On the 26th of January 2013 our official involvement in the Hand Me Down project began. Clothing had been donated from far and wide and we had a mammoth task ahead of us sorting and repacking more than 100 bags of clothing into black bags to be distributed in Lesotho in April.
An entire day was spent doing the packing by 8 of us, needless to say after we had finished we were all a little pooped. Further donations on clothing have since been flowing in at a steady pace and we will have to have another packing day soon i am sure!
The 19th April was the date for the first redistribution to Lesotho for the year. Leaving Johannesburg at 12h30 on Friday afternoon, we travelled in a 4 strong convoy, 3 landy’s and Toyota Fortuner (In Ryan’s words, “there is always one”). Arriving in Lesotho with very few stops and an extremely easy border crossing some 5 hours later. We enjoyed a very social evening at the Maliba Mountain Lodge’s restaurant. I had special surprise from everyone, they had organised an awesome birthday cake and everyone to sing happy birthday to me…thanks guys that was too cool!! It has to be said that Lesotho is breath-taking, its exactly what you would expect to see, lots of people on donkeys/horses wrapped up warm in blankets and the snow-crested mountains in the distance. Arriving at Maliba Lodge just after dark we had no idea the amazing setting that the lodge was situated in, this view would have to be soaked up the following morning.
The temperature was in single figures and we were all hoping for snow as well. This would be our families first experience ever in snow and we were all for snow as well as extremely excited about the Hand Me Down project! The 19th April was actually my birthday and this year instead of having a massive party we went on a distribution for the Hand me Down project instead. So instead of getting presents for my birthday, this year I was giving for my birthday which made it even more special.
We all woke a little later than we normally would have, some blamed the Maluti, I put it down to the tranquility of the raging river only a few meters away from our window. We scoffed down some breakfast and headed up to the main lodge to make all the arrangements with Peter and Alwyn at Maliba Lodge for the days distribution. After all the bits and pieces had been sorted out we jumped into the 4×4′s and headed to the Ha Mohale community center. Not very far from the lodge we turned off the tar and headed up the mountain. Well, when i say headed up the mountain, we did this at a very steady pace, thick mud, bogged us down and the going was … AWESOME! I would guess that the entire distance from the tar to the community centre was no more than 3-4kms, but don’t let this fool you on how long it takes to drive on very slippery, very muddy dirt tracks and while doing it all in rainy conditions. We took in the region of 4 hours to get to the community centre, followed all the way up the mountain by happy cheerful and very excited children who would be receiving clothing from the project. While the clothing is distributed at no cost to the community, Hand Me Down does things a little differently: Clothing is not given, it’s exchanged for litter, the idea is brilliant, trash for clothing, it’s a small idea that makes a huge difference to not only those receiving clothing but to the people and the community as a whole.
Arriving at the community centre after some fighting with the mud, the number of eager faces was growing by the minute. The local community leaders spent a couple of minutes deciding on which bags and how many of them would be going to the various communities that were not represented at the actual community centre. We unpacked (ripping my own pants, looked like I needed a Hand Me Down as well) and got all the clothing up the hill. As it happens in Africa, everything is on African time, so waiting for the leaders to organise how they were going to distribute the clothes and organise the kids took some time. No problem for us as we were snapping pics of just about everything as well and Michele and Ryan providing much entertainment trying to figure out a clapping hand game…the children that surrounded us sounded like a choir of sniffs, yes sniffs, shame poor kids all seemed like they had the flu
I was blown away by these kids, I simply cannot believe that these kids are orphans, they are well mannered soft natured children that literally steal your heart. You want to pick every single one of them up and give them a big hug. I could not believe at how well some of them spoke English, clearly although orphaned these kids are still keen on an education and learning English!
Our reasoning for doing Hand Me Down is quite a big list, but a few major points stand out:
- We are fortunate, we need and want to help those less fortunate than ourselves
- My daughter, I would like her to realise that not everything in the world comes easily to everyone and how fortunate she really is
- Giving, there is no better gift than giving someone in need and that it’s appreciated with a smile second to none, it’s heart warming and fills you with worth
Anyway, back to the distribution, Skyla my daughter at this stage had a mini breakdown, being blonde haired and blue eyed she seemed to have found the fascination of all the children. They continuously poked, pulled and laughed at what they had never seen before. Skyla not understanding why they were doing it burst into tears, understandably overwhelmed at the goings on. After we explained why they were so curious about her she understood. Skyla’s biggest concern, after finding out that some 80% of those children had no mommy’s or daddy’s was, “who hugs them and cuddles them at night and when they are not feeling well?”. We had to explain in the nicest way to her that this was the reason we are here doing Hand Me Down, as these children cannot pay for clothing and don’t have money for food or anyone other than themselves that they can fully rely on. These kids, some younger than her are the adults in their families. It really is saddening to see and difficult to really comprehend without seeing it first hand for yourself!
