Posted by: joburgmoon | October 16, 2013

Heritage Day and SciBono Program

These have been exciting and busy times in the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Department.  In addition to our regular programs and social services we have had the opportunity to take groups of children to activities in various locations in the city in the last couple of months.

Heritage Day is a national holiday celebrated at the end of September.  The day is honored to celebrate the many different cultural heritages of people in South Africa.  The children’s unit at the City of Johannesburg organized a city wide celebration for the OVC programmes throughout the city.  Diakonia AIDS Ministry attended the celebration with a group of girls and boys from the program in Central Western Jabavu, Soweto, and another group of boys from our program in Alexandra at the East Bank Hall in Alexandra.  Soweto is the southern township of Johannesburg and Alexandra is the northern township located near Sandton.  If you are driving it is about an hour due to traffic through the city.  The boys and girls from Soweto each sang and danced to traditional songs as a group.  The boys from Alexandra sang as a choir.  The kids had a great time singing and dancing together.  There was a good turnout from other organizations and the children had fun spending the day together.  This was also an opportunity for the leaders at Diakonia to share their cultural knowledge through songs and dancing with the kids.School holidays also came at the end of September and beginning of October.

One of the things I have learned while working in South Africa is the importance of flexibility.  For instance, during the school holidays we were supposed to send 4 children to a city wide camp, a group of over 20 kids were supposed to go to the zoo, and another group of older boys were supposed to visit a prison for a crime prevention program.  But things happen.  The camp’s funding was reduced and our organization was cut fro the list, the zoo tickets that were supposed to be provided to multiple OVC programs in the city were not confirmed, and the program at the prison was canceled.  However, at the last minute, we were informed of a holiday program at SciBono, the science center in Newtown, Johannesburg.  The program had spots open for a group of girls and the following day were able to include our older boys.  The SciBono complex has a wonderful area called “the clubhouse” with visual arts, computers, music mixing, robot making and all types of wonderful activities for kids to learn about and do.  On the first day the girls learned about all the stations in the club house and were taken on a tour in the science center.  It is like a smaller version of OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) that I visited as a child.  They especially enjoyed the planetarium, which is a blow-up dome that uses the same technology as a jumping castle to inflate the structure. Over the next three days the kids built upon their work from the previous day and completed projects using technology they rarely have the chance to use.  I was also able to use this opportunity to speak with the career center and begin discussing the services they could offer our teenagers with career planning and the importance of choosing the right track in high school so they can pursue a variety of degrees.  Today at the after school program the girls asked me when we would be able to go back to SciBono and told me about how much they enjoyed their experience.  I hope we will be able to continue to facilitate the children’s participation in these types of activities.



The girls constructing a wall at SciBono, an interactive science centre in Johannesburg.

Posted by: joburgmoon | July 11, 2013

Holiday Camp

The children of South Africa are on a school break right now.  The winter holidays in Soweto are from the last week of June through the second week of July.  Each year we do something with the kids during the holidays.  This year we tried something new and planned a joint holiday camp with other Non Profit Organizations (NPO) in Soweto.  DAM is a part of the OVC Forum in Region D, a group of NPOs that meet once a month with our City of Johannesburg liaison, social worker Morwesi, in Jabulani, Soweto.  Several months ago one of our topics of discussion was holiday programs and what each organization had planned for the June holidays.  The overwhelming response was somewhere along the lines of “we would like to have a program but we are dependent on our budgets, sponsorship, if we are able to find donations, etc.”  We decided, rather than each organization taking on this venture alone, we would pool our resources and talents to have a camp for all our children in a central location.

As the months went by DAM staff participated in the camp planning committee and the daily program began to take shape.  We were able to hold the camp at the Pimville Recreation Centre and had the support of the Pimville Library and Department of Sports and Recreation staff housed at the venue.  Each day we had different organizations or businesses attend to educate the kids, then games, lunch, more games, and time to go home.  Pimville is not too far from the DAM office, about a 7-10 minute drive.  Because of our resource limitations we were able to take 20 children per day, for a total of 100 children in the end, and rotated the kids based on age and interest in the daily program.  Each morning the children brought their empty lunch boxes, we packed sandwiches, and loaded into the waiting minibus taxi.

