Here is a guest post by a good friend, Hazel Hodge. Hazel is an inspiration, like many of us it took her a long time to come to terms with her life and she has now found meaning and purpose in other ways. Here she tells us of her recent trip to visit orphanages in Botswana.
When I discovered I was never going to have children of my own back in 2005 I vowed that I would dedicate part of my life to helping disadvantaged children.
On 25TH September I set off with a team of 7 people for what turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life to date. It was a 10 day trip organised by an inspirational man and was arranged so that we could make a difference to the lives of some of the orphans in Botswana. The population of Botswana is around 2 million. It is estimated that there are over 93,000 orphans – mainly due to the massive AIDS problem. Around 500 orphans are cared for at three specially designed, secure “villages” run by international charity SOS Children’s Villages. The rest of the orphans live in the community, cared for by siblings or grandparents.
Prior to the trip, I set up a Just Giving page and received donations in excess of £1000 for the benefit of the children. Friends, family and work colleagues also kindly donated skipping ropes, pens, colouring books, scissors, gardening gloves, balls, DVDs, cameras and other useful items for us to take for the children.
We stayed at the SOS Children’s Villages within Tlokweng, Francistown and Serowe and spent lots of time with the children, organising a variety of activities for them. On arrival at each village we were swamped by children of all ages who jumped all over us and danced and sang. It had been 2 years since a delegation from the UK had been out so the children were extremely excited. It was wonderful to see the enthusiastic reactions to the items we delivered and to see how the simplest things brought joy to the children.
Overall, the trip was the most heartwarming, exhausting and moving experience of my life.
To entertain the children I did face painting, football, bead making, arts and crafts, ran a yoga class, made pots of pasta, learned how to play the marimba, had my hair braided like the local girls and even dressed up as Wonder Woman!
During our trip we visited a 29 year old woman who lived in a 2 room house with no proper kitchen or sanitation. She had lost her parents and both her sisters and was raising her nieces and nephews and her own children (7 in total) on her own. Her house needed painting so we did it for her in the colours of the Botswana national flag. It was humbling to see the joy that this small act created for her and the children. We also provided ingredients for a hot meal to other families living in poverty.
Amazingly, the Paramount Chief (who is Royalty and second only to the President), agreed to meet us and he personally thanked us for our work. But it was the smiles on the faces of the children that warmed my heart and made the long hot journeys across 1800 miles, the giant bugs in my room, the dust everywhere and the very basic living conditions worthwhile.
In Botswana when they want to say goodbye to someone they say PULA (meaning rain) for rain is a special thing in a country where there is no water in the reservoirs for 8 months of the year. As I left the second of the 3 villages, I received a lovely letter from the girl who had braided my hair and taught me the marimba. She did not want to say goodbye for fear of crying so in her letter she wished me PULA instead and said I had opened up her heart and helped her to realise love is not bought or sold but is created within a heart. She said she would always remember me and the love she had received.
The team I shared the experience with were all strangers to me just a few months ago, but will remain friends for many years to come.
The warm hearted nature of the Botswana people and their genuine appreciation of the smallest gesture was humbling. We did so little but it meant so much to the children, their carers and the people in the wider community. I feel privileged to have been able to spend time with them all.
The irony is many of my friends who have children would love to do something similar, but cannot because they are too tied up with their own families!
For various reasons it will be some time before I am able to return to Botswana but the memories of this trip will stay with me forever, and the letter I received from the girl at the second village is one of the most precious things I now own.
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