Thursday, 27 November 2014

Adoption Day - 27th November 2007

Finally here we were at Tuesday 27th November, the day Mrs Rouw, the new magistrate, was going to hold the adoption hearing for Leroy. We were due at court at 2pm, so we could have a fairly leisurely breakfast and then drive up to Grabouw in time for lunch at the orphanage.

Leroy had been staying with me since Thursday 22nd and on Saturday we had moved from Lavender Cottage to stay with my lovely friend Bryony, as Judy had family staying and she needed Lavender Cottage for them. Bryony headed off to work early, wishing us a smooth adoption process. After the roller coaster we had been on for the last couple of weeks, not to mention the previous three and a half years, I laughed and said I hoped so too! But inside I was constantly praying that nothing would prevent Leroy becoming my son this day. He'd been my son in my heart for too long for it not to be legalised NOW!

I fed Leroy his breakfast - a very messy affair, as his oral skills were not great, and I would usually end up pebbledashed with weetabix as he coughed frequently while he was eating. I idly wondered how quickly he'd end up with a feeding tube once we made it home to the UK and the good old NHS. 

My mobile phone started to ring, bringing me sharply back to the present. It was Debbie, my lawyer. The news wasn't great. Apparently the social worker was still insisting that the Magistrate needed to be in possession of a "Letter of No Objection" from the official adoption department before the adoption could go ahead, although this was not true. But for a Magistrate who had never done an international adoption before, this could be enough to stop us going ahead. Debbie had done her best to reassure Mrs Rouw that it was fine, but was unsure which way it was going to go. As Debbie talked I could feel the panic rising up inside me again. Please God, don't let this stop the adoption happening, I quietly prayed. Leroy started to get unsettled and Debbie assured me she was praying too, and hung up. Just another battle, just another hurdle to get over. Please let us be over this one, and this be the last one before the adoption is finalised. 

I calmed myself down and got Leroy washed, changed and dressed. I let him play with his new toy while I got things together for his lunch and made mine, packed the changing bag, and made sure I had all the paperwork I was likely to need. And then we headed outside to the car, Leroy showing his usual excitement at the prospect of a car journey, whether it be long or short. It would take almost an hour to drive to Grabouw from Bryony's house. It was another warm clear day, showing off the Cape Peninsula's beauty to best advantage. I really enjoyed driving that route, passing the back of Table Mountain with the buildings of UCT clinging to it, and then out towards the airport, past Khayelitsha and on towards Leroy's mountains. 

I turned the sound up on the car CD player, much to Leroy's enjoyment, and sang along to the worship cd. I knew I needed to keep my eyes on Jesus today - looking at the storm raging around me would have me sinking within seconds - with my eyes on Him, I could walk on water.  In spite of my singing, Leroy fell asleep as we drove, only stirring as we turned off the main road and drove down towards Grabouw, and fully waking up as we made our way along the bumpy unmade road up to the orphanage. 

The children and the house mothers were all pleased to see Leroy and me. The house mothers were quietly excited about what was, hopefully, due to take place that afternoon, but I sensed their sadness too. I knew they were going to miss my little sunshine boy. Lizzie, who on paper was Leroy's foster mother, was less quiet, and scooped Leroy out of his chair and gave him a cuddle. She was due to come to the court with us, in her official foster mother role. 

After lunch, I cleaned and changed Leroy again, and tried to spruce myself up too. Then, as I'd received no further messages from Debbie, it was time to get back in the car, this time with Lizzie too, and drive down to the court house in the centre of Grabouw. We arrived a little early, and found a parking space in a little bit of shade. It was quite hot by now, and I knew the car would heat up quickly if parked in full sun. The car park was busy with people milling around, mostly waiting in the shade provided by the small court house building. These were the petty criminals of Grabouw with their families and friends. All waiting for their day in court. 

I left Lizzie and Leroy in the car and went to the administration office to say that we had arrived. I was greeted by long faces (I'd got to know the administrators a little as I had been a frequent visitor at their office over the last couple of weeks). My heart sank - had the social worker won, and the adoption hearing postponed? No! Phew! But the court session was running very late - there was a backlog of cases as there had been a gap with no magistrate in Grabouw. The administrators suggested I go back to the car to wait and they would let us know when Mrs Rouw was free. 

Hmmm! Disabled almost four year old in a hot car was not a good plan! We opened the doors to let more air in, and I handed Leroy his favourite toy to play with. With no table on his car seat, I needed to hold it for him. When I got tired, Lizzie took over. The minutes ticked by, and Lizzie and I chatted. She told me about the first time she met Leroy - a story she'd told several times before, but I listened intently as I needed to know all the details about what happened before I met Leroy. He was just about four months old, and the results of his MRI had confirmed that he had serious brain damage. This meant that it would be impossible to find anyone to adopt him in South Africa. He had been cared for by a foster mother near the hospital where he was born, but the state now wanted him cared for in an orphanage. He was therefore brought to the huge court building in Bellville. Lizzie described how she was led through a maze of corridors and into a room where a woman (the foster mother) stood, in floods of tears, next to a Moses Basket, with a tiny baby inside. She was told to pick him up, and then to say goodbye and leave the room with him. That poor baby! That poor woman! It wrenches my heart every time I think about it. 

Leroy was getting a bit frustrated, so we got him out of the car and walked round the car park, avoiding eye contact with those others waiting. I looked at my watch - 3pm. Ugh! How much longer did we need to wait? I found a fence in the shade where we could lean up against it. It was cooler here than in the car, but I was worried they wouldn't spot us here if they came to look for us. After 10 minutes by the fence we wandered back to the car, and finally at 3.30pm I saw a figure emerge from the office entrance and walk towards our car. It was Mrs Roux! At last! 