On Monday, June 24th, we had a program for older children with presentations from SANCA (the national substance abuse prevention and treatment agency) and a crime awareness presentation from Sekwanele (an organization that works with people coming out of the prison system).  The kids had lots of questions and engaged the presenters in good conversations.  Tuesday was a program for younger children with traditional oral story telling at the Pimville Library and presentation by a local church.  Wednesday we took our middle grades and some older kids for a sports tournament.  Our girls netball team did well and our boys soccer team won the tournament.  They were proud of their achievement.  On Thursday one of South Africa’s electricity companies Eskom spoke with the kids about electricity use and safety.  They brought toys and water bottles so were quite a hit.  Friday the 28th was supposed to be our big finale with the “Zoo to You” program with the Johannesburg Zoo bringing animals for the children to see and learn about.  Unfortunately this was cancelled at the last minute but the kids still enjoyed a day of playing together and meeting new friends.  All in all it was a successful and busy week.

I was encouraged by the cooperation and support demonstrated by the NPOs for the week.  It was a good time not only for the children, but for me and the rest of the DAM staff to network with other NPOs in a more relaxed setting.  We had time to discuss the trials and triumphs experienced with our kids, funding, tips on applications, and vent frustrations with those who have a common experience.  This year was a success through working together.  I hope we can build on this experience and continue the good work.

Posted by: joburgmoon | June 21, 2013

Youth Day!

June 16th is a public holiday in South Africa to celebrate Youth Day.  This day commemorates the youth demonstrations in Soweto on June 16, 1976 when students came together to march against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools.  This was a large scale march with thousands of participants.  Students started to march from different schools around Soweto and were to converge at the Orlando Stadium for a rally.  Diakonia AIDS Ministry is located a couple blocks away from Morris Isaacson High School, where one group of students began.  The peaceful march turned violent with clashes with police and was a spark for ensuing riots.  The images of violence captured on this day were broadcast internationally.  It is hard to say the actually casualties among the protestors.  There are figures reported anywhere from 23 students who died, to 176, to 700 casualties, with over a thousand people injured.

To remember this day and continue in the important work of building up our youth we had a Youth Community Event on June 15th at the Diakonia AIDS Ministry offices in Soweto.  The teenagers in our after school program worked together and coordinated much of the event.  Julius, one of our staff members, facilitates a cooking class and worked with the children to coordinate a program.  The teenagers involved in cooking class showed us some of their new skills and made food to sell.  We had a great day of music, dancing, and a program put together by the children.  The children wrote poems and presented them, sang, and danced.  It was meaningful to me to hear from the teenagers about this day.  As the kids MC’d the program they were able to share their perspectives of what this day meant to them.  I believe it is important for us as teachers to not always speak, but to listen to how these events are interpreted by our youth.  We had a wonderful time!

A challenge we seem to continuously face with our children’s program is parental involvement.  We had four parents attend the program though we had invited the whole community.  Two of these parents were grannies who are caring for their orphaned grandchildren.  How do we address this lack of parental involvement?  How do we engage the community and parents when they seem to be too busy, too preoccupied, too overworked, too impoverished, or simply too oblivious to the activities of their children?  Any thoughts or strategies would be greatly appreciated!  Though I think they may be more of a life question than a solvable issue.

Events like these reinforce to me how important relationships and spending time together are in building our community.  The kids had a sense of accomplishment in putting together a successful program.  The teenagers were proud to make food that people wanted to buy and proudly told me they had sold out!  I cannot think of a better way to have spent a Saturday and celebrate Youth Day in Soweto.

Posted by: joburgmoon | January 22, 2013

A year in the life of this missionary: Summer into Fall

I have been reflecting on my experiences in Soweto, Johannesburg, and South Africa as a whole.  I have been thinking of what to write, how to share my experiences, and what I have learned.  Every individual is unique; I have a different experience and perception of that experience than my coworkers and friends.  A year seems so long and yet so short.  Many things happened in 2012 and I am ever grateful for God’s grace and protection.

 January 2012:

The beginning of the year is somehow different than other months.  It’s like a fresh start, even though only hours separate 2011 from 2012.  January is a summer month in South Africa, something that feels very odd being from Washington State.  My parents had just visited me for Christmas and flew back out on New Years Eve.  Parting and knowing I would not see them for many more months was difficult and that feeling follows for a while.  I can say I appreciate my amazing family and friends more than ever.  Not having my support system down the road has vividly demonstrated how important they are in my life.  Learning how to keep up communication by email and Skype is important, but its just not the same as having a coffee date.

 Most of South Africa takes time off mid December to mid January, and because we work with the Lutheran Church this time is especially significant with Christmas services and remembrance.  Being back to work in January is a time to begin the good work again, hopefully refreshed from the time with family and friends.  January we worked especially hard on finding additional funders for the children’s after school program in the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Department.  Providing food for the children twice a week strained the budget as our attendance numbers grow.

