Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Leaving South Africa heartbroken but yet so full…

It may sound strange but after 48 hours with 'AIDS babies' as many people refer to them, though 'he's positive' or 'she's got the dragon in her blood' seem to be the lingo in Grabouw, I left feeling blessed, hoping I can do something for these kids and the wonderful organization I volunteered with, all the while knowing how easily we forget once back home in our warm beds and busy lives.
The informal settlement in Grabouw is 65,000 (est. population 40,000-50,000 plus the townships etc.) of which there is a 34 percent HIV rate. 34% of 65,000 isn't a number to take lightly, especially when so many of them are children. The three week old baby I held for my last 2 hours in Grabouw didn't ask for this. She hasn't done anything wrong. Yet life for her will likely never be normal and carefree as most of us know it. I grew up in a clean home with four walls a warm bed, two parents, two sisters and haven't gone to bed hungry a day in my life. 
People tell me how kind I am, what a good person to give part if my holiday time to these babies instead of parading around South Africa on safari and visiting all the cheap shopping destinations. I know better. Two and a half days of my life is nothing to them.
One more person to miss.
Another American girl who loved them for one day then left to head back to England where the water is clear and the football pitches don't have a spec of glass on them. 
I texted my mom on day one to see if she knew if I'd been immunized for TB...to which she wasn't happy "great time to think about this! Make sure you're wearing gloves and not touching bodily fluids." My mom, like many of you obviously hasn't been to Africa. Gloves? No fluids? This is real life not a hospital room. These six babies are 13 months - 6 years old, with the addition of the 3 week old in my last afternoon at the Village of Hope. They are kids - they have runny noses, bloody noses, they want hugs, kisses, to sit in your lap. They just want what every kid needs: love. And in my short time here I hope I was at least able to give that.
I knew before I came that in 48 hours I would receive much more than I gave and I was definitely right. 
I arrived Sunday evening in Grabouw at the Village of Hope where the volunteers and house Mommy's gave me a warm welcome. I met the six bambini, toured the house and after answering many questions about why I was there and who I was they told me all about the town, the children, the life, the problems, the people and prepared me for my time there. 
Monday morning started with their daily 8:15a meeting. Where I was just one of the team. They got right to business. What happened last week? What does everyone have on for this week? Who is doing what today? I must say from the minute I arrived I was thoroughly impressed with the Thembalitsha organization and their projects. Everything was so well thought out. Run like a business founded on hope and love. It runs through everyone you meet. They are a Christian based organization but its not in your face, it is ingrained in the walls and the hope but non-religious are welcome as well. It isn't a mission trip to drive home church rules. Many Africans are quite religious anyway. It's a mission to bring hope and to teach the children stories which will help them overcome the many hardships they will likely face in the years ahead.
In my short time there I didn't say much. They must have been so curious about me. This random girl who came from out of the blue for only two days. But what could I say? It was just so much to take in. The sights, the stories, the diseases, the brown water but most of all this group of people giving their lives to these projects. 
On my second day in Grabouw I had the pleasure of meeting one of the former Village of Hope children when I went with the home carers on their daily rounds to one of the local townships, you can hear his story and more about the organization here: Celukhanyo
If you've made it this far as you want to know more or you want to donate as I plan to start fundraising asap please email me: ashleyhg@gmail.com or visit my justgiving page: justgiving.com/AshleyMarieHG 
I can say from past volunteer experiences this is absolutely a 'Village of Hope' rightly named and well led. It's a place without corporate overhead where volunteers pay their own way and all of the money goes directly where needed. I'm also happy to give the address if you want to send clothes, toys, books, sports supplies or anything you'd be willing to share. Hand me downs accepted :)
Let's fight the dragon together...
With love,
The Thembalitsha Foundation was established in 1997 with the vision of restoring hope to the needy of South Africa by developing them to the point of self-reliance through the provision of healthcare, education and training.

The organisation focus on social development and we help to establish pre-schools, adult training programmes, health care services and education programmes. It also assists in the rehabilitation of vulnerable youth through education programmes. The Thembalitsha Foundation helps to build responsible individuals who are equipped and willing to contribute to the life of their communities and to the economic and social well-being of South Africa.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Exactly one month left of my 20s!! Eek!

When you’re a kid (or you are my 27 year old flatmate) you think WOW 30 is OLD! By then I guess I will have a husband, kids, a pet or two and a white picket fence...

I blew that one out of the water! OK so I’ve never been a white picket fence kind of girl, always trying the road less traveled and figuring it out along the way. But growing up in Alabama I didn’t think I would be a single, professional, city girl at 30. I don’t own anything (car, house, flat) but that’s ok with me, I am sure my carbon footprint is very low - especially because I cycle everywhere I go!