She laughed as she saw I was wearing the same skirt as she was - it broke the ice. After apologising for the delay she ushered us into her office - she thought the office would be less intimidating than the court room for Leroy. And finally we were into the business of the afternoon, completing forms, giving consent to the adoption. And then it was done! The adoption order made! Mrs Roux congratulated me, and told Leroy what a lucky boy he was. Lizzie hugged me, and we left the building. Finally I was Leroy's Ma! Finally the law had caught up with my heart! I hugged my son closer to me, knowing we had taken a huge step closer to getting Leroy home to where he belonged, even though I knew we had a mountain of red tape to wade through yet. 

Back at the orphanage we were the subject of many more hugs. G and A came over to see how we had got on, and offered their congratulations too.  It was getting late by now and I knew I had an hour's drive ahead of me, and Leroy's evening meal to sort, so I bid them goodbye. A reached out her arms, as if to take Leroy off me. I pulled him tighter to me, and she quizzically asked if I was taking him with me!! Somewhat surprised, I stated that of course I was taking my son with me! Very strange that they would think I could give him up again, having finally got him as my son!

As I drove up the road from Grabouw towards the main road with Leroy next to me, it properly dawned on me that I would now never have to drive that road leaving him back at the orphanage. My eyes flooded with tears and I sobbed as I pulled in to the side of the road, which thankfully was clear of traffic! I really was Leroy's Mummy at long last!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Leroy's Jam

Leroy has two big passions in his life - music and movement. 

Leroy has loved music for as long as I have known him. When I first met him, he would look up at me with wide eyes as I would sing to him. If he was crying, he would stop as soon as I started to sing. 
The house mothers would often have the radio on in the kitchen at the orphanage, so I guess it was the soundtrack to his day. 

When he started to come to Cape Town with me for the weekend, he loved the radio in the car. In my little studio flat he would wait expectantly for me to plug my iPod in to the speakers, smiling when the music started. He quickly learnt the introduction to his particular favourites, chuckling at about the third note. 

About 14 months after I met him, just before his second birthday, I took him with some friends to a concert at Kirstenbosch Botannical Gardens. The Soweto Sting Quartet were playing. From the moment they started playing, you could see that Leroy was gripped by the music, listening intently. I bought one of the CDs they were selling, and the next morning, over breakfast, I slipped it into my laptop. As the first tune started, Leroy started laughing. He clearly recognised the music from the night before; there was no doubt in my mind. 

My friends Trevor and Ruth acquired a piano around about the same time. Leroy was intrigued when Trevor started playing it, when we were round at their house one day. Trevor started playing scales, with Leroy looking on. Whether through lack of practice, or on purpose, I'm still not sure, but Trevor played some wrong notes within the scale. Each wrong note drew a chuckle from Leroy. Although he'd never been up close to a piano before nor learnt scales (what two year old has learnt scales?  Let alone, one severely physically disabled with cerebral palsy, who lives in an orphanage in a poor township!)

Quickly, I learnt that Leroy was a boy who needed music. He tuned in to music at restaurants, clearly recognising familiar songs, prompting me if the music stopped. The minute we got in the car, he asked for music (he still does), the minute we got "home" (wherever home was) he asked for music (he still does). 

Once we were properly home, I had the opportunity to take him to more concerts; his whole body quivering with excitement as he heard the orchestra tuning up. 

For his 8th birthday, his dreams came true when I gave him a keyboard.  He was ecstatic and it rapidly became his activity of choice when at home. 

I was keen to find a piano teacher for him, but struggled to find anyone. However, around the time of his ninth birthday, our social worker asked if she could contact the Connect Music project, which was running at The Sage, Gateshead. She thought they might have a piano teacher who would be happy to teach Leroy, and she wondered if Leroy would benefit from Music Therapy. 

In January 2013, Leroy began one to one piano lessons with Laura, and Music Therapy with Louisa. These two sessions, both at The Sage, more or less immediately, became the highlight of Leroy's week. He started tentatively, but gradually grew in confidence, and I still remember feeling astonished when Louisa reported that Leroy had begun singing in their sessions. Leroy would leave these sessions on a high, clearly feeling a more confident boy as a result of his music making. Laura reported that although Leroy was her most physically disabled student, he was definitely the most determined to get the notes right. 

Over the last twenty months Leroy's confidence in his Sage sessions has grown and spilled over into life in general, and now he wants to use his passion for music to help his passion for movement...

Leroy loves moving - in the car, a train, a lift- if it moves he loves it and doesn't want it to stop! He particularly loves moving when it involves water - sailing with his beloved Granddad and swimming. To Leroy, swimming represents the ultimate freedom - it is the only time he is able to move himself in space without anyone else helping him to move. 

However, there is another way he could move - if he had a powerchair that he could drive. That is Leroy's biggest dream: to be able move himself on land; to go where he wants to go, under his own control. 

And so Leroy and his friends are fundraising towards a custom built powerchair (a Dragon) that will be honed so that Leroy can manage to drive it, even with his limited hand and arm movement, and that will be able to go down low, so he can be on his little sister's level, or up high, so he can be on the same eye-level as his non-disabled peers. It's not cheap, but it will provide Leroy with a level of independence he's never experienced before.

