The lush and verdant landscape enveloping White River hides many precious gems, and Hands at Work is a jewel of note.
George and Carolyn Snyman reached a tipping point in their suburban Pretoria lives, packed up their family and the few possessions they needed and, leaving their comfortable lives behind, set out to immerse themselves in Christian community work. Living and working in the poorest communities around White River, in Kwa-Zulu Natal and travelling throughout the countries of southern Africa, George and Carolyn have learned two lessons – following Christ means being a servant, and that a relationship is the foundation on which to build the Kingdom of God. These lessons are part of the core values of Hands at Work.
In 1997 they headed back to White River to set up community home-based care in Masoyi. The project’s success led to US Aid becoming involved and the couple deciding to “let it go” and move onto another stony field which grows bigger by the day – dealing with the tidal wave of orphans created by the AIDS pandemic. The innocent victims living in the poorest of the poor communities, neglected, starved, abused and illiterate, with no means to change their lives or improve their future. George and Carolyn found them, and Hands at Work was born.
Today, the seed planted and nurtured in White River has thrived and multiplied – there are now more than 60 community based organisations across Africa and the White River hub has a staff of 35. All staff are volunteers, and as Catherine Clarkson and Byron Chan explain, they are buoyed by the transformation Hands at Work is bringing about in the lives of thousands of children.
Hands at Work has an unusual ‘business’ model – they don’t throw money into the community. They don’t build anything. They don’t deliver truckloads of food. Instead, they quietly enter the villages, identify the “Mother Theresa’s” and “Men of Peace” and, using these community leaders, support their efforts to serve the community. Every village has a Gogo who is feeding children from her pension pennies. Every community has a man whose voice is one of influence, listened to by the people. They work with the community church, insisting that the Bible gives Christians a clear mandate to care for the orphans. To this end, they lobby churches in the USA and Europe to partner and support the local churches.
That, they’ve discovered, is the key. The communities need to care for their weak and helpless, and to do it from love, not for gain. These are the most broken children in Africa, carrying and concealing emotional inner wounds. Hands at Work realised that first they had to counsel and heal the community care workers so that they in turn could counsel and heal their young charges. Breaking the cycle of violence and abuse transforms the community. This is sustainable healing.
What do they need? Well, funds, of course. But more than that, Catherine and Byron plead with White River residents to see what is behind the orchards, plantations and bushveld and to set aside some time, spending it in these desperate communities. The gift of a visit, a warm hug, a listening ear and a broad smile means more to these wounded children and their care givers than some old clothes and toys. It means that they are not alone and boosts their fragile self-esteem. They are acknowledged. They have value.
Catherine Clarkson Partner Communications firstname.lastname@example.org
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