Thankfully many of my closest friends beat me to 30 and have shown that it isn’t much different than 27, 8 or 9! Turns out a 78 year old man finished the Boston Marathon a few weeks ago, even after being knocked off his feet by a bomb. 40 is the new 30, 70 is the new 50 and my Gran is looking great a month before her 89th birthday! (she’s also a Gemini, like me!)

So how do I feel about turning 30? Not bad! I’ve accomplished a lot in my first 30 years. I’ve traveled a lot of the world (just missing Asia and LatAm), I’ve worked in all of the Uniteds’! (USA, UAE, UK), I live in London, my favorite city in the world, I have stunning friends, a great job, I will soon live in an amazing flat, and I’m traveling for 2 weeks: London > Florence > Amalfi Coast > Rome > London with my family to celebrate! Not much to complain about these days, there’s no where I would rather be...I’m ready. Bring on the 30s....

Sunday, April 28, 2013

I am back to BLOGGGGING! 2013

It’s been a WHILE since my last blog post, but I have been asked by my dear friend to start ‘guest blogging’…so here goes. Sometimes we just need a little motivation to do the things we’ve wanted to do anyway. I, like Rachel, have a long list of things I would still like to do in my life and writing is definitely one of them.

So what to tell you in my first post since June 2011! Eek. I told you it had been a while. That summer I was flying to Beirut every few weekends to play at the beach and SkyBar, wasn’t a bad life.  Now, as I sit in London bundled up with a sweater and scarf inside my flat, because it is snowing on the 23rd of March, I’d like to be back there now.

Why don’t I start by reminding you who I am, my name is Ashley, most people call me Ash, or if they are Italian, Ashha! I am American and claim Alabama when asked where I am from, but I have lived in seven cities on three continents so eventually I think I will be able to tell you I am ‘from London.’ I was born in New Mexico and spent the first nine years of my life there with my parents and two sisters. I am the middle child and a Gemini, make of that what you’d like; but of course I am the best! (hehe)

We use to drive 48 hours from New Mexico to Massachusetts to visit our Grandparents and extended family; I’d say this is where my traveling bug began.  At the age of nine we moved to upstate New York (Watertown) and froze to death! We were much closer to family but us little desert kids were not surviving, so my Dad asked for a transfer ANYWHERE in the South and we ended up in Alabama. 

True story. Well that’s how I remember it as a twelve year old anyway.  Alabama really did become home because from 12-18 is where you really grow up and make lasting friendships. I’m lucky to still have lots of friends and a few have even visited me abroad!

Next I went to the University of Tennessee, and then took my first job in NYC, three years later I got a job in London and never looked back.  Two years into my London life my boss asked me to move to Dubai and I did!  I lived there 18 months and have now been back in London almost a year! Time flies…enough about me. I will tell you some of the fun things that have happened along the way next time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My First Takes on the infamous BEIRUT

 -They drive like mad, I mean MAD!
-Boys say anything they think out loud - and they shouldn't
-Signs and stories of war everywhere
-Full of friendly and generous people - or maybe it's just that Dom's fam is amazing ;)
-Fabulously Christian for an Arab country
-You can have as many helpers as family members in your house
-Gorgeous mountainous views over the sea from almost everywhere!
-Everywhere you look there is a billboard selling a bathing suit or wedding dress
- Its similar to a European city, only next to the gorgeous downtown (Solidere) there are half bombed un-refurbished buildings, Mosques and Cathedrals lining the streets 
-I need to learn french...
-The story of the flag makes me want to cry and praise the Lebanese at the same time
-They smoke EVERYwhere. Starting the second they exit the plane
-Up down, Up down: Lebanon is like my horse riding lessons, up and down the mountains !
-As I live on my third continent my '6 degrees of separation' has become 3
-And lastly, I get it, I look Lebanese...French classes starting soon :)

Visit #2 in two weeks...


Monday, September 13, 2010

New chapter - Middle East

I'm sitting at the nail salon on my one week anniversary in Abu Dhabi (6th Sept 2010), and feeling quite smitten. I don't think I've had a mani/pedi since I lived in NYC! Everyone has told me a million times that I'm going to love the life here and I don't doubt them for a second.

I'd count this as my 4th big move (big defined as new state/country with less than 3 friends!) and I must say, it gets easier every time. I've had to manage my first week here to keep from being double booked! Almost all of my good friends in London have a good friend here, but I cannot meet them all in the first few weeks!    The low down from week number one...
Monday - arrived and sat at visa control for 1.5 hrs because no one turned in my visa! Nice.