On Wednesday 3rd December, Leroy, supported by his Music Therapist and his piano teacher, will be jamming at The Sage, Gateshead, to raise money towards his powerchair. 
Please support him, if you can!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Dedication Day - 29th August 2004

Over the next week plans began to take shape for a mega church service. There was a couple who had recently become Christians and wanted to get married. They also wanted to be baptised, along with two other church members, including Lizzie - one of the house mothers from the orphanage. Not one to keep things low-key, Gerrit asked the six married couples in the church if they would consider renewing their wedding vows - the answer was a resounding yes.  But still, he wanted more, so asked if there were any parents who wanted to have a thanksgiving / dedication for their child. At the final count there were 13 children and babies to be dedicated! 

Three of the children were from Asiphé - the youngest was Leroy. As I'd been spending so much time with him over the week, Janet asked me if I'd mind holding him through the service, as they'd be brought to the church in the car, so he wouldn't have his supportive chair in church. Mind holding him? Of course I would LOVE to hold him! I would be honoured to hold him!

That Sunday morning we were up early to get the church building ready, and to help sort the refreshments. The church slowly began to fill and there was a buzz of excitement about the place. Then there was a tap on my shoulder - it was Bryn - could I come out to the car to carry Leroy into the church? I hurried outside and over to Bryn and Janet's car where Janet was in the back with Leroy and the two youngest mobile girls, R and N. I reached in and pulled Leroy up towards me and snuggled him in to me. We then went into the church building and found a seat. 

Leroy was dressed in a black and white track suit with the Durban Sharks rugby team emblem on the front. Unplanned, I had managed to dress to match, with my black skirt and black and white t-shirt! He was quite interested in what was going on in the church - it was a rare occasion indeed for him to leave the orphanage, other than medical appointments. 

The service started, and Leroy seemed to really enjoy the music and singing. After the worship, the marriage took place, to great applause. Leroy snuggled in to me and fell asleep, stirring briefly through the clapping. Next came the renewal of marriage vows for six couples who were church members. I leaned back in my chair to study my precious bundle. Tiny tight curls of very dark brown hair were spread over his head - so so soft to the touch. Velvety brown skin on his face, with rosy cheeks - I guess he was quite cosy snuggled up to me. 

Another rumble of applause roused me, and I again tuned in to the service. Gerrit was now talking about the children in the church, and before long he invited the 13 children and their parents and carers to bring them to the front. As I walked forward, I realised that there were almost going to be more people at the front, than were left in the congregation, but it was only as Gerrit invited people to gather round each child to pray for them, that I realised I would be the main person praying for Leroy. Judy, one of the church members, came to stand alongside me, and I breathed a silent sigh of relief. This precious boy needed high quality prayers - I wasn't sure I was eloquent enough in my prayers... 

Judy prayed first, a lovely, articulate prayer, asking for God's blessing on Leroy after thanking God for his precious life. Then she fell silent and I started hesitantly to pray. I prayed for health for him; I prayed that as he grew, he would prove the doctors wrong, that where they'd said he would be "severely mentally handicapped" he would be an intelligent little boy; I prayed for him to be cherished and loved; I prayed for him to know a mother's love, to have a family's nurturing; I prayed for a future for him where he could thrive, not just exist, not only survive. I prayed big prayers for him, my faith growing as I spoke; my hesitance turning to confidence. And as I prayed, I could feel tears coursing down my cheeks, and my heart was pounding in my chest. And then suddenly I was overwhelmed by immense, fierce mother love for this baby, taking my breath away; searing painfully through my heart. In that moment, although I didn't realise it, my life changed; my son's future and mine became divinely intertwined. This was the beginning, the start of the fulfillment of God's bold and wonderful plan. 

Gradually, I became aware that people around us were returning to their seats, the service was moving on to the sermon. Wiping away more tears, I managed to make my way back to my seat, carefully cradling my son, who had slept through the whole drama, oblivious to the momentous moment we'd experienced together. As I sat there, Janet came over, and held out her hands for Leroy. They needed to take the children back to the orphanage for lunch and nap time. Reluctantly, I passed him over, as he opened his eyes, disturbed from his sleep. And then they were gone, and I was left with empty aching arms, trying to work out what exactly had happened, and wondering how it was possible to love a child so powerfully, so overwhelmingly, so fiercely, when I had only known him eleven days!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Day trip to see Whales - 21st August 2004

Life Change Teams are demanding, provoking and challenging - travelling thousands of miles, to another culture, living alongside people existing in extreme poverty. For these reasons, our Team Leaders wanted to build into our three weeks a few excursions so that we could experience being tourists in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. 

Our first outing was to Hermanus, on the coast, where we hoped to be able to see whales! The Southern Right Whale migrates the the waters off southern South Africa during the Southern Hemisphere winter. They seem to favour Hermanus' waters because of their unique warmth, which is ideal for birthing their calves.

We needed to be back in Grabouw for 2pm, for a teaching session from Angela Kemm. Therefore we needed a fairly early start to allow for the hour's journey and enough time to hopefully see some whales. Our journey began, following the route of the Grabouw bus, but when we met the main road we turned right, up the hill, past a farm shop and up to the N2 road. At the T junction we went left, away from Cape Town. On our left, away in the distance, we could see the mountains which surrounded Grabouw, but our route took us through rough scrub land, before climbing up again to go over the Houw Hoek Pass. Every so often we would catch a glimpse of the ocean; more so when we turned off the N2 and down towards Hermanus. 

