Sunday, March 29, 2009


I feel as if I'm in a transition time of sorts, here in Empangeni and at Ikhaya. Things are settling, children are being adopted, and the potential for a lot of change is upon me. One of our most lovely babies has been placed with her new family from Canada, one of our infants (who I visited today) is in the hospital with Meningitis and TB complications, and the number of children at Ikhaya is down to two. It will be a quiet place tomorrow when I go back to work for the week. That said, we are welcoming a new long term volunteer, John, from the states as well (yipee) and hopefully starting a new feeding/cooking program. My job is ever expanding but my feeling of "grasping" has come to a new level, so its a good feeling to bring to this new chapter. Its almost April! I have many things I'm going to miss about not being at home for this month, because of the holidays and two very special birthdays (hello lauren and maria), but I'm thinking that the new challenges will be enough to keep my occupied and motivated. Despite major plumbing problems at Ikhaya recently, we now have phones and a printer and are close to having internet. We are also making some headway with several of our children's cases that have lapsed beyond reasonable expectations and our causing major problems in placing children into families. Hopefully we can clear those up with visits to the commissioner this week and then we can focus on potentially getting new kids into the home!

Other than the Ikhaya happenings, things are strolling along in my life outside of work. The road-trip-of-a-lifetime was out of this world and I still can't stop staring at the beautiful mercedes in the driveway. We made it over 1400 kms in two days of driving and managed to eat our selves silly at fast food restaurants (who so generously sold us their used oil for very cheap). Gas station coffee here is luckily far better than the states and if there is ever a comfy car to take a road trip in, an old mercedes is it. April brings possibly more trips, to Pretoria for a weekend, and a really awesome lady who helps at Ikhaya (who I have recently bonded with) has invited me to Mtunzini for exploring and a day with her lovely family.

This upcoming week brings more visits to Ngwelezana Hospital to visit and care for Sipho, new volunteer training, handing over some cooking to someone else (finally!), and hopefully some cooling down of the weather. That's all folks.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Its been two months!? No way!

Soooooo, as promised, an update on my life here in Empangeni. I started out as a regular volunteer, when volunteers were on 12 hour shifts throughout the week. It became apparent that the house, although still benefiting from having two staff on nights, really needed a hands on person there during the day managing the day to day life of the Home. Everything from grocery stock and ordering, medications, doctors visits, staff management and training, office stuff, processing donations, hosting visitors and delegating to volunteers, etc etc, and that person magically became ME. And I have been loving it. So I am officially House Manager and we are attempting to turn it into a long term position, a for reals hire, because..really...what would they do without me? :)

So, here are some highlights and feelings of accomplishment that have come from my coffee fueled 7-5 workdays so far.....

1. Staff manual is almost finished and there will be a centrally located and multi-lingual resource book for how to do everything, from meds to cleaning to feeding, to the daily routine to bathing, to all the advice and tips you could need for acting like you know what you're doing with 5 crying children.

2. Medication System. A new meds record system, with preplanned charts and notes. Yeehaw.

3. An organized nurses station with med procedures, office supplies, sterile syringes, and communications binder.

4. Staff Training: a successful first of many monthly trainings to come. We did almost 4 hours on house basics and it was a hit, lots of discussion and lots of input from our wonderful staff and eager volunteers. And the muffins were fantastic! Just to look around the house and see organization, 'how to' signs for ever task, and a resource center for our volunteers makes my heart beat a little slower.

5. We have really got on the ball about taking care of our medically fragile child (a new addition) Sipho and we have been on schedule with her appointments, ARV treatments, and a proper instructions on her meds and diagnosis.

6. We have potentially found a doctor that wants to supervise our children's medical care. That is pending, but of course that will hopefully result in my ability to put together a medical care system that will ensure continuity of care and excellent supervision of meds and overall health.

7. Organization of clothes and newly donated cupboards. It may seem trivial, but we now have a cupboard for each age group and child and a change to do an overhaul of the clothes we have, throw out old ones, and rotate in some really adorable clothes we have set aside from the plethora we found in the storage unit.

8. The Storage Unit. That is an ongoing project, one that I have failed to delegate this week due to many no shows by volunteers (shame!), but it is almost done and much improved from its prior state of bee infestation and moldy bags of nappies. We have managed to donate quite a bit to another care center, put the boxes on shelves and properly labeled, and found a place for our recent donation of cleaning products.

9. Groceries. Although our eventual goal is to get meals and 'en masse' foods made off site and frozen for the week, we are functioning fairly well on the system currently, with weekly fresh groceries, and efforts by all our staff (including me!) of daily cooks of the basics such as chicken, vegetables, beef, butternut, mashed potatos, etc. I wish I ate as well as the kids do :) But we have consulted an eager to help nurse for an age appropriate feeding guide, as well as many hours on the american pediatric website, and have put together feeding schedules and meal options for every imaginable age group. Go us!

10. We are getting internet and phone lines....any day now....things are slow here. Ask anyone.

11. I (and eventually all the staff) am going in to the NPA hospital on Tuesday for ARV (AIDS treatment) training so that we can all better prepared to take care of medically fragile children. And of course, there will be a SYSTEM created. OH how I love systems.

12. We have been working with a social worker from christian social services, Zinhle, to get our butts in gear for opening, solidifying, and hopefully closing each case (ie trying to get these kids fostered and adopted into a realy family). Its a little confusing for me to get my head around the system, and I give major credit to Zinhle who does all the real work, but we are making progress.

13. Well, I could go on and on and on but what I really want to talk about is MY SOUTH AFRICA ROAD TRIP.

Long story short, we are going to pick up a car from capetown that my "neighbor/housemate/friend" Gerhard has bought that run on sunflower oil. It is a mercedes 4x4, apparently really old, and I picture it being like one of those old SUVs that you see in movies about Africa. Actually I'm positive thats what it looks like. So anyways, we're flying there friday morning, Me, Lizl, Gerhard and we're driving back to Empangeni in two nights, three days. And its over 1000 kilometeres. Soooooo wish us luck. AND that we don't break down. But I'm mainly looking forward to being the annoying American with my camera out the whole time. Yeeehhaawww. Road Trip.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I have been delinquent in blogging, mainly due to the SAGA it has been to get my internet working on my laptop in my flat. As that hopefully comes to a close this weekend, I give you a sincere apology as to my absence and promise to be better at keeping up with this blog. Things/Life have changed dramatically since I got here, so there is much much MUCH to update you all on once I have some uninterrupted time with my long lost friend the internet. For now, I have a few stolen moments on a computer so I thought I would finally do a quick blog.

After some significant culture shock, I have settled in quite nicely here in Empangeni. Its a small town, but the people are friendly and I have some really great friends. I have taken on the role of House Manager at the children's home, and it is a lot of work. Everything from medication management, staff training, cooking, bottle schedules, donations, and drop ins to bonding with the staff and letting my organization streak (newfound!) have its way with the house. The children are completely magnificent, each with their own personalities and needs and its totally magical to see them grow and learn english and laugh.

Outside of work, I have been somewhat adopted by my "neighbors" the Van Rooyens and they are wonderful. Lizl, 27, is the Occupational Therapist that volunteers to work with our kids. Gerhard is her brother, 24, an architect who has been awesome in his dedication to fixing my computer. My flat is in the driveway (of sorts) of their moms house, where they all currently live, and we get along swimmingly. There door is always open and they make the best dang coffee ever. So of course I was easily sold. :)

I will update more this weekend (with pictures!) and hopefully something a little more witty and entertaining.

Love from Zululand