Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Madagascar 2017

Let's just say that by calling this post Madagascar 2017, I am hoping to someday have a post called Madagascar 2018 or 2020. We had a fantastic time in Madagascar! It was nothing like we expected, but everything we could have hoped for.

There were three main purposes for this trip:

1. Darin is taking on a new role with his distribution of water filters.  He is now working with Business Connect out of Grandville, MI as their SEAD, Southern and Eastern Africa Director. He will be responsible for setting up and mentoring new distributors in 21 countries in those regions of Africa.  This trip was his first visit to another country in that capacity. Before he was given the opportunity for this new position, he had already made contact with someone who he hoped would become a distributor in Madagascar, Fitah, a graduate of Calvin College who my dad introduced to Darin via email a couple years ago.

Fitah had arranged around 12 meetings ahead of our arrival with various NGO and governmental offices dealing with water related issues. Needless to say, Darin was very busy. We were happy to meet Fitah's wife and young daughter at dinner one evening and Darin is really excited about the potential to bring clean water to the people of Madagascar with Fitah's hard work and enthusiasm driving the process.

2. I was hoping to connect with Growing the Nations Therapy Programme to see what they are doing in Madagascar and what skills, knowledge and programs could be transferred over to South Africa. Remember in my last post I stated my desire to see more programs and resources become available for disabled children in the Hammanskraal area? (and I have been working on that, but am also waiting for other people to respond right now, so nothing new to report!) This visit to Madagascar provided me with several opportunities to see how one person can make a huge difference by just getting out and using the skills and talents God has given her. Now, I am not an occupational therapist like Anri-Louise is, so I cannot look at the road map of what she did and is doing in Madagascar and follow it as my own. However, I was so inspired by the time we spent with her and her team!

We slept over at the GTN guest house on Friday night and went out with Anri-Louise to a clinic that is held twice a month on Saturday morning. We were put right to work! First we went to the GTN offices and loaded up the bakkie with all sorts of supplies, and then headed to the hospital to unload. 

Then Anri-Louise and Angela started seeing clients, while James assisted. Darin and I sat back and took lots of pictures and videos.

We were both so impressed with how well run everything was. This clinic draws people from a large area and some come once a month, some twice, some more sporadically. Some of the clients seen today were there for the first time, some hadn't been for a long time and others were regulars. There was a lot of paperwork in order to chart progress and track results and to provide info as the same child isn't always seen by the same therapist. Everyone did a great job of including the parents and other family members and educating them in such a loving way. I even was given the opportunity to help out with a few cases, which I enjoyed so much!

I might not be a qualified OT or PT, but I do have a knowledge base to work from after time spent learning from Miss Bridget and working with Miss O and Amo! 

After the clinic, Fitah picked us up and drove us to our apartment. Darin had found us a great place on Airbnb. It was in a pretty central location in Antananarivo, the capital city, which is where most of Darin's meetings would take place. There was just so much color everywhere we looked.

After Darin and Fitah made their plan for the week, we were left on our own to get groceries. We soon realized our apartment was near the top of the hill and the things we needed, like food, were much closer to the bottom.

After the long walk, we were ready to chill. Darin had some work to do and I had a chance to read. It was so relaxing.

On Sunday, Fitah came to get us for church. It was a great service at Fiangonana Tana City Centre Analakely church that met above a Shoprite Grocery Store. The message was in Malagasy, but we had a translator who kept us in the loop. The church has a ministry to street children and hopes to work with Anri-Louise to learn how to better work with these children who have missed out on so many developmental and educational learning opportunities. We walked back to our apartment after church and found ourselves once again at the bottom of the hill and at the bottom of a large series of stairs. 

After climbing the stairs, we took a taxi to our apartment because we are getting old and we were also carrying a few bags of groceries. The rest of the day was spent exploring a bit farther up the hill, and then walking down the hill and getting very lost as we tried to find a place to eat. 