After we had parked, we decided to head to a nearby coffee shop. Our early start had left many of us in need of a caffeine boost. We pulled tables together so we could all sit round, already we had bonded as a team. As we sipped our coffee a text message came through from my sister, Melanie - the British rowers had just grabbed gold in the coxless four Olympic Race in Athens. I had been disappointed that our trip coincided with the Olympics, but Melanie had promised to text me with Olympic news so I didn't miss out! She was true to her words! I replied, saying we were in Hermanus, and hoping to see whales. Quick as a flash, she replied, saying she could see Wales most days... (Living on the Wirral peninsula, you just need to look over the Dee Estuary!)

It would have been easy to waste our morning in the coffee shop, but Roger reminded us that we didn't have loads of time in Hermanus, so we roused ourselves and headed out into the overcast but breezy day. We walked down to the sea front and looked over the wall, our eyes raking the water for anything that looked like a whale. Someone shouted, and we looked over to see which direction they were pointing - but they were pointing down, to the low bushes the other side of the wall: dassies (or rock hyrax to give them their proper name). These small rodent-like mammals, were eating the leaves of the bushes - but a nearby information board put us straight. Not rodents, and their nearest living relation is the elephant! But they look nothing like an elephant! We watched the dassies for a while, before reminding ourselves we were supposed to be looking for whales.

Once again, we heard a shout go up, and this time it was for a whale! It didn't reveal much of itself to us, but we could just about make out that there was a calf with it, just seeing their backs rising out of the water. We kept watching, hoping that we would see them properly breaching the water, and maybe diving, showing their tails, but sadly that wasn't to be. We were aware of time ticking on, and slowly made our way back to the minibus, with the odd glance over our shoulders, to make sure the whales had not decided to party once they had seen us leave the sea wall...

We took a different route on our return journey, following the coast to the west. This offered us beautiful views of the rugged coastline with some spectacular sandy beaches with ocean waves crashing onto them. The sun came out as we stopped for lunch at Betty's Bay. The driver of the minibus knew of a good cafe there - his local knowledge was really useful, as it was an unpromising exterior, but the food was amazing! I had the Cape Malay style lamb curry, slow cooked and oh, so tasty. I've been looking for the recipe to recreate it ever since, but none has come close!

Roger needed to chivvy us again to get back on the road and we carried on driving around the coast - ocean on one side, steep mountain sides on the other. We turned a corner and suddenly we were looking across a huge bay, to mountains in the distance. This was False Bay, with Table Mountain and others in its chain in the distance. We stopped for a few moments to take a team photo with this backdrop, and then set off again, as it was already past 2pm. 

As we rounded another corner, we could see another town, Gordon's Bay, and there in the sea below, was what we first thought was a log, but then realised this was another whale! Much closer to our temporary home. The irony was not lost on us! However, we had enjoyed our outing, and would not have seen the dassies or had such a delicious meal had we just gone whale watching in Gordon's Bay.

From Gordon's Bay we drove back up to the N2, and turned right onto the busy road, at the base of Sir Lowry's Pass, snaking ahead of us up the steep mountain sides. At the top, the minibus pulled over into a small viewpoint car park, where we were able to take in the view, albeit hazy, across False Bay to the back of Table Mountain.

We were very late back, and apologised profusely. We settled down into one of the classrooms, and listened as Angela taught us - inspiring us with stories of how God had been moving in the Township, with miracles, and people's lives totally transformed. She encouraged us to pray with those we met, with the children with whom we were working; raising our faith that lives would be changed through us working on our team. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Afternoon routine - 20th August 2004

Before I knew it, lunch was being brought into the therapy room for the children. Or that is what we were told it was... It looked more like greyish brown sludge. Janet explained that soup and sandwiches were provided for the preschools, crèche and orphanage on a Friday lunchtime, along with other charitable organisations in the town, by a church int the area. As most of the children had feeding and swallowing issues, the sandwiches were liquidised into the soup, producing the sludge. Even though it was a while since breakfast, one glance at the children's lunch stopped any hunger pangs I might have had!

However, the children were hungry and had no other lunch option. Lizzie suggested that I feed Leroy, and I was directed to a bag, hanging on the side of a cupboard, to find a bib for him. Lizzie put him back in his chair, and, once the bib was round his neck, he eagerly opened his mouth for his food.  Unfortunately the food did not stay in his mouth and dribbled down his chin. And so began the battle to try to get more food inside this baby than ended up in the bib. He coughed and spluttered as he tried to swallow it, and soon I was wearing some of the food as a result.  Oh dear! I persevered with feeding him, and eventually there was no food left in the bowl. His bib, on the other hand, was soaked in food and saliva. I hurried to take it off, before his clothes underneath it were soaked too, but Leroy dissolved into tears. I wasn't sure what I had done, so I got him out of his chair for another cuddle, but that didn't help much. I felt useless at that point, and handed him over to Lizzie.  It was, after all, time for us to head back to the church compound for our own lunch.

Hannah and I walked back, sharing our experiences of the morning, looking forward to our nice lunch awaiting us, but also eager to return after lunch.

Over lunch we heard how the rest of the team had got on that morning. As the preschools and crèche were only open in the mornings, several other team members came back with us to Asiphé.

The children with cerebral palsy were all in bed when we got back, but the five mobile children were up (A, D, R and N having returned from preschool / crèche) and when we arrived they led us outside to the garden.There was a large trampoline there and they took turns to be lifted up to have a bounce / be bounced. Then they wanted us to push them on the swings, which were made out of old car tyres. It started to get cold outside - it was winter, after all, and we persuaded them to come inside with us.

