Post Cards from South Africa: Rotary Family Health Days Project

The African side of life continues to be interesting.  I recently participated for a morning in the Rotary Family Health Days Project.  For three days, Rotary clubs in the Pretoria area along with local health service providers set up screening clinics in poor townships and provided thousands of children and adults with such things as immunizations, testing for HIV, TB, diabetes, cervical cancer, etc.

We non-medical people took care of registration.  As we were setting up, three boys were hovering around, and when I asked if they wanted to help, they not only jumped at the chance to unload supplies from the vehicles but stuck around for the whole 5 hours helping make registration bracelets – you know those papery bands they put around your wrist in the hospital – and cleaning up around our outdoor site afterwards. Another of their friends joined us later. (See photo.) They were so dear.  Like with my “regular” contingent of kids, it seems as if being valued for doing something purposeful, let alone being valued for just who they are, is rare.


Speaking of my “regular” contingent, I’ve been taking the four boys ice-skating at the mall again and I can’t believe how they are improving – whereas me, I had my thrills a few months ago and prefer watching them to flailing around along the perimeter wall. Sitting in the section for uncoordinated adults, I’ve had the opportunity to observe such sweet kindnesses of the skaters. The more skilled ones, regardless of their own age, size, or color, will help fallen ones get up and even teach them patiently how to get up next time they fall. They will also teach the less experienced kids techniques when asked.

In the second photo you can see two of my four: Nkosikhona (15), the tall one with his friend’s rollerblades and Lindokuhle (10), the short one with the Mt. Shasta T-shirt. The other boys are from the neighborhood. Anyway, Nkosikhona got one of the good skaters at the rink to teach him how to skate backwards with that feet-crossing move, which looks so slick but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how it works at all, let alone without tripping oneself and causing great bodily harm.  He can skate just as easily with the rollerblades in the dirt. Yesterday I took the boys for their first lessons at the rink and they thoroughly enjoyed learning so much in an hour.


One more kid story…  You can’t pump your own gas  (“petrol”) here, so an attendant will do it and also, if the mood strikes or if you ask, they will clean your windows and check your oil, water, and tire pressure.  A few weeks ago, after having gotten gas and a window cleaning, it took a while but I eventually noticed that the wiper blade on the passenger side was not entirely making contact with the windshield.  I fiddled around with it and accomplished nothing.  The next time I got gas, the boys were with me and the youngest, 10-year-old Khanyiso, was in the front seat.  I asked the attendant if he could fix the wiper blade for me and he tried and couldn’t either.  Khanyiso then noticed how one wiper was different from the other and showed the attendant what the problem was.  It was an easy fix and the look of proud self-satisfaction on Khanyiso’s adorable face was worth more than the fix itself.

After my last email [having described an encounter with an acquaintance who told me the tale and showed me the scar around her neck where she was strangled and left for dead during a home robbery], I wanted to keep this one upbeat but some things are just too compelling not to share.  You know you read about things but until you meet someone who has experienced it or heaven forbid you experience it yourself, it’s hard to wrap your head around it.  There is a young woman who is a friend of some friends of mine.  We were all together the other day and she was telling me she likes to work with children and would maybe some day like to have a home for abandoned and orphaned babies.

My Rotary club sponsors two such facilities so we got to talking about those places and about why women abandon their babies.  I don’t mean give up for adoption; I mean leave them in public bathrooms, dumpsters, fields, etc.  Here, there is a high incidence of rape, and the ensuing child is often an emotionally charged reminder of a violent trauma.

When this part of our conversation came up, I noticed she pulled in her energy as if this were a trigger but because we were around other people I lightened up the subject.  A while later, she asked to talk with me privately.  It turns out she has a 1-year-old baby whom she loves but is having a very difficult time bonding with and is considering giving her up for adoption. Why?  She was subjected to “corrective rape” so that she would get pregnant and be expected to then be in a relationship with the father, i.e., the rapist, as if that would change her sexual orientation.  Google corrective rape and you will find out more than you ever want to know.

Here is an example of how we can be grateful to live in the USA, regardless of your opinion about our polarized politics.  I’m sure many of you are familiar with a SWOT analysis where you list an entity’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  The first two are internal and the second two are external.  I was reading the 2012-2017 strategic plan for Hospice Africa Uganda and found this under their threats list: “Threat of political fragility and/or war.”  In a similar vein, on a recent architectural fact-finding mission at a large campus in Uganda, one of my colleagues there put the following in his report:  “In the 1970s during the coup d’états in Uganda, the school was attacked and its archives which had the site’s master plan was destroyed.”  In too many parts of the world, the above-mentioned threat is an ongoing reality.

OK, enough of this. I’ll leave you with a funny conversation from last Saturday.

Friend A to me: “Haha, I see you’re eating chips [French fries] with the kids.”

Me: “Why is that funny?”

Friend A: “Because only young people eat chips.”

Me:  “You’re joking, right?”

Friend A:  “No. In the McDonald’s commercials you only see young people eating chips.”

Friend B: “She’s young at heart.”

So now McDonald’s is the arbiter of youthfulness.  And the fries were not even from McDonald’s.  And they were soggy and greasy.   And I didn’t want to bother with a diatribe on how eating all that grease on a regular basis would make them so old at heart at a young age that they wouldn’t live to be my age.



Marilyn Traugott

Marilyn is the founder and director of One Future at a Time (www.onefutureatatime.com), a tax exempt nonprofit organization that raises funds to support health, education, and personal empowerment in impoverished communities in South Africa, Uganda, and Rwanda. She spends a significant part of each year in Africa, where she is involved on a voluntary basis with projects and programs for local organizations as well as with individuals and communities at large. Over time there, she has become a mentor, mom, and friend to many children and young adults.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments