SAS Service Trip 2019

How 2019 is flying by and how much has taken place at Care Village! I returned from our first Saline High School student service trip to Care Village on Sunday. It was two weeks filled with fun and sharing.

We gathered at Liberty School on Saturday, March 16 at 6:30am. Everyone was on time – a very good sign for what lay ahead. I still had some concerns about this group because they were so quiet in every preparatory meeting and on this morning of departure. Nothing wrong with quiet, but spending two weeks on the other side of the globe, away from family is a pretty big deal and I wanted to be certain these young people were going to be comfortable letting me know if they were happy, sick, sad, homesick, or upset as the trip progressed. It turned out there was no cause for concern, whatever.

I noticed several parents full of apprehension, just as a parent should – and I instantly felt the weight of taking their children to the other side of the planet. Deep down, I knew all would be fine, but I ran through my mental checklist one more time and worried that something might happen that could keep the four minors from being allowed into South Africa. It turns out that my concerns were not entirely unfounded.

The trip was pretty uneventful. On the bus to the airport, there were several great questions from the students about what lay ahead. I asked lots of questions about how they were feeling and received many great responses. Everything was going to be fine. These kids weren’t shy; they were just quiet – whew!

Every step of the way to Care Village I became more and more impressed with these young people – Andy, too! It was the perfect number of people to take on this trip and the perfect mixture of personalities. I cannot say enough about Andy, being the only “grown-up” fitting in with the kids, but also looking out for them (and for me!). On several occasions, Andy would ask me “how are you holding up” or “how are you doing?” I appreciated this partnership, very much as I always knew there was somebody else keenly aware of what these young people needed. Thanks, Andy!!

I must say that I was very impressed with the Saline students. They were all on this trip for the right reasons. They were excited to meet the children and a little nervous, I think that they might not measure up. That was a good combination of feelings because it kept them on their toes. No reason for worry though, because the Care Village children warmed up immediately.

We arrived at Care Village on Sunday evening, just after dark. The children all helped unload our luggage and wanted to know everyone’s names. Too funny, they could not pronounce Cael, so they resolved to call him “veggie boy.” Evan was “Alvin” for a day, and Andy quickly became “Uncle Andy.” It took twelve year old Sphamandla about three minutes to develop a crush on Lauren that lasted the entire two weeks. Smiles were the order of the day and everyone went to bed knowing that the morning would bring much excitement.

The next seven days were spent with the children – all day, every day! The team worked and played tirelessly although, evening meeting comments almost always included the word “exhausted.” It was a fun and satisfying kind of exhausted we experienced each day. We were outnumbered, many times over but complaints were never heard from the children. They loved the attention and the activity.

Over the course of the week, I saw more engaging activities than during any previous trip. There was an “escape room,” designed by Cael and Andy, capture the flag, baseball, led by Evan, kite flying, bubble blowing, card games, puzzles, bicycle riding, camping, dancing, dodge ball, and more that I cannot recall. Our team prepared a meal for the children and the house parents – spaghetti and meatballs with cheesy garlic bread and homemade brownies (nice work Kristina!) with ice cream for dessert. We enjoyed preparing the food and serving our hosts. Mama Sanet and Chef James cheerfully assisted us most of the afternoon.

Monday #2 brought the arrival of the shipping container that had been sent from Saline on October 27, 2018. A series of unexpected events had caused the container to be delayed by over 14 weeks. It was very fun for me to open the container as I had personally sealed it back at Saline Middle School in October. There were squeals of delight and appreciation as 65 bicycles, many of them brand new, generously donated by Bill from FPC were unloaded – four pianos, 20 classroom chalkboards, desks, filing cabinets, chairs, tables, new and used sofas, books, car seats for the infant orphanage, and much, much more.

The team left with Gerrie for the Kruger while Greg and I stayed behind for the day, working on technology and helping with the unloading of the container. We joined the team later in the day at the Backpackers African Inn at Marloth Park, very near the Kruger. Our host, Leon told us to keep the screen doors closed to avoid having the snakes join us for slumber. We agreed to heed Leon’s warning. Zebra, impala, and warthogs joined us over the course of the two nights we stayed at Backpackers. Talk about being immersed in the landscape!

Misty Mountain, Groskop Gorge, God’s Window, Potholes, the Kruger, and Dulstrom in two and a half days and an authentic South African braai, rounded out our adventure into the countryside. We roomed dormitory style – the symphony of snoring in the men’s side adding to the sounds of the wilderness, as everyone seemed to sleep well.

Back to Care Village for the last two and a half days of our journey – you would have thought we were gone for a month the way we were greeted by the children. More hugs, games and activities with our second campfire (more dancing!), complete with s’mores brought our final night to a close. The team was wondering how difficult it was going to be leaving our companions of the past two weeks. We prepared for tears and sadness as everyone affirmed their satisfaction about deciding to come to South Africa and Care Village. Most declared that they would love to return and wondered if it would be possible to stay in touch with the children.

Saturday afternoon goodbyes were tearful, but hopeful. There was much less sadness than I expected – more happy satisfaction over friendships and over a job well done. I know that the Saline students were sad to leave, but they were also ready to be home. The flights home were uneventful, Bob the SAS bus driver was waiting for us in Detroit, and all talked about the future on the bus ride home. I was asked how the Saline students could continue to be helpful. Several offered to support future trips by spreading the word to friends and peers. I got a strong sense that this was the beginning of something bigger than all of us. I expect there to be more service trips from Saline Schools and I am looking forward to start the planning soon!