There was a quiet hubbub or activity coming from the bedrooms, and we looked through the doors to find the housemothers sorting pyjamas and bowls of warm water and towels. It was time to get the children clean and into their night clothes. Once again, I was pointed in Leroy's direction and shown his nightclothes in a pile. I started to undress him - layer upon layer of clothes! No central heating in the middle of winter here - they had to keep warm as best as they could. There wasn't that much left of Leroy when I got down to bare skin. His round face had given the impression that he was quite a chubby boy, but with no clothes on, it was clear that he wasn't. I thought back to lunch time and wondered if he had still been hungry when I took his bib off... He was wearing a worn cloth nappy and stiff rubber pants. The nappy was soaked through when I took it off and his skin looked a bit sore. Lizzie showed me how I could lay him in the bowl of water, supporting his head. He loved that water and started moving his legs a bit in the water, and then kicked them a bit more. It was lovely to see him enjoying some freedom of movement. As the bedroom was not very warm, I was worried he would get cold if I let him enjoy the water for too long, but he wasn't best pleased to be lifted out of it. I wrapped him in his towel, and was then shown how to massage his skin with some sweet-smelling baby vaseline. Then it was time to get a clean cloth nappy on him, and to layer his night clothes on - long sleeved vest, long sleeved t-shirt, pyjamas, socks, cardigan - and he was back to being a chubby cuddly baby again!

Once the children were clean and clothed they were put back into their chairs and pushed into the therapy room, and put in front of the television which was showing a children's video, while they waited for their evening meal.  As some of our team were going to the youth club meeting that evening, we needed to get back to the church compound to ensure we had eaten our meal in time, so we left the children and house mothers to manage the evening feeding routine by themselves, wondering why we had just got them clean and into clean clothes, when the evening meal was likely to be as messy an affair as lunch!

We had a busy weekend planned, so we bid the children and staff of Asiphé farewell, promising to be back on Monday morning, and walked back to our temporary home, along the road in the gathering twilight, satisfyingly tired after a busy day.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Getting acquainted - 20th August 2004

It rained that night. Heavy rain drumming on the corrugated iron roof, echoing across all the neighbouring roofs; drowning out the barking dogs, the drunken shouts, all the other sounds of the township. And I slept deeply - my best night since arriving in South Africa. When I woke in the morning, it was clear the rain had kept everyone else awake!

That morning there were only two of us intending to go to Asiphé - others were keen to help with the pre-schools and crèche. Thirteen of us would only spread thinly across the five different children's work venues.

Hannah and I set off along the red dirt road. The heavy rain had excavated great craters in the red dirt road, leaving deep puddles, with river beds joining them together. But the sun was starting to shine through from underneath the clouds, and making the raindrops on the fences sparkle.

When we arrived at Asiphé there was only one mobile child there to greet us. Little M seemed like a little lost thing without her four playmates. The older two were at pre-school; the younger two at crèche. But M was pleased to see us, and reached for our hands and led us through to the therapy room. All the other children were here, some still being fed breakfast.

Our role was to help out wherever we were needed, and mornings were always taken up with physiotherapy exercises for these children - most of whom had some form of cerebral palsy or head injury. Lizzie, one of the house mothers, showed us how to do slow stretches of the children's tight limbs, taking them through their full range of movement. She demonstrated with K, the 8 year old girl who had been sitting in her wheelchair watching television two days earlier. 

Lizzie kept laughing in embarrassment at her English, which was great - no need for embarrassment. She then suggested that we choose a child and go through the same routine, while she talked us through it.  I paired up with a little three year old boy, C, who had a gorgeous slightly crooked grin.  He was very patient with me as I fumbled through the exercises - too patient for a three year old...

After about thirty minutes, we'd finished the routine, and we were encouraged to move on to another child.  Baby Leroy was sitting grizzling in his wheelchair. I was inevitably drawn to him, and Lizzie showed me how to remove the tray from his chair, so I could undo the strap holding him in, and lift him out and onto the floor. Rather than calming down, Leroy just kept crying. Lizzie encouraged me to work through the exercises anyway, even though he was very obviously tired. I persevered, and finally had worked through the programme. We both breathed a sigh of relief and I snuggled him on my knee. Once again, he turned his head in towards my body, and fell asleep.  I was ready to sit there holding him, but the house mothers tried to get me to put him down on the floor to sleep, so I would be free to work with another child. I'm a rebel at heart, and wasn't happy with the suggestion. I had an inkling that this baby had rarely been allowed to just sleep on someone's knee - usually put in his cot, on the floor, somewhere else, so that the someone holding him could use their time elsewhere.  I decided that, for once, he could sleep his sleep out where he had fallen asleep, and shifted my weight back so I could lean against the wall. For half an hour I sat like that, gazing down at this little scrap asleep in my arms.

Lizzie realised I wasn't budging so started talking to me, telling me a little about Leroy. How he had been given up for adoption at birth by his birth mother, but due to concerns about his health he was put in foster care so that tests and assessments could be carried out.  Had these concerns not been present, he would have been adopted as a newborn baby - there is high demand for babies with Leroy's ethnic origin. Sadly for Leroy, an MRI scan showed a large extent of brain damage and the diagnosis of cerebral palsy was made. With this diagnosis, adoption was no longer feasible for him - no one would willingly take on a child who would need such a high level of care for life - not when healthcare and education have to be paid for.  It was at this point, when he wasn't even four months old, that Leroy was taken from his foster family and handed over to Asiphé. According to the doctors, Leroy would never walk, or talk, or learn, he would be "like a vegetable", to use Lizzie's words, echoing what she had been told. But my two, albeit brief, meetings with this baby had already told me this last prediction was wrong.

