Warmest greetings from South Africa! It’s been some time since a letter has gone out. I have been struggling to write in any coherent way that reflects some of the many blessings, treasured moments of these past days, months, and even years. Since the feast of Pentecost, I have been reflecting on how the Spirit has been at work these past 5 years since our start in the Diocese of Grahamstown. She has been very busy indeed!
Let me start with this weekend. Monica and I invited the managers and supervisors of our 3 Isibindi sites for a “care for caregiver’s time together at The Monastery in Grahamstown. The workers from the sites rarely have had time together, or if they did it was at a tightly packed scheduled conference. So this was their first visit to the monastery and their first time to really share together all of their joys and struggles as leaders as well as their lives in a nurturing environment.
Warm, deep connections were immediately established, and they decided to share rooms with the people they did not know, (something we would most likely never consider). After choosing their rooms, they all gathered in one of the six available bedrooms, huddled two to a bed and the rest on the floor, and began catching up with each other.
Later on during the nickel tour they immediately absorbed the natural beauty surrounding them, the abundance of trees, birds, plants, flowers, and stunning vistas that embraced them. Sindiswa even mentioned she felt the pain in her knee start to disappear. You could see the tension beginning to lift from their shoulders, faces, and the ordered relaxing began to take effect. They were so grateful to be in such a nourishing environment, to just be away, it was so evident. We all need time to get away and see the world and life from another view.
While here they were introducing who they are and what they do, to a visitor of the Monastery. While explaining, many heard themselves voicing almost for the first time their role as child and youth care workers, speaking with confidence about their work, their profession. They surprised themselves how far they have come, how much they have grown, how passionate they are, and how impressed their new friend appeared. She became their mirror and it was a gift to them.
Sometimes you have to get out of your context to see things more clearly. I could almost see the light bulbs go on, and they were so proud of themselves; deservedly so. There was the comment, “Did you hear how we threw out those words like life space, working in the moment, developmental plan” snapping their fingers. There were many robust nods and returns of – Ewe!!! (Yes!) Confidence. Affirmation. Pride.
Who are these people, I quietly asked myself? Certainly not that motley crowd we interviewed four years ago? Yes, they are one and the same! It’s been moments like these that have moved me so deeply to reflect on how the Spirit has been at work among us. A great sense of pride welled up in me to see them “get it” “really get how far they have come. I have seen the personal and professional development that that been transforming each CYC Worker gradually over these past four years. It is now more evident than ever that they have come such a long way... And now these CYC Workers are beginning to see it too! They have always been so eager to learn, to grow, to grab life and run.
Our therapist, Lesley, who worked with two of our teams, said that she never experienced young adults who were so ready to work on themselves. They didn’t dip in a toe. Instead, they dived in head first. And that’s how it’s been these four years after being hired as CYC Workers towards almost immediately becoming Project Managers and Supervisors. Some highlights were:
Learning how to take an airplane for the very first time and staying in a hotel (no, you don’t need to carry your blankets, the hotel will provide them!);
learning how to count their hours for their timesheets, making clocks with paper plates to count the time;
learning how to paint, play with clay, do a puzzle;
learning how to ride those famous yellow bicycles, clad in their helmeted wigs;
(when the Alice team received their new car) “learning how to change a tire, check the oil, and use all the available cup holders;
how to welcome and greet all the odd foreign visitors we bring, with their funny ways of greeting, and even funnier ways of introducing their dogs along with their children.
These CYC Workers have grabbed every single opportunity and run with it!
They are on the verge of graduating with their Further Education and Training certificate in Child and Youth Care Work. This certificate that will allow them to work in the field anywhere in the country. It is the equivalent of completing the first year of university studies. We have been receiving news of them completing their 14 modules these past few weeks, one by one. It has been a wonderful celebration, day by day, cheering the next one who “has been found competent!”. With each arrival of news about completion came celebratory cheers, ululations, hugs, and kisses, even tears. It has been like this for weeks! We have been savoring these treasured moments of achievement, joy, pride, and relief, with silent reflection. Words don’t adequately share the emotion that abound amongst and within these Child and Youth Care Workers and also within me as a Child and Youth Care Educator. Words fall far too short.
And there is a growing realization of just how many children's lives these Child and Youth Care Workers have touched relationally and transformed (more than 2300!). There have been countless families these CYC Workers have touched, people that have been empowered, and those who have touched another, and another. It becomes exponential and there is a growing sense of a transforming power of personal, family and community growth.
It is also important to recognize how their own lives, and the lives of their own families, have changed so dramatically as their development as CYC Workers evolved. Women could leave abusive relationships because they have a job and can support their children. Houses have been rebuilt. Food has been consistently put on the table by their own hands. Lives have been empowered, and more choices have become available to these CYC Workers.
Oh, the Spirit has been on the move here in our part of South Africa. This holds whether one shares beliefs and has faith in my God, or whether one operates from alternative spiritual pathways “regardless of religion and cultural traditions “where positive transformative forces can operate in people’s lives when they seek harmony and being in tune with some entity, explanation or rationale that takes us beyond ourselves to connect with others.
The Spirit is making connections within the townships and villages, into the towns and cities, across the seas and around the world. Many have come to visit these communities of Ilinge, Ezibeleni, and Alice where Child and Youth Care Workers are implementing the Isibindi Model. We have witnessed how visitors and pilgrims have been deeply touched and moved by the Spirit that abounds here. There is passion, love and commitment that is tangible and almost contagious. The gift that is ubuntu (I am because you are) is alive and well, and these lives have been equally transformed in ways that are a mystery. For us it is a mystery that only the Spirit can uncover, and best explored with awe and celebration through a spiritual dimension of human development. There is an unspeakable sacredness unique to each one of these Child and Youth Care Workers, a treasure bestowed on them between their heart and the ear of God.
This mystery continues to be lived out daily here in our part of South Africa, in ways that are unknown, and are still to be revealed.
See what no eye can see; go where no foot can go; choose that which is no choice “then you may hear what makes no sound “God's voice.” Angelus Silesius
“Little by little one walks far.”
We remain in the heart of God and invite you to remember us in your reflections,
Heidi and Monica