Organised now, the community leaders started to read out names of children and began giving them clothing. No rush, no pushing, no fighting, everybody glad to be getting something. No matter how small, no matter how many, the joy on their faces reaffirming why I wanted to be part of Hand Me Down. Sadly we could not stay for the entire hand out, as the hours of daylight were growing fewer and we still had to get down the mountain and collect the rubbish which was at the bottom. Michele said a few words to the community and Peter our guide from Maliba Lodge translated it from English to Sesotho, some words were also said by a representative of the community, again translated. The concept of rubbish collection for clothing was again emphasized to the children and community alike. Sad to be on our way but our departure was a joyful one with songs of thanks being sung by everyone there. I must add here that the weather was cold and rainy, but this dampened no ones spirits at all, children, adults, and everyone there was in a fantastic festive mood, with smiles laughs and jokes all round.
Back on track down the mountain we went, not as long to get down as the trip up was, but still had to be extremely cautious in the very slippery conditions. We still had to get to the bottom of the mountain and pick up the trash collected by the locals in exchange for the clothing, as well as drop off some more clothing to another community a little way down the road. After collecting the trash and exchanging more clothing for it, we were on our way back to Maliba Lodge for some competitive cooking (Tim and Ryan going loggerheads on a Potjie – oxtail and springbok respectively). Before we left the last community, and all of us now completely in the spirit of giving, we noticed that Gail’s brand new jacket and scarf were no longer in the back of the Fortuner….looking high and low we realised they had been “Handed Down” so to speak, by no one other than my daughter Skyla who gave it away being completely wrapped up in the spirit of the Hand Me Down day…hahahaha. We managed to convince the lady that Skyla had given the items to that they were not Hand Me Down items and got them back (everyone except Gail found this extremely entertaining…of course).
Grinning from ear to ear we went back to Maliba for our “debriefing” from Tim, who gave us (what I deem my wings, just like a pilot gets) the SA Adventure Hand Me Down Initiative Expedition stickers, which I proudly now have on ‘Potjue’ (the only Toyota in the bunch). It was now time for the Tim & Ryan Potjie cook off, going head to head, pot to pot for what would ultimately be one of the toughest culinary choices of a winner ever…Ryan somehow managed to to pull it off. I put the winning pot down to a hot fire and a cable tied bouquet of spices
The rest of the evening I can only describe as a solid work out for my cheeks and my stomach muscles, I haven’t laughed that much in a very long time! One particular story comes to mind which I will let Tim tell first hand rather, ask him about Ben on Christmas day
Sunday morning our adventure started again, we had a leisurely breakfast while watching some of the SA Adventure Northward Bound Zambia expedition videos Tim, Michele, Sue and Ryan, your sense of adventure and enthusiasm for life is incredibly inspiring. Your passion for enhancing lives of those around you is contagious! Having never seen snow, we could have packed up in the morning and headed home, but Tim had other plans for us. We decided to go up to the ski lodge Afriski to check out the snowfall, before making much headway however, we stopped on the side of the road to fix ‘Matilda’ one of the SA Adventure Land Rover’s, “DIE PROP HET AFGEVAL” (the prop-shaft broke). A quick fix and knowledge of what you are doing helped us lose no more than 30mins while Tim changed his vehicle from a 4×4 to a 4×2, no problem….
Some two hours of picturesque driving and watching the temperature dropping from 12 to 1 degree we arrived Afriski. The snow-covered landscape is blinding, the whitest white I have ever seen, like kids, we climbed out the 4×4′s and immediately started a snowball fight. Snowballs flying all over the show, laughing and running around like loony people. Clearly I had not packed properly for this part of the journey as I only had a pair of shorts on to protect me from the cold. Skyla and I built our first ever snow man, small, but awesome, we were so proud of our work
With time ticking by and still needing to do the drive down the slippery and wet mountain road, we headed off around 4pm, just in time to be caught in a mini blizzard which reduced our visibility to about 3-5m between the vehicles. Of course we had to stop to experience what it was like, Ryan and I took up snow diving, it was so deep when you landed you just sunk into the snow….EPIC!!! Back in the cars and homeward bound arriving at the South African border at about 6pm and easily through again, we got home around 23h00 on Sunday evening!
I am so glad to firstly have met the SA Adventure team as well as becoming part of the Hand Me Down team, our first experience with you guys was amazing. I cannot wait to do another packing, sorting, and distribution for this worthy worthy cause.
Pictures say a thousand words, but faces tell a story, here is their story…
Follow the Hand me Down Initiative @ https://www.facebook.com/hmdown
See you guys soon