Lizzie's attention was needed elsewhere, so I was left to my thoughts, all the while feeling the warmth of Leroy's little body close against mine. The more he slept, the more relaxed he became, his tight limbs becoming floppier, more normal. After a while he began to stir and slowly, reluctantly, opened his eyes. I decided to try a bit more physio with him. Wow! What a difference! His arms were still quite relaxed and he let me get his arms higher than earlier before he started objecting. I decided to try each day to get more movement, with the goal of getting them right above his head before it was time for me to head back to England. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Frustration - 19th August 2004

That evening in our team meeting, Roger and Chris, the team leaders, explained that we had been asked as a team to paint the toilet block, and some of the walls in the church. The majority decision was to do that first, so we needed to delay starting working with the children - preschool, crèche or orphanage.

As I have a form of arthritis, the thought of painting did not fill me with any enthusiasm - rather, with a whole lot of frustration. I was worried that if I did too much physical practical stuff, I wouldn't be fit to do what I'd come out to South Africa to do.  Chris saw my dilemma and suggested that I make drinks and prepare the lunch for the workers.  Remembering that we were there as a team, rather than a group of individuals, I accepted the compromise. Chris and Roger also asked for someone from the team to take responsibility for the food budget and doing the shopping. So I volunteered for that role too. But I just longed to get back to Asiphé to those gorgeous children!

I dug deep to find my servant heart and happily made drinks and lunch. 
Mid-afternoon I found a willing volunteer to get the bus down into town with me. I also was given special requests for extra snacks from some team members.
Once again, I loved looking out of the window, drinking in new sights and sounds on that bus journey down into town, through the outskirts of the township and then onto a bigger road. We went past the Appletiser factory (Grabouw is a big apple-growing area), then past the day hospital and down to a T-junction with the main road. We turned left and drove on down the hill, past the court and the police station, and the post office, and finally turned into the car park by the two supermarkets.

That shopping trip was much easier, with just two of us, mostly sticking to our shopping list and choosing what to buy.  And keeping within our budget. I was fascinated by the different produce that was for sale, and spotting some well-known British brands, at inflated prices.

We then faced the problem of needing to get the shopping back to the bus stop. The bags were heavy, and we wished we had enlisted another helper! But we managed to haul it up the steep steps up onto the bus, and to stop the shopping rolling out of the bags as we swung round the corners and over speed bumps. On the way back we spotted a baby on his mother's back - held in place by a wide Burberry scarf - so incongruous amongst the rough shacks.

When we got back to the church compound, Gerrit was there looking at the painting that had been so-far accomplished.  He realised that it was a bigger job than we could probably finish, given the need for long ladders and platforms to do the higher parts of the walls. Therefore, he was going to ask someone he knew owned the ladders, to finish the rest of the decorating! Great news for me, as we could begin working with the children the next day - Friday.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Meeting - 18th August 2004

After a fitful night's sleep, in which the barking dogs got tangled up in my dreams, the last thing I wanted to hear was three different alarms cutting through the cold air in our room. I pulled the duvet back over my head and tried to ignore them, and the resultant movement from the others in the room.  However, I'd momentarily forgotten that there was someone sleeping above me, and the bunk beds were very creaky.  I sat up, misjudging the height of the upper bunk, and managed to get my hair tangled in the metal mesh supporting the mattress. Ouch! Grumpiness layered on top of grumpiness! Not my best morning ever...

Through bleary eyes I managed to find some clothes. My room mates had headed to the showers but I decided that, for today, cleanliness was way overrated. I stiffly got dressed and went in search of a cup of tea. The clouds had disappeared overnight and I walked out of the church into bright sunlight. Blue sky and sunshine was just what I needed to shake off my earlier grumps!

The children had already arrived at the preschool and in the kitchen their breakfast was being served out. A great big vat of what looked to me like gloopy glue (but turned out to be mealie pap - corn porridge) was being scooped out and ladled into cups to be taken to the hungry children. I was glad we had bought breakfast cereal on our shopping trip, as I wasn't tempted by the pap!

We eased into the day, with more orientation with Gerrit, and some training. After lunch, finally, it was time for us to visit Asiphé, the orphanage for disabled children and those with HIV/AIDS. When I signed up for the Life Change Team, this is what I was signing up for - to spend three weeks with these disabled children, and maybe to be able to use my professional training as a speech and language therapist too.

Asiphé is in walking distance of the church compound, so we walked along the road in the sun, dodging the puddles in the red dirt road. We reached the compound and walked up the path towards a low building with a shady veranda along one long side. A woman was leaning on the fence, giving a bottle to a small baby with a very wobbly head. Gerrit, who was accompanying us, explained this was the youngest child in the orphanage - an 8 month old baby boy who had cerebral palsy.

We were then mobbed by a group of five children of various ages. They clamoured for our attention and dragged us inside the orphanage. Gerrit introduced us to Janet and Bryn - an English couple who were volunteering at the orphanage on a long term basis. They had been on the Life Change Team the previous year, and this piece of information filtered its way into my brain - this type of team could seriously affect your life, if you let it...

