I stroke her long soft hair through the box. It feels like silk and her dress is so beautiful. One day I will take her home. Never have I see someone so beautiful. Never have I ever dared dreamed that I might be mother to something so precious. One day. One day I will take her home and she will be mine. My own precious baby.
When I think of Sedgefield my heart is lifted up. It's not only by the memory of my first flight but by the memory of dreams given flight. "Sorry Joy, but we are lost," I say as we call Joy yet again from our cell in the car. "Just tell me where you are and I will come and find you," Joy says. "No, don't do that," I quickly reply, "just explain again how I get to where you are. I'm sure we will find it." A few minutes later we are winding our way through the poor township of Smutsville "Hello, waar is die skool?" I ask some school kids on the side of the road in my limited Afrikaans. Equipped with our final set of directions we soon find the school where FreshStart runs their Swop Shop.
A long line with several hundred children snakes its way from a colourful container set next to a school all the way out the school grounds and up the street. We are met at the gate by Joy. "Hello," she says, "I'm Joy," she beams her welcoming smile. We walk through the gate which is closed with some children lined up inside.
Soon Joy is showing us around this amazing gift of love. "The children start here," she says pointing at a smiling man operating a scale. "They weigh their bags here." A small child stands by staring expectantly at the scale as he hooks the bag of glass bottles on the hook. "Vier punt vyf," he calls to another person seated nearby under an umbrella. "Each bag is weighed," Joy explains and they get Moola points for plastic, glass, paper and tin." The small girl, now relieved of the huge bags she had somehow manage to get here, waits quietly while her points are recorded and a sticker is placed on her hand. Her eyes light up as she sees the number and moves to the lady seated at the entrance to the container.
Two ladies sit at desks hunched over boxes filled with cards before a brightly colored container with wide open doors revealing a treasure of dreams. "This is where the children's Moola points are recorded," Joy says. "We currently have over 700 children on our card system." I look on as the children give their names and their card is extracted from the box. "Hoeweel wil jy spaar?" the lady asks. All of the children have cards that records each visit. They can choose to spend or save some or all of the Moolas they have earned. "Most of them save some or all of their Moolas," Joy says as I watch the young girl hand her card to a smiling man sitting at the entrance to the container. There is a look of awe and excitement on her face as she is about to step into this vault of dreams.
"Ok copy me," Joy says to an expectant group of children watching her from the line where they are waiting to have their bags weighed. Soon the kids are laughing as they copy the fun dance and exercise moves Joy is doing. "The kids get bored waiting, so I like to keep then entertained," Joy had explained to us. She gushes enthusiasm and a genuine love and care for these children. She is Joy in name and attitude.
The little girl is now in the container and looking in excitement and awe at the shelves lined with items. "Do the children use their Moolas to get toys?" I ask. "No," Joy replies. "Many of them buy toiletries and other basic products that they can’t usually afford. Just the other day a young girl who had saved her points for a year came and cashed in. Did she buy herself a present? No, she bought clothing and toiletries for every member of her family."
FreshStart is more than just recycling it's about teaching children responsibility. Unlike other similar programs that use the Swop Shop concept, FreshStart is focused exclusively on children. The children are taught important lessons like recycling, earning money, saving, and responsibility. However the wonderful part is that the lessons are not confined to the children.
“Just the other day one of the children’s parents, who works as a maid, was asked by her employer why she was looking through the garbage. She replied, ‘It’s recycling. My daughter does it. Do you know about recycling?’” The impact of love, of joy, of hope cannot be contained.
The little girl walks out the other side of the container, she is clinging to a box with both her hands. She looks lovingly at it as she carefully carries it with her. She turns it to show me, as a smile breaks across here face. The day has come. She holds her dream, her own precious baby.
For more information visit www.freshstart.org.za
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