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My First Full Year in South Africa

February 21, 2008


Carla Giger - South Africa

ImageWhat an amazing year and a half it has been.  2007 was my first full year in South Africa, serving as a Global Ministries Intern with Global Ministries.  I have two assignments here in South Africa.  The first is to be the program coordinator for an HIV/AIDS prevent program for teenage girls called GASA or Girls Against the Spread of AIDS.  The second is to be the assistant director of Bridgman Youth Center.  Currently, there are three programs running at Bridgman.  An after school program (Aftercare), GASA, and a Saturday School for high school students to help assist with homework and classes.  The majority of my time is spent between the GASA and Aftercare programs.  In December, after the schools let out for the year, we held a Holiday Bible School for the kids of the community, which is a highlight we look forward to every year. 

I'm often asked, "What do you do on a typical day?"    I live in a suburb of Johannesburg, and every morning I make the 30 minute drive to Soweto (South Western Townships) to Bridgman.  The center is located in a township called Zola.  Once controlled by gang activity, the township is changing slowly, although its reputation for gangs and violence still stands.  My mornings are usually filled with meetings and planning.  We have weekly staff meetings, bible study, and progress meetings where we discuss the students, their progress, and concerns that we see.  The early afternoons are set aside for preparing all of the activities and materials that we need to run Aftercare that day.  The kids get to do a lot of different activities ranging from computers, crafts, recreation, and life skills.  We also have to prepare a snack for the kids, which ranges from sandwiches (pork and beans with mayo is a favorite) to meals like spaghetti or stews.  The kids start to arrive around 2 pm and from there we usually play outside until Aftercare starts at 3.  The next 2 hours are filled with homework, snack and various activities depending on the day.  Monday, is probably the staff and kids' favorite day; we get to have "Special Snack".   We do a bible story with the kids, and then they get to make a snack revolving around the bible story.  The kids are really receptive to the bible stories, and then enjoy playing with food to make their own snacks.  Aftercare ends at 5pm, but then are the 40+ dishes, cups and silverware that have to be washed, rooms have to be cleans, chairs to put back, and materials to put away.  I usually make it home around 7 pm in the evening. \

ImageFor the beginning of this year, we are doing GASA two days a week.  The girls who finished the program last year, and wanted to stay involved come on Wednesdays, and the new girls, who are doing the training come on Tuesdays.  The girls arrive around 3, as schools let out, and we usually meet for 2 hours.  The training involves empowering the girls to make a difference in their community, and to help them become peer educators for HIV/AIDS.  Once the training is complete, then we move into the life skills portion of the GASA, where we discuss issues that are relevant to their lives.  They help choose the topics that we discuss.  Some of their list this year includes: anorexia, bulimia, rape, abortion, intimacy, love, and dating.  I really look forward to working through these topics with them.  Then once a month they go out into the community to volunteer.  Last year we went to an orphanage, nursing home, soup kitchen, and crèche (preschool). 

Beginning a new year of the GASA program has been overwhelming, but exciting at the same time.  There are now twice as many girls, new girls to learn about and old relationships to maintain.   However, beginning a new year has brought a lot of excited into the program, and helped me to realize just what God allowed us to do last year.  The 2007 group and I really struggled at first.  It was difficult learning to understand each other, and to be patient with one another at times.  We went through a lot together last year: attempted suicide, death of relatives to AIDS, two GASA members abducted by boyfriends, and addictions to drugs and alcohol.  It was on a special GASA retreat in early October, where God finally opened up the girls.  During the weekend we focused on beauty, our own, and the beauty that God provided all around us.  Some girls experienced God for the first time that weekend, asking deep questions and searching for truth, and others really reached out to those in the group who were struggling.  During the GASA closing program in December, Nelly (an original 2005 GASA member, who is now assisting me) put the word Sisterhood to GASA.  I think that is the best way to sum up how we ended the year, and where we are starting this year.  Wednesday afternoons are the highlight of my week.  In fact, when I leave a session on Wednesday afternoons, I'm almost counting the days until we get to do it again. 

The new girls however, are still a bit of a challenge.  The immaturity, pettiness, and constant disagreements, leave me exhausted on Tuesdays.  I have been reminded time and time again, that the 2007 group started that way last year, and God allowed us to move past all of that.  It is my hope and prayer that the 2008 GASA girls, will have a desire to move beyond their current selves into something much greater that only Jesus can provide. 

While this is a picture of a typical day, most days seem far from typical. GASA girls drop by Bridgman with problems after school, and I drop what I'm doing to meet with them, the electricity goes out and we still have snack to prepare, when it is a day with computers, alternate plans have to be made quickly, some afternoons I take GASA girls out to a restaurant for a meal and chat, and other days I just get to hang out on the jungle gym with the kids.  I'm learning to expect the unexpected and to be ready for those people God brings through the Bridgman doors who need His love. 

Thanks for your prayers and encouragement,

Carla Giger
Carla Giger serves as a Global Mission Intern in South Africa, appointed by the Common Global Ministries Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. Her ministry is possible because of funds provided by Week of Compassion of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  She is serving with the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA), Johannesburg, South Africa as an Assistant Program Coordinator.

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