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.


We End Where We Began…

30 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

Today, we are ending our 30-Day Challenge in the same place we began, in a childcare center in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Our story began with Mbali-Today it ends with Gabrielle, who passed away on June 26, 2004, the day after Mbali.  The story below was written by Thea Jarvis, who founded TLC, the day that Gabrielle passed away.  To read Thea’s story and the founding of TLC, click here.

Gabrielle passed away today.  Gabrielle’s story has been such a sad one from the beginning.   Her Mommy is a young girl who was found wandering around Baragwanath Hospital with the newborn baby in a duffel bag.   When a nurse from the psychiatry department noticed that the bag was moving she confronted the girl and called a security guard to check the bag, to confirm her suspicions.

They sent the baby and the Mom to TLC with the idea that Gabrielle should stay until the mother had received some counseling … Gabrielle was only a few hours old and the most beautiful baby.

Gabrielle’s Mommy’s story was one that is becoming more and more frequent.   The mother found out she was HIV+ and simply lost it!   She went crazy.   Gabrielle’s mother  tried to abort her baby, but when that didn’t work, she went  into labor, went to the hospital and delivered the baby.   She is still psychotic though, and has not shown any interest in the baby apart from the rare phone call.

Gabrielle has been a sickly baby from the beginning, even though she tested HIV-.  Gabrielle spent quite a few stints in hospital and always came home with the doctors scratching their heads and having no answers.   Her hospital file was full of question marks.

So, here we are today, our little girl has, like Mbali, taken her wings and gone home.  It was a shock for us .  It was so sudden, with Mbali we had due warning.   Even though Gabrielle was sickly we hoped that because she was HIV- we could put up a fight and win…because we usually do.   We did not expect this.   She drank her bottle.   Started screaming in agony and immediately died leaving us all in shock.  Good bye my little sweet girl!

Note: Rebecca, Joint Council’s Director of Programs and Services, will return to TLC  from December 15th – December 26th.  While there, Rebecca will be blogging and video-blogging at

Today the task is simple- give yourself a big pat on the back and check out everything that Joint Council and you have accomplished this month through our I Am The Answer Campaign. You have successfully made it through the 30 day challenge! Congrats!

I Am A Mother…

30 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

“I am a mother.”  It is with these simple yet profound words that Thea Jarvis, founder and president of TLC Ministries in South Africa explains her life’s work.  In 1993, Thea established TLC Ministries amid political turmoil, racial hatred, and a growing orphan crisis in South Africa.  Today in South Africa there are approximately 2,500,000 orphans.  Thea and her family have made it their life’s mission that they help as many of these children as possible.

In its first year TLC Ministries found two orphaned children a home – Thea’s.  Thea explains, “Our first two little boys were called Joshua and Reuel…We found them in Baragwanath Hospital amongst 40 other tiny, abandoned children.  A little Albino boy, Tommy, followed a year later.  He stole and melted our hearts.  Then at two years of age those stolen hearts were melted down even further and poured out into buckets of tears when he tested HIV positive.  That was our initiation, and first taste of the very bitter cross we were going to carry in this ministry.  After Tommy, came a little boy with cleft lip and palate and we called him Brendon.  He had been abandoned in the Johannesburg Hospital.  Soon after Brendon followed Crispin, who was born to a 13-year old street child.  She already had a one year old to cope with.  A second baby was too much for her.  Soon after Brendon and Crispin had joined our family, God put the ministry into full throttle and more and more babies started finding their way to TLC…Since that time we have been growing by leaps and bounds.  I have personally adopted 14 children in addition to my 5 biological children.  My eldest daughter, Joanna, has adopted four children and has one biological son.  My next daughter, Pippa has adopted seven little ones.  Then there are another 10 who have ended up with us for various reasons, have permanently joined our family, although they are not yet adopted.”

Thea and her family realized they alone cannot help the many children in need. So, after Brendon and Crispin joined the family Thea began to work to streamline the adoption process so that children who came into the ministry who could not be reunited with their biological family could be adopted both domestically and internationally.  Meanwhile, Thea and her family moved into a larger house on an expansive farm outside of Johannesburg.  The large house includes living quarters for Thea and all her children as well as a nursery which over 35 children call home until their family is found.  The nursery is staffed by dedicated and committed volunteers.   To date, Thea and the ministry she founded has managed to help place over 750 children into permanent, safe, and loving families.  Thea, her family, and her ministry are true heroes for the children of South Africa.

Please be aware Adoptions from South Africa and TLC Ministries to the U.S. are currently not open.

You can follow Thea on her blog at or to learn more about TLC Ministries go to their website at  TLC is celebrating the Christmas Season by sharing the story of one child everyday until Christmas, check these stories at or

Please Note: Rebecca, Joint Council’s Director of Programs and Services will spend from December 15th – December 26th with Thea at TLC.  While there Rebecca will be blogging and video-blogging at

Today the task is simple- give yourself a big pat on the back and check out everything that Joint Council and you have accomplished this month through our I Am The Answer Campaign. You have successfully made it through the 30 day challenge! Congrats!