Gerrit then left us in the capable hands of Janet, who would introduce us to the children and house mothers. The 14 children, whose home we were in, had eaten their lunch and some of them were being settled into bed for an afternoon rest, which was their routine. We were shown the therapy room where they did physio exercises in the mornings, ate their meals, and played with some sparse toys. Bright murals adorned the walls - painted by a Dutch team who had visited the previous year. There was an ancient television set in the corner, with a video player too. The children who had mobbed us on arrival were now sitting here watching a children's video. These were the mobile children, three of whom had a diagnosis of HIV; two had hydrocephalus - their larger heads revealing their late diagnosis and treatment.  Another girl, about 8 years old, who was in a wheelchair was with them; she looked up quizzically as we walked in. We sat and talked as best we could to them for a while, resorting to makeshift signs and gestures to overcome our English /Afrikaans language barrier.

Our tour then continued. The older boys were all in bed, resting, so we didn't linger too long in their big dormitory, but made our way into the adjoining babies / toddlers room. The two mobile toddlers were put into bed - but didn't stay there for long! One little girl with cp was in her cot, and frustrated that she couldn't escape some of the team entertained her, while others tried to persuade the escapees to get back into bed. Then Denise, the first woman we had seen, came into the room, as baby Leroy had finished his bottle. She was heading to his cot, but Janet suggested that one of our team  members might like to hold him. I watched, with a pang of envy, as he was handed to the nearest team member to them. I was furthest away. But then, I realised they were cuddling and passing him on to the next team member. Gradually he got nearer and nearer to me, with me willing each person not to hold on to him.

After what seemed an age, he was next to me, and then being handed to me. What a gorgeous baby he was! Beautiful brown soft skin, fine black hair coiled into tiny tiny curls all over his head, long long eye lashes framing dark brown eyes, little rosy red lips. But holding him, I realised that he was unlike any other 8 month old I'd held before. For a start, that head was wobblier than some newborns I'd held. I was very conscious that it needed supporting all the time. I could also feel how stiff his arms and legs were, in stark comparison to his floppy trunk and neck. He was also not best pleased to have been a human pass the parcel and started whimpering in my arms. Instinctively I held him tight and started rocking him, quietly singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" under my breath, in time to my rocking arms. I felt him relax and he looked up at me with his big brown unfathomable eyes, gave a yawn and then fell into a relaxed sleep.

As there was no one else to pass him on to, I sank down onto the bed behind me, and sat looking at this tiny boy in my arms, zoning out from the surrounding conversation, wondering what story lay behind his short life. Such a precious baby, with no family to treasure him.

And then suddenly I was aware of movement in the room and snapped out of my reverie. It was time for us to leave, and I had to pass my sleeping boy over to be placed in his cold cot.

Walking back to the church compound, my thoughts stayed at Asiphé, thinking of the children I'd just met, the three weeks ahead that I would spend working with them - and most of all, that tiny boy who had looked deep into my soul with his big, serious eyes before he drifted off to sleep...

Friday, 28 March 2014

Getting our bearings

We had an hour to rest after our arrival, to make up our beds, sort our belongings and freshen up in the sparse toilet block which was shared with the children playing outside. Then we joined our hosts Gerrit and Ami in their house next door, for lunch and an introduction to the church, the children's ministry and the surrounding community, and the Afrikaans language which was used locally.

We were staying right on the edge of the township, and the church had responded to the needs of children living in poverty, neglect and all too often danger. They had set up three preschools - offering two cooked meals a day, basic lessons, a chance to play, basic hygiene - to children aged 3 to 6 living in the township, children who otherwise would be left to fend for themselves during the day, while their parents were working or sleeping off drugs and alcohol. In addition, they ran a crèche for younger children, and an orphanage for disabled children / children with HIV/AIDS. 

After we had eaten, we piled back into one of the minibuses, and Gerrit drove us into the township. We visited one family from the church who had recently moved into a new, breeze-block house, complete with an outside toilet - the height of luxury in the township. We then drove further up the hill, deeper into the township and stopped in front of a small, very basic wooden hut. This was the home of a lady who had lost her daughter to AIDS and who was now caring for her two grandsons. She very proudly welcomed us into her tiny home - housing metal bunk-beds, a table, a paraffin stove and a chair. We could only go in two at a time, otherwise there was no room. That little house was impeccably clean - we could have eaten off the floor. Even ten years on, I can still picture that house and its proud smiling owner. She had so little, had lost so much, and yet she was happy and content.

Gerrit then explained he would take us to the most dangerous area of the township - Rooidake, where the church ran a preschool. This area had the highest level of crime with drug and alcohol abuse being rife, and gun crime being a big problem. By the time we were there, the children had left for the day but we looked round the little building cowering behind high barbed wire fences. We had already been told that if we left the church compound we would need to be in twos at the very least, but if we wanted to volunteer at the Rooidake pre-school, then we would need to arrange transport with Gerrit, as it was too dangerous to go on our own. 

From Rooidake, Gerrit then took us down to the centre of town, so that we could buy food, as from the next day we would be catering for ourselves. So 13 very tired individuals descended on a strange supermarket, to try to decide what to buy! That was such a frustrating experience!! Everyone had their own ideas, but was too tired to negotiate our limited budget... Tempers started to fray, and all our individual irritations came very much to the fore! Not a pretty sight! Eventually the team leaders took control and we managed to purchase enough food to keep us happy and fed for a couple of days, although we had gone over budget, and would need to be more frugal on our next shopping trip if we were to make our money spread over the three weeks of our team! Gerrit had left us at the supermarket so we had to negotiate the crowded local bus back to the church compound. Fortunately we had a very helpful bus driver who dredged his school English back into use, to make sure we got back safely! 

We ate our evening meal with Gerrit and family, and finally sank into our creaky beds.  My three room mates fell to sleep before me, but even though I was bone-weary, my brain took a long time to switch off, as I processed all I'd seen and heard that first day in South Africa, to a background soundtrack of barking dogs coming from the surrounding township...

