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.