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Fifty years, fifty countries: South Africa

By Ben Cohen | 18 Oct 2018

Archbishop Desmond Tutu described South Africa as ‘the rainbow nation’ following the end of apartheid. Numerous tribes and peoples live in the nation, mostly without any inter-racial or cultural fighting...

To mark 50 years of Tearfund, we’re sharing about 50 countries where we’ve worked, celebrating God’s provision and power to transform, and praying for each of these nations. This week we’re in South Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu described South Africa as ‘the rainbow nation’ following the end of apartheid. Numerous tribes and peoples live in the nation, mostly without any inter-racial or cultural fighting.

However, South Africa is a nation of many contradictions. Although it is no longer under white minority rule, there are still huge divisions, with the majority of blacks and whites still living largely separate lives. The nation is still nowhere close to having equality of opportunity for education, work and much more besides.

For the last decade, Tearfund has been supporting the work of a remarkable organisation that is committed to spreading a narrative of unity, change and hope amid continuing division.

Ethembeni, which means ‘place of hope’ in Zulu, was set up in 2000. The vision was to give hope to families living with HIV and TB. Eighteen years later and the Ethembeni family continues to grow, with over 100 staff, consultants and volunteers.In the past ten years Tearfund has been sending UK volunteers to South Africa to live and learn alongside the community.

South Africa is a nation of many contradictions.

They join with the organisation’s Educational Support Team, making home visits to patients and women's support groups.

The Ethembeni staff are committed to treating everyone equally – that may sound unspectacular, but in practice it can be radical behaviour. Together with the Tearfund volunteers, they have helped to spread God’s love and restore broken relationships.

Baking to break barriers
One area where there is huge inequality in South Africa is in the role and status of women. Much of the nation is still hugely patriarchal, and violence against women is widespread.

Through one project, Ethembeni seeks to empower families by teaching women practical skills. By running courses and support groups, like the Baking Business management course, local women are given the opportunity to earn extra income for their households.

One group of Tearfund volunteers made a particularly memorable contribution, as Ethembeni’s Family Support Manager, Lihle Mavuso, remembers.

‘The volunteer team bought each woman on our baking business management course a package of cute cake decorating tools such as icing bags and cookie cutters. It was a simple gesture, but it inspired the bakers to explore new recipes.

Through these simple gifts, the volunteers’ gesture cut through cultural and racial barriers and built genuine relationship.

‘I noted the change of behaviour afterwards’, says Lihle. ‘It was remarkable. The ladies began to open up to us. They began to speak about the challenges they were facing and the things that made them excited and hopeful.’

Tearfund Go Volunteers pose in silhouette

Tearfund Go volunteers

Celebrating relationship
After this wonderful ten year relationship, the official partnership between Tearfund and Ethembeni is coming to an end. While the amazing work at Ethembeni continues, we praise God for all the stories of relationships built, barriers broken and hope rekindled.

Ethembeni staff member Steph Bridle sums up the difference Tearfund and its volunteers have made:

‘Tearfund teams have had such a positive effect on our staff, volunteers and patients. They have broken down so many cultural barriers. Each team has always provided so much joy in our work, encouraging people and bringing the love of God into all we do.

To find out more about how you can support our partners through volunteering overseas, visit Tearfund Go.

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Written by Ben Cohen

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