Friday, 14 March 2014

First impressions of South Africa – 17th August 2004

After a long night flight, containing very little sleep,  I could see from the flight map that we were getting close to Cape Town and sure enough, the captain came over the intercom to announce that we were beginning our descent. A shiver of excitement ran through me.

I was sitting in the middle bank of seats, so glimpses out of the window were briefly snatched when we made several turns on our approach to the runway.  I caught snapshots of rugged mountains, and a flat plain, with a wide expanse of ragged dwellings huddling together.  

Stiff and sore from a night in a cramped airline seat, we made our way off the plane, filling our lungs with African air – heavy with aircraft fumes, but revelling in being in a new country, on a new continent. Then through the airport we trudged wearily, waiting in long lines to go through passport control, and then waiting, waiting for our luggage to appear on the carousel. Not much different from any other big airport.

In the arrivals hall we were met by a smiley white haired little man, who ushered us outside into a steady drizzle, and on over to two white minibuses, which were our transport to our final destination.

We set off on our drive, and I greedily drank in the sights before me – glimpses of the back of Table Mountain, shrouded in cloud; the sprawling mass of corrugated iron that housed so many people in the Township of Khayelitsha; cows ambling by the side of the motorway; white ibis in the fields alongside Arum lilies.  I was very surprised to realise at this point that everyone else in the minibus, except the driver, was gently snoring! How could they sleep when there was so much newness to feast on?

Ahead of us rugged mountains almost barred our way, but the road snaked up steeply in a zigzag, giving us an amazing view back towards Cape Town looking over False Bay.  We then drove past baboons playing by the side of the road, before we slowed down, to turn off the main road. Off to our right there was another township, but in this one the shacks were constructed mostly from wood, rather than metal.  
As we descended into the valley, the houses became more sophisticated, made from breeze blocks. Soon we turned into a red dirt road and then into the church compound – Agapé Family Ministries.  Low wooden buildings were grouped in a rough L shape around a grassy area, where a group of about 30 happy children were playing.

One arm of the L was a row of class rooms and the bottom part was the church building which was to be our home for the next three weeks – a large hall, with four small bedrooms leading off it, each with bunk beds in.  

I sank wearily onto the bottom bunk, hitting the back of my head on the wooden frame, and the cold damp air of that room started to sap my excitement from me. What on earth was I thinking of, travelling all this way with twelve people I barely knew, to stay here for three weeks, in the depths of the South African winter, with no central heating, unreliable hot water?

But deep down, I knew Who had brought me here, although the why was as yet unanswered...

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Looking back to the beginning...

In my bedroom sorting today, I found a copy of my Christmas letter from 2004. The last (rather long) paragraph caught my attention:

"My other major travelling this year was to South Africa and I've left this until last as it had the most profound effect on me. Our family of churches run "Life Change Teams" to various countries, and as I read the literature about these teams, I knew that it was right for me to go on one this year.  The team I was part of was spending three weeks in August with Agapé Church in Grabouw, South Africa, which is on the edge of a township and serves the needy community it is based in, with a particular emphasis towards children. It is truly an amazing and inspiring place to be in. 

The church runs three pre-schools for children from the township, which provide a lot more than just school lessons - ensuring that the children are safe while their parents are working, and feeding them two meals a day. There is also Asiphé care centre which is home to 14 children with cerebral palsy/ head injury/HIV/ AIDS between the ages of 8 months to 14 years. This is a place of great peace and joy - most unexpected when you consider many of the children have been abandoned by their families, and some are disabled due to the actions of their parents. 

The children at Asiphé totally captured my heart - I so loved spending time with them, feeding them, doing their exercises with them, loving them.  For me, the highlight of the Team was the middle Sunday when we had a mega-service at the church: 13 children dedicated, 1 wedding, 7 couples renewing their wedding vows, 4 baptisms!  The four youngest children from Asiphé were brought to be dedicated and I had the very great privilege of holding baby L in my arms for this. I was totally overwhelmed with love for this baby, who had suffered so much loss in his short 8 months. 

At the end of our three weeks I was devastated to have to leave the children behind - especially my baby L.  Within three weeks of arriving home, I'd booked flights to return to Grabouw for three weeks, this coming February / March. My time there has changed me a lot, and given me different priorities in life. South Africa has definitely got under my skin, and I'm exploring opportunities to return for months, rather than weeks...!"

The beginning of our story, and looking to the future, having no idea how it would unfold. My head trying to keep my heart under control, but knowing my heart was full of mother-love for a little baby boy with cerebral palsy...

Sunday, 2 February 2014

My miracle boy

Worshipping in church this morning with my hand in my son's hand, I was reminded again of how miraculous his being my son is.

We were singing this beautiful song about faith to walk on waters, and keeping our eyes above the waves in the midst of a storm, and I was reminded of the impossible situation we faced back in 2007, when adoption from South Africa to the UK was virtually impossible but it was what God had called me to do three years earlier, when He introduced me to the Little Prince.

The only way I could get through that time was to keep my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus's face and shut my ears to the storm raging around with voices telling me I was trying to do the impossible. And to keep my faith in the One who had brought Little Prince and me together, and had seared my heart with a deep mother love for a stranger's baby boy.

If I had believed the storm voices, the joy of the last six years wouldn't have been mine; the boy who is now my heartbeat would still be in his orphanage - or might not even have survived the ensuing years. Thank God that He had a better plan for us...