South Africa: Nobody Wants Your Nasty Underwear, Or How I Got One of the Worst Sunburns of My Life

26 12 2010

In order to get my mother to come to South Africa with me I agreed to go on a safari with her for two days. My main goal of being here was to work for TLC and doing what I felt the Holiday Season is really about – helping those less fortunate than yourself. My mother is here to do the same thing but she knows that this is her once in a lifetime chance to do the activities that most associate Africa with. So we spent

Rebecca and her mom at a South Africa gamer preserve

the first two days of her trip here at a Game Park enjoying the beautiful scenery and seeing lions, elephants, zebras and nearly every sort of African animal you can think of. And I’m so glad we did because I think she might be ready to kill me right now if we hadn’t. Today is the first day that we’ve worked at TLC and the days are even more exhausting than I remember!

Instead of working in the nursery, where most of the volunteers spend their time (and where I spent a great deal of my time during previous visits) we spent the day assisting Thea’s daughter, Zoe. Whenever I talk about TLC I generally mention Thea but what I have failed to note is the active participation of her eldest children. Thea’s four eldest children have all taken on their mother’s heart and work at TLC in different capacities.

Pippa, Thea’s second eldest, has taken over much of the management of the house, the office, and ensuring everything is in order.

Rhys keeps the fully functioning farm running – today he was awaiting the arrival of 100 chickens for his newest “green” project (the chickens lay eggs, which TLC will eat, sell and fertilizing the vegetable gardens in a rotation.

And Zoe, her youngest who is working at TLC, is working with the neediest families at the local squatter camps. She helps young woman feed and cloth themselves and their children while providing them with life skills.

At one point Zoe was running a small thrift store from a shipping container on TLC’s farm. Woman would come to the gate and be able to shop the store of new and used clothing that TLC isn’t able to use on in the nursery or at the house. The clothing and other items were offered at a generous discount – 10 rand (about .15 U.S. cents) for a grocery store size shopping bag. However, the store got to be too much with all of the other work she is doing so she closed down the shop. Over the next few months the shipping container began to fill with items – unsorted and unable to be distributed.

Starting to unloed a 40 foot shipping container

This is where my mother and I come in; we spent 9 hours sorting the items into different categories. At TLC nothing goes unused. First, donated items are reviewed by Joanna (Thea’s eldest daughter) and the nursery staff. The items that are needed in the nursery and will withstand the wear and tear of constantly being worn by children are added to the clothes in the nursery. The other items are given to Zoe. She sorts the items into two categories, the first, clothes that can be sold, and the second, clothes that should be given away. The best clothes that don’t make it in the nursery are sold for a small price to the local women who then mark-up the items and sell them individually as a means of income. The stained or ‘not as nice’ items are given away to the locals. These items will end up having various life forms depending on their deficiency – they may worn, repaired and sold, or, sometimes, used as insulation for the cold tin shacks that make up squatter camps.

Rebecca's mom - turns out she's not only a top-notch attorney with the Dept of Labor, she's also one heck of an underwear sorter.

Our day was spent dividing the items in the previously noted shipping container into salable adult, children and baby clothing; unsalable items and other items like household goods, blankets, etc.  This work is certainly not glamorous.  It’s hot, tiring and very humbling.

So rather than go through the details of the day, here are a few things I learned:

  • Be courteous when giving clothes to your local thrift store. While some ingenious person (see below) may have a creative use for it, giving stained, nasty underwear just isn’t nice.
  • Every item you donate has to be separated before it’s re-sold. If you could take the ten minutes to sort items into children’s clothes, adult cloths and other items it will save the person who has to sort the clothes a lot of time.
  • Rubber-banding your shoe or tying the shoe laces together is always appreciated.
  • Shipping containers are very hot. While in Haiti in January I met with an architect who had developed plans to make housing out of used shipping containers. At the time, my question was, “isn’t that going to be hot?” I can now tell you from personal experience, those containers are VERY hot!

    Rebecca: pre-sunburn

  • Generally speaking, I’m a little obsessive about sunscreen. Today I wasn’t. Let’s just say that I’ve been reminded why I’m obsessive about sunscreen.
  • Those who have very little know how to use items best. I was amazed when Zoe told me that people will use the clothing that isn’t usable as insulation for their homes. So smart!

Today is just the first day of this tedious task, tomorrow will likely be more of the same. This humbling experience is why I came to South

Africa for this Holiday Season; I wanted something outside of the normal U.S. Holidays. I didn’t want to run around buying Holiday gifts for my loved ones and forgetting what the Season is really about. I wanted to truly help those in need and remember how lucky I am to live the life I live.





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