeth who brings a lot of joy, smiles and laughter into our home. 

It is going on two and a half years that I have been living in Tugela Ferry and travelling to the Drakensberg two, three and four times a month for two days at a time. I am becoming increasingly excited at the prospect that these two hour drives will soon come to an end as we look to the close of our days in Tugela Ferry, and moving back to the Winterton area. We will really miss the lovely mission-minded community here, and the many friends that we have made. In April, both Eugene and I will reach our seven year marks in KwaZulu Natal (he came from Cape Town, by way of Zambia) – he having spent that entire time in Tugela Ferry. Eugene has given his notice to complete his work at Philanjalo at the end of April where he has been financial manager for the past five years. From May or June, we are planning to spend a much-anticipated few months in the USA after what will be nearly two years without a visit. I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to reconnecting and catching up!

After our furlough in for the summer in the US, God willing, we plan to move to Winterton area where Eugene will run his new alternative energy business selling everything from solar panels to wind and hydro powered systems and efficient shower heads while continuing to help out Thembalethu as handyman, solar and operational guru, and likely helping out another ministry or two as well. When we are back in Winterton, I will be able to have more contact with our caregivers, patients and children, and allow us to deeper convert our centre to a true community resource centre that shows God’s heart and shares resources with the community.

Thank you very much for your prayers and support in all that we do. May God continue to bless you for making my being here and this work possible.

Prayer Requests
· Prayers of thanksgiving for the recent donations we have received – from our new office building, to the office furniture we have now put to use, the solar system to power our new offices, and the Global Fund grant.
· Prayers for a possible additional funder who responded to our proposal two years after submission and may be interested in jazzing up our old building to make it into a more usable community resource centre – putting in a large covered waiting area, putting in a proper floor and ceiling, as well as funding some of our running costs (fuel and communication), and possibly putting in a well to make us less dependent on the municipality to fill up our water tank in the dry winters.
· Prayers for wisdom and discernment as we may be receiving a Peace Corps volunteer in the next few months. Pray that God would bring the right person to us, if we get one.
· Prayers for Eugene and I that we may stay centred on Christ in the midst of many things going on. Please pray that we would focus on the voice of Truth in the midst of many other competing noises.
· Prayers for God’s wisdom and timing in having some furlough in the USA. We are looking at coming in May or June for an uncertain number of months and are seeking God’s leading in the timing and duration for this.
· Prayers for the right people to come together to fill the gaps for the work that I do while I’m away from Thembalethu on furlough in the USA.
· Pray with us for God’s vision and guidance as we dream about possible uses of our facilities. Join me in praying for God to bring a solid Zulu Christian pastor to us who can strengthen the spiritual side of our work. 
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Family Pics

The Meyer Family

A happy little man!
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