Can I just tell you how much I love my main man, 'cause I do. We spent a lot of time talking about the dreams we had when we first made our plans to move to South Africa, and how a lot of those plans involved travel. Then, a lot of things happened that derailed our plans and made some of our dreams seem almost impossible, yet here we were, together in Madagascar! God is so good, and I believe that God honors those who are faithful to Him and who follow His plans. He has redeemed what was so devastating to us all those years ago and brought us to something so much more amazing. 

Monday was my day. Darin left early for meetings and I slept in and read and slowly got ready for my day. Then I went and had a fantastically relaxing massage. It lasted for almost 2 hours and was just what my body was needing. Then I found a chocolate shop and bought some chocolate before finding a cab to take me back to the apartment where I took a nap. Darin was still gone, so I went out to dinner by myself. I enjoyed lovely views and delicious food and Darin finally met up with me just before I finished my meal. 

Tuesday Darin was again busy with meetings, so I met up with James from GTN and headed out in a bus (similar to our South African taxis) to a program for the elderly. I sat and visited with dear old ladies who assumed I spoke French, gave neck rubs and back massages to the masses, led some of the group in stretches and ate a lot of food.

On Wednesday I met up with James again, only this time I took the bus by myself. I made it to the GTN offices and helped to mark developmental tests for a few hours. I actually found it super interesting to see how some children could complete the tasks and others couldn't, but the ways that they "couldn't" were different and showed something about that particular child's development. Wednesday night, Fitah and his wife and daughter picked us up and we enjoyed eating Chinese together. 

3. Darin and I had decided that since he had to go to Madagascar for business and I really wanted to see what Anri-Louise was doing, that we should celebrate our 15 year anniversary (December 22) in Madagascar as well. While the whole week was amazing for both of us, Darin planned something special for us as well. 

On Thursday morning, Darin and I packed up and headed out to Andasibe, where there were some rain forests and lemurs! First, we sat in a lot of traffic. Our driver, Rija, was awesome though and he just kept moving us forward.

Soon the road opened up and we were really on our way. The distance between Tana and Andasibe is around 160 km, but it took over 4 hours to get there because of traffic, and road conditions, including a lot of twists and turns.

We did make it to our cottage though and were soon surrounded by the beautiful views and the calling of the Indri lemurs.

Thursday night we went out on a night walk with our guide, Jean-Claude "not Van Damme". He was a funny guy and had tons of knowledge about the plants, animals, insects and reptiles in the area. We saw a few lemurs, which were too hard to photograph in the dark, lots of insects moths, tree frogs and chameleons. Jean-Claude had taken his friend along and this guy was an expert at spotting chameleons. Up on a tree branch, no problem. Down low to the ground, he'd still spot it! After a great walk, we made plans to meet up with Jean-Claude again the next day. 

We headed off just after 7 for our walk in the rain forest. We had realized earlier on Thursday that while Andasibe had a lot of amazing things going for it, it did not have any ATMs and none of the restaurants, lodges or tour guides accepted anything other than cash. This meant that we had to ride 45 twisty and turny minutes back to the nearest ATM, or make do with the cash we had. We decided to make do, which meant we weren't able to go into the large national forest, but would instead be touring a smaller secondary forest. While we were a bit worried that we would miss out on seeing things, our fears were soon allayed. We saw a lemur, tree frog, giant beetle, ground snake and much more soon after we started our walk. We also saw chameleons and geckos. 

Then we heard the Indri calling out to each other and soon after, we actually saw them. These pictures in NO WAY do justice to how cool they were to see. They did not call to each other while we were standing close, no matter how hard our guide tried! They did, however, jump from tree to tree, then sit with long legs out, and pull leaves off the tree for a snack. 

After our walk, it was time to say goodbye to Jean-Claude. Then we decided to share lunch so that we would have enough to each have zebu steak for dinner. Of course, there was no zebu available, so I had spaghetti bolognaise for the 3rd meal in a row (it was good!) and Darin had chicken curry. We had enough money left over for a bottle of water and a tip for our waitress, but no money left for breakfast. Thankfully, we had met a kind couple from Sweden earlier in the day and they had given us two granola bars.

We left early on Saturday morning as traffic to the city might cause us to miss our flight if we didn't. We did have time to stop and get some more cash though. I treated Rija to coffee and fried donuts at a roadside stand. Darin totally missed out. 

