My wife Donna, our eldest son Brad, his wife, Megan, and I departed for a hunting trip in South Africa on August 1, 2013.
Months before we were to leave, I asked Megan if she would like to participate in the Blue Bag Program. Her first response, like many others, was “What’s the Blue Bag Program?”
I explained we request the blue bags (size of a small hockey bag) from our Saskatchewan Rivers SCI Chapter. We fill them with scribblers, pencils, erasers, crayons, chalk, soccer and basketballs and anything else the schools could use. Megan teaches seventh grade so she thought that it would be an excellent idea. She quickly started gathering supplies. Her school and a few of her students donated items, local merchants donated supplies and we filled the rest of the bag with items we thought would be needed.
I contacted Rene at Ubathi South Africa lodge informing her we would be bringing a blue bag with school supplies and asked if she could organize a meeting with a government run school she thought would be in need. A few weeks later she e-mailed saying she had a school lined up and also mentioned an orphanage we could visit. Since most airlines don’t charge for the transport of these blue bags, Megan filled a second bag with clothes, toiletries, shoes, books, crayons and various other items. Megan and Brad were so proud when their three-year-old daughter, Brooke, and two-year-old son, Caden, picked out some of their own toys to send to the children at the orphanage.
On August 9 we took a break from hunting to deliver our blue bags. We went to the Chrome Mine Primary School where we were graciously greeted by Robert, who was the principal, and a class of 44 students ages 11 to 15. It was a moving experience to watch the students as they unpacked the blue bag onto the teacher’s desk. They were very excited to see the soccer and basketballs, and the girls loved the pink soccer balls. After we took photos, the students entertained us by singing songs. The first two were songs of thanks and the third song was their national anthem. All were sung in their native language and then in English. They sang with pride and enthusiasm like we’ve never before heard. As we were leaving, we spoke with Robert about school funding. He explained that although this is a government funded school, the government only pays teachers’ wages and does not provide extra funds for the facility maintenance and resources. Next we went to the Thabang Child and Youth Care Centre, an orphanage with the capacity to house 36 children from newborns to 18 years of age. When we unpacked the bag the children looked on with excitement when they saw the soccer balls, coloring books, crayons and even diapers for the two month old little girl who was so precious. It didn’t take long for the children to run with the balls, play a little soccer or throw a basketball through the hoop. Brad and I joined them. It was heartwarming to see them smiling and playing because they haven’t had new balls for quite some time. Even more touching was when a little girl, around two years old, picked up the doll Brooke had given, then hugged and stroked the doll’s hair. As we chatted with the coordinator and staff, we explained that we were not sure what they needed. He replied the items we brought – shoes, clothes and personal hygiene and activity supplies – were most welcome and appreciated. Rene, from Ubathi South Africa, the lodge where we were staying, sent a small cooler of soda pop, which was a special treat for the children. After a few photos, we said our goodbyes and returned to the lodge.
We all agreed this was one of the best days of our African adventure and reminded ourselves just how fortunate we are here at home. I encourage anyone going to Africa to contact us at Saskatchewan Rivers Chapter to participate in the Blue Bag Program. You will be very happy you did.–Ken Weber, President