Be The Answer for Mbali

1 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign Click Here

Mbali means flower in Zulu.  It describes the little girl I held in my arms as she past perfectly.  Gentle, delicate and only able to bloom for a short period of time.  I first met Mbali two weeks before she passed away.  It was my first day in South Africa and at TLC, the child’s home I would be calling home for the next few months of my life.  Young, bright-eyed and bushy tailed and not really knowing what I was getting myself into, it was my first time in an orphanage (although I hate that term and hate it being applied to TLC).  I was over-whelmed by the sites

and sounds – all the children playing and crying at the same time.

I was partnered with, Ester, a young volunteer from Germany who had lived at TLC for six months.  She alone was caring for eight young babies between the ages of two and five months.  She taught me about their feeding schedule, their needs and personalities.  All of the eight babies had been transferred there from the same hospital in the same week.  The hospital was in a very poor section of Johannesburg and had a number of highly contagious viruses passing through the pediatric wards at the time so the children where set up in a little room removed from the rest of the nursery – so as to not spread anything they had gotten from the hospital to the other children at TLC.  As Ester taught me about the children I was in awe of how she seemed to know everything about each of the kids.  She explained that Nathanael had trouble sleeping and had a blood curtailing scream.  Payton was the smallest, born extremely prematurely, and slept all the time.  And Mbali, she was very, very sick – she wouldn’t eat and was becoming very dehydrated.  She told me all about Joanna, who worked at TLC and did not have a lot of formal training with the health issues of babies and children but had years of working with the babies at TLC.  It was Joanna’s responsibility to determine if Mbali needed to go to the hospital.  A few minutes later Joanna flew into the room.  Mbali was quickly whisked off to the hospital – Joanna was afraid that without medical intervention she would pass in the next few hours.  I was scared, to say the least.  It was a jolt of reality like I had never had before.

Two weeks later I had gotten my bearings a little bit – I’d gotten into the groove of 12 hour shifts of feeding, changing and playing with little ones for six days a week.   It was now my turn to do the nigh shift – a 13 hour shift (day and night shift volunteers over-lap for a one hour period everyday) during which volunteers do much of the same work they do during the day – feed, change and play with babies.

That same day Mbali returned from the hospital.  The hospital did not return her because she had improved.  They returned her to TLC because they knew they couldn’t do anything for her.  The hospital needed the beds for children they felt they could actually help.  At four months of age, having been abandoned by her mother at birth, Mbali was being left for dead by the best hospital staff in Sub-Saharan Africa.  There was no room to try to care for her any longer.

Arriving for my night shift I was told Mbali was being cared for by Thea, the amazing woman who started TLC, but that soon they would be bringing Mbali to me to care for her during the night.  I would receive training on how to feed her through the tube the hospital had inserted and if I needed anything during the night I could find Thea or her daughter Pippa.  About an hour later Pippa brought Mbali in to me.  She explained how to feed her through the tube and explained that I needed to pay extra special attention to her that night and continued to say that if I needed anything to have one of the other volunteers come find her.  A few hours later I was holding Mbali and trying to feed another child when I noticed her breath was short and weak.  Suddenly and calmly, there in my arms she let out one last breath.  And that was it.  She was gone.  I called to one of the other volunteers to go find Pippa.  A few of the other babies were crying but I was afraid to put her down – I wasn’t ready to leave her.  I hadn’t yet known her.  The other babies kept crying.  I tried to care for them while holding her but it wasn’t working.  Where was Pippa?  I needed to decide, hold her after her death or care for the others.  I put her down and picked up another child.  I’m sure it was just a matter of minutes, but it felt like forever until Pippa came in.  I looked at her scared, “She’s gone” I said.  Pippa hugged me, said she expected it to happen but just not that quickly.  She whisked her away and I went back to my tasks.  Just like that, Mbali had passed and I needed to move on.  I had seven other children to care for and nine more hours of my shift.  I continued…

I’d like to say I’d known her better.  That I had spent months caring for her, that I had gotten to know her.  I can tell you small things about her, the things I made myself learn so that someone knew them…the birthmark on her leg and the pleas to end the pain in her eyes.  The truth is, no one knew her.  Just like the thousands of orphans who pass away every day.  They are nameless, faceless children.  This month we are going to try to give the nameless, faceless children a voice.  Some of the children you will hear about this month have already passed.  Others are waiting for someone to step up and care for them, hoping for a family.  I hope you take the steps this month to help these children – maybe you can’t adopt them but maybe you can help spread the word about their needs – do it everyday in memory of my little “flower.”

Be The Answer for Mbali by reading and learning about HIV.  Click here for more information.

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