We made it to the airport with time to grab a quick bite to eat. I had time to read while Darin caught up on some work. On our flight, we sat next to a professor from the US who had identified a previously unknown species of lemur about 30 years ago. How cool is that! And she runs a huge research facility in Madagascar that has issues with... water! So Darin took her details and our trip ended up coming full circle. 

The three main purposes for the trip were all fulfilled. Darin is really excited about working with Fitah, I learned a lot from my time with Growing the Nations, and Darin and I celebrated being married for 15 years. Time ALL well spent. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lots of New in the New Year

It is Wednesday morning and I am alone in the house. Jori headed off to school today; a new year and she is now in Grade 6!! My baby is a 6th grader! She was a bit nervous to head out the door today as her big brother was not with her in the car; A new school year for sissy at the same school, a new school year for brother in a new school. Today is the first day of #schooloffey, which is homeschooling and unschooling (don’t roll your eyes) and just being with our boy. He will learn. He’s too smart not to, and we will learn as well.

Right now the house is quiet because Darin had to run errands and took #schooloffey on the road. I did actually come up with a writing assignment for Tyson, but he can work on it this afternoon or tomorrow. After that, it will have to wait because mom and dad will be packing up and flying off to Madagascar for 8 days and Tys will be learning with the Oosthuizen kids at their place for a week. We are thankful for friends who will watch our kids and teach them (learning to do chores without complaining would be a good lesson) while we are gone. This is mostly a business trip for Darin as he puts on his water filter distribution hat for most of the week, but it is also a 15th anniversary trip for us! I don’t know what we’ll be doing, but I think it involves lemurs and a rainforest. I will also be visiting a comprehensive program for people with disabilities through Growing the Nations https://www.facebook.com/GrowingTheNationsTherapyProgrammes and I am super excited about that.

I am sure if you have read this blog or if you know me, you have seen and heard about Amo. While she is one special girl who happens to have cerebral palsy, she is not the only child in our area who has a major disability and struggles from the lack of resources available to her and her family. I have been in and out of hospitals and clinics and I always strike up conversations with mothers, fathers and grannies that are caring for children like Amo. Over and over again I hear the same thing- there is nothing for my child. No school, no care centre, no safe place for my child to stay while I work, no place where they are seen and welcomed and loved for who they are. Most of the resources are in Pretoria or Johannesburg, and of the schools available, you will often find that a child is “too disabled” or “not disabled enough” for a certain program. There are limited special needs schools with hostels for sleeping in available, and sleeping in would be necessary for a disabled child from Hammanskraal if they attended school in Pretoria. I know more about what is and isn’t available for children with disabilities from our time at Tshepo ya Bana as we knew several differently-abled children during our time there, and there is a huge imbalance between the needs and the availability of resources.

So, I made a decision that in 2017 I was going to do more than just talk to people about what they need and actually see if something can be done to get some of these needs met. Yesterday I went to Jubilee hospital and talked with a social worker, a physiotherapist and 3 very lovely occupational therapists. I told them that I wanted to put out some flyers at the next CP clinic with a meeting date for caregivers who want to talk about what they would like to see for their children in Hammanskraal; a school, a residential program, a drop in/respite centre, or something else entirely. Then I want to be a support for them as the community decides what they want and takes steps forward to make it happen. It can be difficult for people here to know how to organize and to find out what the possibilities are and to dream a bit. Too often those who seek assistance for a disabled child are told, “No, this is not available for your child”, and this has got to change. I don’t know what this will look like, and honestly, while I was waiting to see the social worker yesterday I started thinking “God, is this really something you have laid on my heart or did I just make the whole thing up?”, but I know this is the time to move from talk to action. It might be a bit of an uphill climb at first as several of the moms I talk with at the CP clinic will later say “Why does this white lady ask about my child. Does she want to take him?” (translated from Tswana by Amo’s auntie), so I will need to earn their trust and respect.

Back to school, stepping out from fear to faith and leaving on a jet plane. Throw in laundry, grocery shopping and packing and this week is full!

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