This isn't a holiday I've done yet, it's my next but one trip this year in October.
I wanted to share my Santa Shoebox volunteer journey with you when I lived in South Africa between January 2011 and December 2014.
Left to right and always in my heart
Laura, Janet with Chaz, Louise, Brittany (front) Sharon, Cheryl, Dorette, Me, Lisanne. Leon and Elizabeth.
One of the biggest problem an expat faces is socialising, it's hard enough moving, settling kids into school and unpacking all the boxes, add to that the fact you are now living in South Africa and face security and safety issues also, it's hard going.
I spent the first year looking for places to volunteer where I could use my teaching and child welfare knowledge and helped set up a foster home by designing the paperwork and training the staff. It was short lived as the home was an hours drive from Pretoria to Lone Hill and I wasn't comfortable driving past Diepsloot Township.
For many years as a family we joined in with making shoe boxes for children in Africa, I'd even helped out at the local library with the collection the previous year. So tweeting to ask 'do people make up xmas shoeboxes in Africa for children less fortunate' and I've no idea who it was that replied but they sent me a link to an organisation that did just that.
I made 5 boxes and dropped them off at a local school on the Thursday morning, by Sunday evening, I'd made firm friends with Dorette and we quite literally there and then took over the whole project.
I also met the lovely Janet, whose family have become very important to us and Brittany who was our life saver and cat and dog sitter on more than one occasion.
The Santa Shoe box project is a 10 month project every year, it is countrywide and collects and distributes over 100,000 Christmas gifts, every year, with volunteers working on sponsorship, donations, advertising. they drive out to remote areas to locate needy facilities, identify vulnerable children, collect name lists, up load on the website.
In October the drop off days begin and every single box that is donated is logged in the system, checked to ensure it contains all the required items and to remove contraband such as religious items and items of war and liquids are zip locked to ensure no one's box contents get damaged.
The boxes are collected and taken to a warehouse until they are delivered to the facilities for Celebration Days. In some cases we have the boxes for certain facilities dropped at our houses as we know they have no storage or there is a risk of them being stolen.
My role within the Pretoria area for 4 years was on First Aid, the fixing and checking corner. I sourced donations as fillers for when the boxes were short of items, located facilities, delivered the training to 200+ volunteers who worked just on the drop off days and along with the rest of the committee. Worked 7am-10pm for 10 days over 2 weeks.
Prior to drop off we'd collect and sort donations, wrap shoe boxes ready to use as spares or for the short fall as people would often fail to donate their pledged boxes. We also visited local malls, cafes and markets, advertising the project, handing out leaflets and sourcing donors for registering online.
This is the team for 2011 we collected and distributed 1,400 shoe boxes.
Bigger premises, larger team and around 6,500 shoe boxes collected and distributed in Pretoria. We now had some serious donations and my garage was home to many a packing party and dumping ground. From September till mid December our lounge was full of part filled boxes as donations from companies started to appear.
Me, Dorette, Janet, Nicole, Lisanne
We were now running two drop off locations and dates and collected and distributed 10,000 shoe boxes.
Janet (in pink)
New drop off venue
One of the drop off day and many volunteers.
Laura, Laura, Laura oh I miss you.
My car loaded up with boxes for celebration days.
This is at the end of drop off days, the following two days are spent packing additional boxes for the donors who failed to drop off and using up all the donations, we always have additional facilities we can donate to, even if it's just a pile of stationery or 2nd hand clothing.
We then have to tidy, clean and store remaining items ready for distribution.
Dorette (back left) and Brittany (right) they practically lived in my garage
Oh Cheryl how I miss you
You'd be amazed at the speed in which we can clean up.
That's it for Brittany
Leon almost gave up
This is how Dorette and I met 4 years earlier and we're still fairly nifty with a broom
Everyone of the team manages at least one facility and support that facility throughout the entire year, helping to build and equip schools, collecting and donating blankets in the winter, food parcels, birthday parties, helping fill forms for Government grants, carrying out repairs, just being at the other end of the phone when someone dies or a child is missing. I get regular whatsapp messages from Mavis who I met 2 years ago who runs one of the facilities we support at Christmas.
These people have become my family and although I'm now 4000 kms away in Dubai, it doesn't stop me from being part of it all. We Whats App, face book and surprisingly Laura and I have managed to get post to one another.
I can't visit the facilities, help with sorting through the donations or get up at 5am in the morning to advertise the project at local markets and malls. But I will be back in October and November to help with drop off days and attend Celebration days also.
I cannot post pictures here of the children who receive the boxes as I've added a link to The Santa Shoebox Project and due to child welfare, as a volunteer with them I'm not allowed to post photo's.
Pledging for Santa Shoebox goes live on September 1st every year, you can pick a child's first name, age and sex and make up a personal box for them, you'll be given dates and times of drop offs and you can register as a volunteer or sponsor if you want to help some more.
You can even pledge a box from overseas, but I don't recommend you post one as the South African postal service, from experience is poorly operated and there's no guarantee your parcel would indeed make it to the child.
Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing with you some of the other facilities I've been involved with over the years, where I do have permission to upload photo's on my blog and the internet.
Kungwini Children's Home for vulnerable teens.
The Viva Foundation who are simply marvellous and run Early Learning centres, support for victims of rape, run art projects, a safe house and much more stuff.
Njabulo an Early Learning Centre who, when I found them had 60 kids sleeping on mud floors with no money coming in and Betty feeding them out of her own pocket every day while the parents were at work.
I'm also looking forward to showing how some of you as bloggers can help spread the word and support Dignity Dreams run by Sandra Millar who I met through Santa Shoebox. She is campaigning actively to ensure no woman, teen or young girl misses out on work, life, their health or education in South Africa by providing them with Reusable Sanitary Pads.
I am fully funding my personal travel to South Africa, my flights and food and accommodation has been offered from all of friends over there. I also spend considerable amounts of my own money as many others do when we're 10 boxes short for one facility, because someone who has pledged has failed to show up, because we can't go to a Celebration Day without a box for every child and there are always extra kids who turn up on the day, for whom we need to give 'Boot Magic' to.
I do however need car hire and to cover some of my travel costs, as one of the facilities I was involved with is a 2 hour drive, West of Kruger National Park. I sourced educational items and toys for them last year, while the Viva Foundation built them a school and funded over 100 children's education. These people walk 4km every day to fetch water and I'll be telling you about that some more in a later post.
I'm also looking for financial donations for the following items:
dignity dream washable sanitary pads
You can make a donation via paypal by visiting Angel of Hope and clicking here.
Leave me your twitter or blogging name and I will personally send you the receipt and a photo from the facility where your donation was spent.