Christmas gift guide – shoebox or sponsor child

Africa, Europe

Tomorrow is ‘Black Friday’, originally a day for Americans to go crazy in the sales for Christmas presents but it seems to have spread to the UK and other countries too. I’m a bit (a lot) against pointless consumerism so don’t really enjoy buying crazy Christmas presents (plus i’m poor) but I gotta admit, I love buying presents for the kids in Otjikondo. My sponsor child, Tjazupo is now 8 and I’ve just been shopping for her presents. Last year I went a bit mad in Primark and loaded her up with pink hoodies, tights, skirts, t-shirts, knickers, sweets, toothbrushes and sweets. This year I’ve tried to include more ‘arts and crafts’ type things because I know she has enough clothes at the moment. Her birthday is in February so maybe I’ll see what she needs after Christmas to fill in the gaps 🙂

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If you’ve got a sponsor child overseas or are thinking about sending a Christmas shoebox (do it do it do it! Check out some fab reactions to shoeboxes in Otjikondo here) here are a few of my suggestions and tips 🙂

– Think about the child’s culture, skin colour and hair type. There’s no point buying a standard hair brush for a kid with afro hair as it won’t be any use to them!

– What’s age appropriate. Think about what you would’ve enjoyed at their age; I’m guessing a 12 year old isn’t going to be as excited about a barbie as a 5 year old is…

– Have a think about what language they speak, e.g. don’t send a German magazine to an english speaking child.

– Be creative! Kids love hand drawn pictures, a postcard from your country or a photo of you and your family. It’s a chance for them to see how people from the other side of the world live.

– Delicate objects WILL break in the post

– However much thought or money you put into the gift, it will be overlooked and the child will be more excited by the sweets over anything else!

– Don’t be ignorant. Just because they live in poorer conditions than what you’re used to doesn’t mean they want your unwanted crap. Dirty clothes and broken toys aren’t the best option

Here are some photos of what I’ve got for Tjazupo and a few things for her best friend Eenwi!

 

Mary x

Hello Otjikondo, Goodbye Otjikondo

Africa

This time last week I’d just booked a flight to Frankfurt but had almost 4 days to wait around in Windhoek for it; 4 days in Windhoek is 4 days too many, so with some broken communication, Gilly agreed for me to come and visit Otjikondo with Ottilie and Chelcie for the weekend. Our wait in Windhoek included ice cream in the park, shopping for fabric for Sara, making use of the internet at the Carboard Box, eating at Nando’s and Joe’s Beerhouse before meeting Paul on Thursday morning.Image

Chelcie and I ended up in the back of the open bakkie with a very strong natural air conditioning, lots of luggage and 2 mattresses to sit on. The mattresses would have been perfect if only they weren’t covered with plastic sheets that flapped around in the wind and made so much noise that it was almost impossible to hear each other.Image

 

Arriving at Otjikondo nearly 5 hours later was no less than magical; Paul beeped his horn and kids came running. Chelcie and Ottilie were greeted by hugs and squels, I got a few of the same then some ‘Miss Mary you’re back again?!‘s… It was great to see everyone again but I had to explain quickly that I could only stay for the weekend so the chance for them all to get a dance lesson was pretty slim, sorry kids!

Seeing current GAPs Rebecca and Eleanor again was awesome and they haven’t changed a bit since I last saw them. We got straight to work on Friday, I opened the shop and helped Destiny learn her rap for one of the songs in Wind in the Willows, their summer play. That evening most of the children watched Frozen in the evening but I went to look after the little boys as their hostel sister was away. We watched Antz and Matilda, I fell asleep on the freezing cold floor and woke up to some of them having a giggle at me. I got a few cuddles before I walked home.

Saturday’s normal routine was replaced with sport; the under 11s, 12s and 13s played netball and football against Kamanjab on maybe the windiest day I’ve ever experienced in Namibia. We won all games except 1 which was amazing! I looked after Brenda’s baby Crushanda and hung out with my girls Tjazupo (my sponsor child) and Eengwi (her best friend) whilst some of the older girls somehow convinced me to let them use my camera so went around documenting the matches and supporters.

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That afternoon was spent running the shop whilst the others did bank (gave the kids their pocket money). I don’t know how it took so long but Priska and I were in the shop until it was dark; we couldn’t find our way out and had to stumble over to Gilly’s house without dropping the bags full of coins and notes we had. I was exhausted and felt so ill but decided not to turn down Paul and Sara’s offer of dinner!