 Working for the ELCA has brought people into my life that I would not have met otherwise.  In January I met a lovely couple from a Minnesota congregation and attended a concert by a visiting orchestra in White City, Soweto.  I also had the chance to speak with a student group from my alma mater Whitworth University.  Whitworth is in Spokane, WA, and every two years a group of students and leaders come to South Africa to study during Jan Term.  I was on the same study trip in 2004; that was my first visit to South Africa and a life changing experience.  It was wonderful to see familiar professors and the students who were nearing the end of their study tour.  Visitors are a blessing.

 February 2012:

The after school program was back in full swing by February and attendance continued to increase.  We had a visit from members of the Dulles-Leesburg Alumni Chapter (VA) of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity (  The children enjoyed seeing our visitors.  The after school program was operating every Tuesday and Thursday due to funding restrictions.  This visit started a discussion regarding the needs of the children DAM serves in Soweto and the possibility of funding to expand the after school program.  Many visitors come and are touched, but we do not often see what God does with that in the future.  In this particular case God showed us what He produced in a concrete way.

 March 2012:

March was a month of growth.  As a foreigner it is often difficult to integrate into the local community and context.  These things take time and it is a constant process.  We began the after school program in August 2011 so the relationship with the children had been deepening for a while.  This month several children opened up about their home circumstances.  For example, a young boy came into my office to talk with me.  He had not eaten the lunch we served at the program because he was saving it for dinner.  There was no food at home.  His parents had passed away and he lives with his granny, older brother, and 4 younger cousins.  At the after school program children bring their own food container so when there is extra food we can pack dinner for the most needy.  He was added to the dinner list.

 An older boy came to us about shoes.  All the children in South Africa wear school uniforms, which generally require black shoes.  The only shoes he owned were school shoes.  The sole of his shoe had split at the ball of the foot down the whole shoe, but that’s all he had to wear.  We were able to find a special donation of black dress shoes which met the uniform requirements.  I have never seen a pair of shoes so appreciated.  The boy is the head of a child headed family and he cares for his younger brother.  Another special donation of sandals was received in his size.  I was going to take the sandals home to wash but when the boy came to the program he was wearing a pair of bed slippers with no sole with a hole in the bottom.  I asked why he was wearing slippers when we had just given him shoes.  He explained he was not wearing his school shoes because he only wears them at school to make them last.  When looking at the situation it suddenly seemed not quite so important to wash the sandals, and we gave him a little soap to go with them instead.  He thought the sandals were so nice.  At that time I knew he needed other shoes as we head into winter, but we had been able to respond to his needs in some way.

 These are just examples of the challenges children who attend the program face.  I was encouraged we had created an environment where the children felt safe to talk about their concerns.  I am saddened by the need in the community but hopeful at the ways God is working in the community.

Posted by: joburgmoon | January 12, 2012

After School Program

In the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Department we started an after school program for the children receiving case management services from DAM, as well as the children of the neighborhood.  Our first day was August 23rd.  We had planned for the children, set up the room, and were scheduled to have the program available starting at 2 p.m. and running until 4 p.m.  After school services were identified as a need by the OVC workers when I first came to Soweto and we had been talking about starting a program since our kids’ week in July.  This type of program implementation seemed to directly fit into the reason for my presence.  In my position with the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) I am called to accompany ELCSA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa) Central Diocese and DAM in their mission, not to take control and implement what I think people need.  I could use my skills and gifts to help implement a program identified as a need by the local workers who have experience with this community.  So August 23rd came, and we had no children attend until just before 4 p.m.  Two children came and we explained the program and encouraged them to return.  I have to say this start was demoralizing.  I began to question whether the program was really needed, or if I had seen an opportunity to do something so forced implementation of a program.  This experience was humbling, and called me to reexamine how I operate out of my culture and whether this fit with the context I am in.  This certainly wasn’t the start with a bang that I had hoped for.  My coworkers assured me that things start small and the program would grow.

Over the coming weeks we did grow.  First we grew from 2 children on the first day to 3 on the second, and continued to almost double each week.  We now have 40 to 50 children attend regularly.  Initially we discussed having only children registered in our OVC department attend.  But the reality is we cannot turn a child away if they are hungry in the physical, emotional, or spiritual sense.  One of the benefits of the program is keeping the children off the streets.  We try to have positive activities for them to do, including art and sports.  Our resources for food are limited, but we have been able to feed all the children up to this point, and by God’s grace we will continue to do so.  As time has passed we have a core group of kids who attend regularly and others who pop in and out, but we have had over 130 children attend along the way.  I feel fortunate to spend time with these amazing kids.

