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Letters From
Southern Africa: Home Visit

Letters From
Southern Africa: Home Visit


Peace Corps volunteer Zachery Scott heads into the bush to visit with families.

Every Monday afternoon, I leave my organization's office and go out into the community with my activistas to visit families who are receiving or are in need of assistance from my group. We always sit down to make sure that services are being delivered properly. However, many of these people live alone and have no one to whom they can turn. So many times our main reason for being there is to sit and listen to what they have to say.

Today I left with two of my activistas, Mana Eliza and Mana Anita, to visit a community near my village. We walked for about 30 minutes into the bush before arriving at our first home. Here we met a young woman no older than 30. She sat with her four children and her mother. The six of them all lived in a one-room canico (reed) home that couldn't have been more than eight by 12 feet. The woman was a beneficiary of our monthly food aid project in conjunction with the World Food Program. They receive assistance of beans and cornmeal, but of course, it is not nearly enough to feed six people. The father of the young children had become sick and died last year. The mother and youngest baby are also sick. They were very appreciative of the assistance being received.

When I asked what more could be done to provide support, her eyes glazed over and she put her head down. After I asked, I felt silly. I could only imagine how difficult it must be to try and pick out just one thing that she needs.

Afterward, we went to our next family: an orphan-led household. Here, two boys, ages 12 and 17 -- who had lost both parents within the past two years -- were living together in their family's canico hut. The older boy had taken the role of caregiver and was looking after his younger brother and the farm his parents left behind.

In addition to working the farm and taking care of the daily activities of the house, he also has managed to keep going to school in the mornings while his younger sibling goes to the afternoon session.

My organization has been helping the boys supplement their monthly food supply. The oldest boy is doing his best, but he is just scraping by with the resources he has available. In talking with him, I kept imagining myself at 17 and what I was doing at that age. We talked about how school was going and life in general. He was just a normal kid dealing with not-so-normal circumstances.

Finally we moved to the last home on our route, the most dilapidated house -- one that seemed like it was pulled straight from a Charles Dickens tale. This circular canico hut was about eight feet in diameter and was tilted so badly it looked ready to fall over. There we met three young children, ages 3, 4, and 7. Both of their parents had died in 2008 and the children had been left in the care of their mother's brother, the owner of the tilted shack. But he wasn't there. We were met instead by their deceased mother's sister, who had taken custody of the children three weeks prior. She reported that the children's uncle had a drinking problem and no job, raising the question of how the hell he could afford to buy liquor.

The uncle had apparently sold the farm once owned by the children's parents, and proceeds had been spent on anything but the children. Looking around the uncle's hut, I was hard-pressed to find even a few plates, let alone food or other provisions. So the children's aunt had taken them in, adding to the seven children she already had in her family.

Like most families in my village, she and her husband can't find much work, so there isn't a lot of money to spread around. The children looked malnourished. They are not yet receiving assistance from my organization because they are on a waiting list along with a multitude of other families in equally dire straits. There is no telling how long it might take for them to become enrolled in our programs. But we sat and talked with the aunt about the types of food the children are eating, how often they are fed, and ways they can increase their vitamin intake from their food supply. She was receptive to the information and willing to try new techniques.

These visits are important not only to get to know the community better, but also to provide a service that doesn't cost money or materials. I realize that the food and supplies we provide are vital to our families, but sometimes they need someone to talk to and to listen to what's on their minds. These visits allow us to sit down and connect as human beings in a way that is difficult under other circumstances.

Truthfully, it's one of my favorite parts of each week.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Zachery Scott