Sunday’s church service was enough church to last me a lifetime; it went on for 2 and a half hours and I can’t bring myself to write any more about it. Tjazupo, Fillemon, Tenesses and Dankie (our sponsor children. + Eengwi came as her and Tjazupo are pretty inseperable) were invited into the GAP garden afterwards and were spoiled by us with presents and sweets. Tjazupo and Eengwi loved their plastic princess accessories and I showed Fillemon how to play snakes and ladders and do races with his toy cars.

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The rest of the day was spent teaching the drama kids a dance, having lunch (Mina’s chicken and chips!!!!) at Gilly’s, messing around with the over excited Grade 7’s, eating fudge in the big girls hostel, reading Mr Strong to the girls in Weavers Nest hostel, hearing the girls own stories and acting them out, dinner with the ex and current GAPs and watching Pitch Perfect in my room with the girls.

Although my visit to Otjikondo was so short it felt really special and it’s always great to see the Stommels, staff, GAPs and children. I said my goodbyes and made sure they weren’t too emotional as I wasn’t in the mood to cry and be upset! I’ll miss everyone huge amounts and know I won’t be able to visit again soon which is a horrible feeling! On the plus side, I’m so thankful that I was able to go back and visit twice less than a year after I finished my 12 months there.

Goodbye Otjikondo, thank you GAPs and Stommels for putting up with me once again! 🙂 Love you, miss you, mean it 😉

Mary x

‘God is good’ – Back to Otjikondo – 22nd-23rd February 2014

Africa
Hello!
I’m back home! My african home of Otjikondo, Northern Namibia, The school village where I spent a year volunteering from August 2012 to 2013. It was so emotionally tough to leave 6 months ago that I was skeptical about returning, would it still be the same place that I left? This question was answered as soon as I stepped out of gillys car and  onto the now very green grass of Otjikondo. I knew that Gilly’s husband Reiner was praying in the church so i decided to quickly greet him before finding the children. At first he didn’t recognise me at all and just stared at me … after almost screaming ‘it’s Mary!!!!’ at him he jumped up and gave me a massive hug. Someone must’ve heard because as soon as I let go of Reiner I was surrounded by excitable girls. ‘Miss Mary’s back! Miss Mary’s back!’ I burst into tears after seeing all the faces of the children who I grew so close to. My sponsor child Tjazupo ran and jumped on me. 6 months ago I could pick her up with one arm, now I struggled to keep hold of her with both, she’s grown so much and looks so beautiful! I made sure to introduce myself to one of the new GAP’s, Eleanor. She was so nice and welcoming that it threw all of my fears out of the window. Stepping back into the GAP flat bought back so many memories, most of which were with Fran. It’s frustrating and upsetting that she’s not here to share all of these experiences with but I know that she’ll get an even bigger reception when she does visit. The children have bombarded me with questions as to where and how she is and I’ve only been here 2 days!
 
I later met Rebecca and Annika at Paul and Sara’s house where we had a braai (bbq) with Mrs Vermaak, Gilly, Reiner, Kate, Ian and Paul and Sara’s 3 children; Matty, Olivia and Helena. After a steak, salad and a few amarulas we called it a night and returned to the gap flat. The girls were very grateful for the percy pigs, snacks, magazines and CD’s I bought over for them. Sleeping was difficult in the GAP flat as I’m used to having Fran in the bed next to me. Another reason I found it so hard to sleep was because I’d heard some terrible news earlier that day. A student called Franzelle had been killed in a car crash 3 weeks ago. She was a grade 7 student that we taught art and PT to for a whole year, I took her for extra maths twice a week, had her for afternoon activities, spent weekends playing with her, wrote letters to her and she had a big part in the school play that we put on. Franzelle was so cheeky, talkative, confident, funny and loving to everyone she met and i can’t believe that she’s no longer with us. 
 
This morning I tried to take my mind off the terrible news by seeing the boys. Renico and Petersen ran and gave me the warmest welcomes of all the boys, hanging out with them again was so much fun and they gave me all the gossip that i’d missed. At 9:30 we went to church, the songs came flooding back to me and I felt like I’d never left. After church we gathered at the dining hall for one of my favourite activities at Otjikondo… handing out the christmas presents! Each child has a sponsor (usually from Germany or England) who sends them chrismtas presents. They take so long to arrive it was only today that we had the chance to hand them out. After singing ‘God is good’ Gilly counts down to opening the boxes. The room goes wild with paper and cardboard being thrown in every direction. The kids usually recieve toothbrushes, sweets, toy cars, dolls, clothes, colouring pencils and loads more. They are all so grateful and you realise how much of an impact a few toys can have to a child who doesn’t have much else. I loved seeing my sponsor child, Tjazupo’s face light up when she opened her box full of clothes, sweets, a pink water bottle, pink knickers, a torch and a teddy bear. Such a beautiful day in Otjikondo. 
lots of love,
Mary xxx