Posted by: joburgmoon | September 22, 2011

Kids’ Week

Diakonia AIDS Ministry (DAM) had a successful Kids’ Week from June 27 – July 1, 2011 during the winter school holidays.  This program was like a Vacation Bible School program many people are familiar with in the US, and was put on for the children receiving services from DAM’s Orphans and Vulnerable Children Department.  The children came from the Central Western Jabavu and White City neighborhoods around the center as we were unable to provide transport for children from further away.  Our schedule ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and included breakfast, lunch, Bible stories, group activities, games, crafts, and lots of soccer.  The children brought their own cups, bowls, plates, and utensils.  Our staff made food for the kids and I think the whole week was quite a success.  Not everything turned out as I expected or planned, but God’s grace was evident throughout the week.  The kids were in a safe and warm place, they were fed, had fun, and got to know adults who care about their wellbeing.

Monday morning the children began to arrive and we started our busy week.  Each morning after breakfast we had Bible stories and then the kids were broken into age groups.  I was with the younger group.  We had originally planned on children from 6-10 years in this group but it turned out to be 2-10 year olds.  Children 11-16 years old were in a separate group.  One of the things I enjoy about working with children is watching them grow and develop.  I found a wooden train set at a yard sale for the kids to play with.  The set has sections of wooden track the kids can put together in different configurations and railroad cars that attach with magnets.  The kids loved it.  They kept putting together the track but couldn’t figure out how to make it continuous.  After lots of discussion in another language (or mixture of languages), hand waving, and rearranging they figured it out on the second day.  It was so interesting to see how they worked to accomplish their goal.

We received a donation for some play equipment and were able to find soccer balls on sale.  What I know now, that I didn’t know then, is that stitching is of utmost importance.  The three balls were put out one at a time and all are now flat with torn patches.  Though less expensive these balls could not withstand serious soccer.  The children loved to color (we went through many pages), enjoyed jump rope, and played outside.  We made playdough, decorated the center walkways with sidewalk chalk, and made puppets.  A woman I met in Pretoria who used to be a children’s minister came out to do a puppet show.  She was a hit.  She had a stage and sound system; I think the staff may have enjoyed it even more than the kids.  The children responded well to the object lessons and role-plays used to teach the lesson.  This was the first time I met most of the children and I enjoyed the week with them.  I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with these children and build relationships during the coming years.

Posted by: joburgmoon | June 21, 2011

Lunar Eclipse

On Wednesday, June 15, 2011, a full lunar eclipse could be seen over South Africa.  I have never seen a lunar eclipse before and this was just beautiful.  I tried to take pictures to share but they pale in comparison to the actual sight.  The moon became a beautiful deep red color during the full eclipse.  As the earth moved out of the sun’s light the moon began to have an incredibly bright crescent while the rest remained a dark red.  I thought of my family, friends, new and old coworkers, clients at DAM, the kids who were on my CPS caseload, and all the people who have been influential in my life both known and unknown.  It is always beneficial to take a quiet moment to appreciate God’s beautiful creation.

Full eclipse

Full Eclipse

Waning EclipseWaning Eclipse

Posted by: joburgmoon | June 14, 2011

You Cannot Tell a Tree by Its Roots

This has been a time of transition for me.  I realize that is stating the obvious, but so much has happened in a couple of months.  I will try to recapture some of those transitions with the added benefit of hindsight.  Things that appeared to be mountains before are now molehills, as is the case with many things in life.  For example, driving used to be an insurmountable task.  None of the streets made sense, where to look when turning was entirely confusing, the cars seemed to be coming from every direction, driving a manual car about made me hyperventilate, and “stay left!” replayed in my head over and over . . . and over.  The amount I pray in the car has increased exponentially, God works in mysterious ways.  The taxis (minibuses) still own the road and do crazy and unpredictable things, but I am now able to see the organized chaos rather than just sheer chaos on the road.

When I began at Diakonia AIDS Ministry (DAM) I started with orientation to the five departments: Education and Training, Orphans and Vulnerable Children, Home Based Care, Support Group/Income Generation Projects, and Communication.  When meeting with the coordinator of the training and education department I began to realize many of the social problems in South Africa touched a cord with my experiences working with poverty in the US.  Of course there are differences, including the historical context, strategies and service delivery models used, what is culturally appropriate, and the list could go on.  But when discussing generational poverty and disadvantage I was struck by some similarities.  Part of the strategy of the education and training department is to empower young people to make their own decisions around high-risk behaviors, thus reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other disease and positively affecting other social problems.  The coordinator clearly articulated her views on breaking the generational cycle of poverty.  She tells the youth “You cannot tell a tree by its roots, you must look at the fruit.”  Though individuals may come from a disadvantaged family each person must at some point make the decision about the fruit that comes from his or her life.  This statement brings to mind well-known Bible verses about the fruit of our faith, the fruit of the spirit, and trees that do not produce good fruit will perish.

