The Little Red Hen

My friend Chantalle who we met in the phone shop queue on day 2, has a bee in her bonnet about a lady she’s met called Ellen. It’s not hard to see why:

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Greenhouse Goddess

Ellen is 80 years old and lives in Reagathalla cluster care village near Brandfort. It was opened in 2005 and she was one of the first ladies to live there. Because she’s being cared for, right? No, she’s the carer, living and working there as a foster mum. She can’t afford much meat for the children so she’s been busy growing veggies to subsidise their meals and add in some nutrition. All those cabbages and other patches of goodness were planted by her own fair hands. Oh my goodness I feel like such a slob even thinking about it.

We went to chat to her, with a social worker for interpretation. Meanwhile the foster kids were screeching outside, trumpeting through cut-off plastic bottles and whirling each other round like a bunch of crazies. They live in a collection of houses in the complex, each house with its own ‘mum’. So Ellen, being one of those mums, brings up 6 girls at a time, budgeting with their 890 Rand per month (£45) to pay for food, electricity, uniforms, heating, shoes – everything. In return, she gets free accommodation (staying in the house with the girls).

It was funny chatting with the ladies. You can imagine… What’s the main challenge? HOMEWORK – sometimes she calls for her own great-grandchildren to come and help! How does she find her strength? Hobbies! She loves to crochet enormous blankets which she showed us (she just learnt to crochet by watching ladies at church..??) What are her dreams? To keep busy and not grow old, and not resign until she’s dead. What’s the worst thing about the job? When those girls grow up into young women and leave the nest… but they often come back, and some even bring food parcels, husbands and babies, and maybe stay a weekend and give her house a big spring clean. Does she enjoy her job? Yes – to teach those little girls about life, and discipline, and to get to know each one, it’s wonderful. But AGGGHHH the teenagers !!! (The succession of hand gestures and noises at this point was one that transcends all language barriers……)

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(Those pesky moles don’t like the wind vibrating the bottle tops apparently. You can have this tip for free, dear reader.)

There’s no subsidy from the government. Sometimes there’s money from the Lotto but not at the moment. So what’s the plan? Well Chantalle is a farmer so she’s helping a bit, trying to get a water supply sorted for example. (Cue: Pam just watching in clueless silence.) She showed Evie how to make mole deterrents using plastic bottles. Meanwhile the foster kids and the agricultural authorities don’t help Ellen. Sometimes she pays a member of her own family if they help her out by cutting the grass. “Some money for bread.”

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John 3:16 is stuck on the fridge – good on her.

We told her the story of ‘The Little Red Hen’ and she sat and listened intently. Remember the story – who would help the hen? “Not I” said the fox, “Not I” said the rabbit, and so on, but they were all clamouring for the rewards in the end. Chantalle’s plan is to write and apply for funding for tools, seeds etc and to organise some community days when a bunch of volunteers can come to help out. (Cue: Pam’s ears pricking up cos I know I can write fundraising application letters and that kind of thing – yey!)

It’s been a weird week for me because I’ve never known a time when Britain is in such confusion. There is so much heartache and ugliness, it’s not like any other time I can remember in my lifetime. Meanwhile I’m in the middle of the Free State of South Africa meeting this lady who gets up at 5am every day and plants spinach, does laundry, negotiates homework, crochets blankets… it’s a simple life in a way. It makes me think the world is a crazy mixed up place. It’s tempting to over-think things, but that can leave you buried under your duvet for prolonged periods. I’m glad to have a project to help with instead. If you’re a praying friend, I’d really value your prayers as we go ahead and see if we can get the community helping out this one Little Red Hen.