Tuesday- first official day in the CNN Abu Dhabi office, followed by my first Iftar at the Emirates Palace!! Meeting clients and dining at the palace on night #1, good form :) the night continued with the editorial crew back at the Souk- fun times even without music (thanks to Ramadan).

Wednesday- breakie with Mike, Paul and Souraya. Normal work day two and then off to Dubai!

Thursday- (=Friday in the UAE!) worked at MIS in Dubai, withstood the yelling and crazy Lebanese! Drinks at Zuma. To which I had to direct the taxi driver! Seems they don't know much here...   Thankfully Zuma is in a 'free zone' so they played good music! But cut us off at midnight. So back to the Shangri La...

Friday- nothing! Whoo hoo! Leaving London almost killed me! Today I finally caught up on sleep, upped my vitamin D levels at the pool, then had dinner at the Marina Yacht club, followed by drinks at a Mexican restaurant and then to a shisha bar/restaurant in the Wafi mall. As we arrived Dan informed me of the tricks of the trade if you want to meet an Emirate (which I don't!). Basically you turn on your phones Bluetooth and set your status to 'single brunette' etc. and they'll start chatting you up! Apparently then you can direct them to where you're sitting so the two of you can decide if you're interested in taking it further... I would consider myself quite the world traveler, but sometimes I’m still very naive! I guess I just like to meet boys the old fashion way! Anyway, Dan's friends were great, and I think everyone but me in the UAE is a consultant!

Saturday- again pool time! Then met two more friends of friends before heading to the Atlantis Hotel for dinner with the CNN crew. I must say, the best part of hanging out with the editorial crew is the stories! As you can imagine, a CNN anchor or producer has seen a lot of crazy shiiiatttt!! I Love it!

Sunday-Thurs last week of Ramadan!  - back to Abu Dhabi for work. And home to the lovely Shangri La. I went out for drinks at hotel bars a few nights, worked out and watched Entourage the others! After a half day of work on Thursday we headed back to Dubai for the long weekend, thanks to the Eid holiday!!

Finding so many things funny in my first few days in the Middle East

Tuesday we had drinks at a bar with no music. Wed Nicki got in trouble for eating a chip in the queue at burger king, last night I knew my way around better than my taxi driver, and today I spent an hour at a packed grocery store because I needed one thing but couldn't help myself  (random Ash fact: I love grocery stores!) How bad does it suck to go grocery shopping when you're fasting and still can't eat for 6 more hrs... It's def hot here, my phone starts steaming up after a minute outside; but who can complain? The pool boy just handed me a cold towel :)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I'm going to sponsor a child, the hard part was choosing my little angel

The charity we are working with, Plan International, has a program which allows you to sponsor a child for £12/ month.  To us this is one cheap dinner out and less than a taxi from my fav bar home.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to sponsor or not but as we learned more about the program it just seemed like the thing to do. I want to do much more volunteering around the world, but for now I'll start with Rwanda.

I thought it was going to be a breeze; I'd sponsor the adorable little girl who sat in my lap at the opening ceremony.

It didn't take much asking around to learn her name but then it surfaced that she was in high demand and others already wanted to sponsor her too! Oh no!  I actually went into a slight depression over it for a minute - before looking out the window and remembering there are about 1,599 other kids out there in desperate need (& those are just the primary school age). From there I headed into the schoolyard to scout for my child.  Minutes later I realized this was a horrible idea and felt terribly wrong. Imagine starring at all the kids, some barefoot, others with ripped clothes, plastic bags for rucksacks...how am I to pick ONE of them to support???

Thankfully the money goes into a pot for the community, but you write letters to your child and can send pictures etc. Finding it too award I went back to work. 'Asha, come..' back to my water collecting with Dominique. Later a little girl came along with the longest, most beautiful eyelashes.  She was quite sweet and able to tell me her name and age. I thought I'd found my match until about an hour later when I met T. She was part if my water tank crew and though she hardly said a word - perched herself on the concrete to take in excitement with the little entourage we'd formed. The older kids had to ask her name and age for me since she was so shy and didn't speak English.

I spent the rest of the day back and forth from the tank, chatting with the kids at every break while the jug was filling but still wasn't convinced I'd found the one until she showed up at the classroom we used as our home base.

I brought William over to ask her name so they could track her to see if she's available for sponsorship. When he found out he turned and told us her name and the meaning...I teared up right there. Emma looked at me and said she's perfect- meant to be. Her name means 'in him (God) we trust' -done deal. She was chosen for me. I couldn't say a word while Alfred wrote down her name, age and class. Everyday here is emotional and full of surprises.  I can't believe we only have one more day. It will be hard to leave our new found friends.

If you want to sponsor a child too, please go to www.plan-uk.org