After arriving into Durban I ventured downtown to hire my ‘beast' of a car, also know as the smallest thing on the road. Was quite a challenge working out how use a ridiculous choke-like hand-brake, drive manual, navigate without google-maps (anyone who knows me would understand how much of disaster this is for me) whilst at the same time avoiding crazy taxi-bus’s full of locals criss-crossing the roads like speed demons.
I got myself a sim card, but with limited reception google-maps was not my friend and seemed to enjoy sending me on a wild goose chase! After getting extremely lost in sugar cane fields, only 2% battery left on my phone, the sun setting and on the verge of an anxiety attack I managed to find Rehoboth!
When I entered Rehoboth it was incredible to see how much had changed and developed in the 10 years since I volunteered here. When I was here there were only 6 houses with 25 kids and now they have 21 houses with 80 kids. There is also a school on site now for the older kids, separate pre-schools and day cares, a little shop for the house mums - it really has become a little village.
The most amazing part was seeing the kids. I guess you can only really see the passing of time when you look at children and how they have grown. The great news coming here was that most of the original kids I was here with are still here - but all looking so grown up! I could only just recognise them as they have all grown into young adults. It was quite a shock.
When I was here 10 years ago I formed a special bond with one little boy. He was only two years old when I was here, he couldn't walk because his legs had been badly burned and he couldn't speak. The most rewarding experience I had there was that I taught him to walk, and his first words were my name. Although he didn't feature in my original exhibition, coming back just to see him was something I was looking forward to the most. Now he is 12, and almost as tall as me! He actually remembered me which was so nice because I came back to visit him 5 years ago on a day visit. He is now into athletics and is winning all the local running races. Amazing to see how far he has come from the little boy who couldn't walk 10 years ago.
The older boys have moved off site to a house about half an hour drive away, and the older girls are still on site. The most amazing change I saw was in one girl, who when I was at Rehoboth everyone believed she only had a couple more months to live. She was tiny for her age, never talked or smiled. Had to carry around an oxygen tank and mask with her to help her breathe, and we used to have to check her fingernails to make sure they weren’t going blue. Now she looks so healthy and happy, with the biggest, and most beautiful smile out of all the children. I was completely blown away!
The first two photos here were in 2005, when she was so small and sick. She looks like a toddler but she was actually already 5 years old. The bottom image is of her today.
I have begun to re-photograph them all, it has taken them a little while to warm to the idea. I wanted them to be comfortable with it all first which has taken a few days. Every day I would come by either one of the girls would be out, or one didn’t like her hair that day, or there was some sort of excuse. But after letting them muck around with my iPad, and taking some polaroid shots they got in the mood and found the whole thing quite hilarious. I showed them all my old photos and they couldn’t stop giggling and making fun of each other. The polaroids have also been a big hit! I have gone through a ridiculous amount of instant film, just because they are so obsessed with it. They had never seen instant film before and the surprise and excitement it brought the kids has been the most entertaining part of the whole adventure so far!
There is just one of the kids that looks to be like it won’t be possible to photograph. He has turned 19 and unfortunately has taken a step away from Rehoboth and moved into the wrong circles, not wanting to be contacted. Such a shame as I remember him being the nicest kid, such a caring big brother to the other little ones. Now unfortunately since removing himself from Rehoboth he is no longer taking his meds, as well as getting himself involved in criminal activities. They think he may eventually come back for help, but in the mean time there isn’t anything that can really be done as he just wants to be left alone. As he was the oldest of the kids, he did feature a lot in my original exhibition, so its sad I wont be able to capture him again. I was thinking of trying to get his number, even though everyone has told me he wont be interested or answer, and no one has wanted me to get in touch, but I might try to find a way. Fingers crossed.
The other bad news is that I have been having a little difficulty with my film camera, so the frustrating part is that I am going to have to re-shoot all the kids I have done already, as I've had a few problems with the film not winding on properly. Obviously finding out back home whether the film develops or not is a bit too late, so just to be safe I am going to make sure I get all the shots again. Face palm.
I have also been volunteering my photography services at a local AIDs hospice. I spent the day there yesterday spending time with the patients in the wards. Many of them are in the final stages of AIDs, or have suffered a stroke and can no longer be cared for at home or by the hospital.
It is really one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. I spoke to some of the patients who know they are dying but they are all so thankful to be there as now they won’t die alone. They are being shown so much care and love that they wouldn’t have received otherwise, as most of them have been abandoned by the families.
There are also some remarkable stories or rehabilitation coming out of there as well - even though they had come in to pass away, some have recovered well enough just through the amazing care they receive and taking the correct medications that they are able to go back to their communities. Such a remarkable outcome, because if there were more places like this that could help parents get back to working health so they can return to the communities then there wouldn’t be so many orphans as a result of the HIV/AIDs epidemic - and places like Rehoboth wouldn't be at capacity with kids orphaned by due to AIDs.
It made me think that even though it's easy to want to raise money for the children affected by HIV/AIDs, if more money could be raised to help create other hospices like this one then the percentage or children who are orphaned would decline. Currently, Genesis, this particular hospice is the only one in the area that operates as a rehab and step-down care facility - with only 40 beds available. They rely mostly on donations to run, with only 50% government funding. During the next few days, I am going to help them put together a fund-raising video and slideshow which will hopefully help them with some sponsorship. They need new photos for their pamphlets, brochures and website, so I am just going to help them out with some promotional material. I honestly couldn’t speak of a more deserving place in need of funds.
I will continue to photograph at Rehoboth and Genesis for the next few days, then will be heading back up to Durban to spend some time photographing at a school for underprivileged deaf children to also help them with some promotional material.
**Just as a little side note, I am not allowed to mention the children's names due to privacy laws.