It was high time that I actually saw what ASAP does on the ground out in South Africa after nearly 3 years of working for them, so I managed to tag on a short visit to the end of a holiday. On the morning of Tuesday 20th May 2010, I found myself in a 4×4 white jeep being driven with gusto by Priscilla Higham (ASAP founder, programme director, inspiration and general mother ship), with Jane Ormsby Gore (long time friend of Scilla and UK ASAP Board member) and Rosie Bartlett (ditto) from the Half Acre B&B in Matatiele (4 hours drive inland south and west from Durban) towards the Drakensburg Mountains to go and visit Mamahau.
The town was left far-behind us as we turned off the tarmac and onto a dirt road with the landscape opening up to reveal the most beautiful Drakensburg Mountains up ahead with open farm/scub/miele plantations as far as the eye can see. What is it about the African sky that makes it seem so much bigger than any other? My seatbelt was firmly on as Scilla put her foot down, we weren’t wasting any time getting to where we were going; pot-holes one side, loose cattle the other and the odd mini-bus taxi with 10 more passengers in it than I’m sure it is meant to carry slaloming down the track.
On arrival at Mamahau there was huge excitement to see the Drop-in Centre and the Office that have been built, although thte centre still awaits a thatched roof the place is looking fantastic. Added to which the vegetable garden was a triumph with cabbages, carrotts, beetroot, spinach and an orchard of fruit trees. The women were busy levelling out the inside of the office and tidying up the area where the thatch was about to be delivered for the roof.
We saw the children of Mamahau receiving their daily nutrition from the soon-to-be redundant community care centre. A plate of miele and vegetables is handed out to all the children that ASAP has identified as being in need of it and it is received with much thanks. At school they will only have received a piece of bread for the day and probably nothing in the morning for breakfast. Some of the children have anything up to a 2hr walk to school and back and must fulfil various duties at home such as collecting water, doing the washing or herding up animals before the day is out.
Later on we handed out some biros that we had brought for the children, there was a complete stampede as they all elbowed there way to the bag of biros trying to grab more. These children do go to school but at school they have minimal materials and the run on the biros was very telling indeed.
Over the next few days we saw both the Mamahau and Itikeng projects in full swing. Both their fantastic vegetable gardens are used to supply crucial nutrition to the children in their daily meal. I was amazed at how fruitful these gardens obviously are but being so high up, nearly 6,000ft, they get a lot of sun and a lot of rain so are able to really utilise their fertile soil to the max. Here you see the ladies of Itikeng proudly showing off their celery!
On our final day, we were invited to attend the Gogo’s lunch. A very moving experience with much singing and speeches. Many of them were sitting knitting or crocheting but were squinting badly, they are in desperate need of some glasses particularly with all the detailed beading or stitching.
The whole trip was hugely affecting and emotional. Coming from such an advanced Western society where we live life in the fast lane and where the waste in water and food is at an all time high, I couldn’t help thinking that this experience will stay with me for a lifetime. It put a lot of things in perspective. Let’s hope they stay that way in my head but out in Mamahau and Itikeng ASAP can really make a long-lasting difference.