Generational poverty appears to be one of those things that crosses cultural lines in a way I really wish it wouldn’t.  The issues are so complex and multifaceted that I doubt I will truly understand the depth in my lifetime.  I certainly haven’t found someone with The Answer yet, but the opportunity to work with people who are striving to do God’s will is inspiring.  We are planning our weeklong day camp for the orphans and vulnerable children in our Soweto program from June 27 through July 1.  I am looking forward to spending time with these amazing children and to see what God has in store for us.  Thank you for all your prayers

Posted by: joburgmoon | April 15, 2011

New Adventures

It seems appropriate to start off a new blog with introductions.  My name is Mary Borgman and over the coming years I will have the privilege of working with Diakonia AIDS Ministry (DAM) in Central Western Jabavu, Soweto in South Africa through the Global Mission unit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  DAM is a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, Central Diocese (ELCSA CD), and the offices are at the Central Diocesan center.  The relationship between the ELCA and ELCSA/DAM has made my presence here possible and I am grateful for all the work that has gone into getting me to South Africa.

I have changed my mind several times about how to start explaining what brought me to this new adventure.  I first came to South Africa in January 2004 with Whitworth University and spent a month learning about the country with four vans of classmates and our leaders.  I fell in love, and returned to Mthatha in the Eastern Cape and the Itipini Community in the summer of 2005 to complete my MSW research project and work with the Itipini Community Project through African Medical Mission.  Three months in Mthatha was not enough and I dreamed of returning to South Africa.  I grew up in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and several years ago began attending Colbert Presbyterian Church.  What I did not know when I began attending CPC is that they are partner churches with St. Andrews in Mthatha.  The relationship between CPC and St. Andrews is a mutually sharing relationship and I was delighted to visit St. Andrews with three other delegates from CPC in March 2010.  Looking back I am in awe of how God has used so many people and seemingly small decisions to have a huge impact on the course of my life.  I feel blessed to have the support of so many people.

During my undergrad and graduate studies I worked with the YWCA Alternative to Domestic Violence Program with the legal advocates office.  At that time the legal advocates office was a part of the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Team.  I had initially planned on going to law school after graduating from Whitworth but instead went into the Masters of Social Work program at Eastern Washington University.  I had the opportunity to participate in the Child Welfare Training and Advancement Program with Washington State Division of Children and Family Services during my MSW, which translates into completing a practicum and hands on training with DCFS and after graduation continuing to work for the state for at least two years.  I had initially planned on working in the adoptions or child welfare services unit for the two years and then moving on, but God had different plans.  My training took place in a Child Protective Services Indian Child Welfare investigation unit and I found a deep passion for this work.  I was fortunate to be hired in the Spokane office and ended up remaining with the state for 5 years, 4 years in a CPS unit, with one year in the middle spent as a Foster Care Placement Coordinator.

I have wanted to enter the international social work field for several years.  I applied to many positions over the years with various international relief and faith based organizations but nothings seemed to be coming through.  I began to think I had misplaced what I felt to be a calling to international social work.  Looking back at the notes I made during this time of various postings I had found I see that none of the positions quite fit my abilities like this opportunity does.  The ELCA posted a position for an HIV/AIDS worker with the ELCSA CD in South Africa.  I applied for this position in March 2010, at that time having 4 years with WA State.  It has seemed like a long journey since then but now I see that of course God had a plan.  I continued my work as a CPS investigator and now have 5 years with the state and am vested.  That’s exciting for me in my professional life.  I was able to grow and build stronger relationships that have helped support me through this time.

Why I was unsure of where to start with explaining my journey is because I can point to so many people and experiences that have shaped my view of the world and brought me to this point.  If my parents had not gone to Whitworth I may not have as well.  During my junior and senior year of high school I participated in the Running Start program at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake and graduated with my AA&S at the same time as my high school diploma.  I transferred into Whitworth as a junior but was also enrolled in a freshman orientation class, and was encouraged by this advisor to apply to the South Africa study program.  Changing one of many small things could have resulted in my life looking very different today.

I look forward to working with DAM and the ELCA over the next two years.  I have so much to learn and truly appreciate this opportunity.  I will do my best to share my experiences in Soweto and with DAM.  Hopefully we can grow and learn together.  If you have any questions or insights please let me know.  Thank you.