Today, our group paid a very special visit to the Cotlands Orphanage in Johannesburg. It was our first stop of the day after arriving early Monday morning at Johannesburg Airport, following three days of wonderful sightseeing around Cape Town. Although we initially expected to visit the orphanage at an alternate location, we found our way quickly and efficiently to the proper place, and were excited to deliver the many donations and gifts we had brought with us from Chicago. Rochelle, a director of the orphanage, greeted our group with open arms, immediately thanking us when she saw the many suitcases that contained our donations. While we knew it would feel special to provide such items as toys, pens, paper, and other important supplies, it was the chance to discuss the many important issues that surrounded the orphanage that may have been the most memorable. Rochelle invited our group into the board room of the orphanage. We gathered in a big circle giving our full attention to a question-and-answer session that provided an excellent opportunity to collectively think and discuss many aspects of the orphanage. Rochelle gladly answered our group’s questions, and seemed very impressed with not only the interest that our group expressed in the important work of the orphanage, but also with the types of questions we asked, making it clear that we had very strong interest in learning about the ways in which the organization exists in the overall structure of governmental aid in South Africa.
The orphanage successfully saves the lives of HIV-positive children, who make up 70 percent of the overall children housed in the orphanage. Life saving antiretroviral medications are provided by the South African government, and are administered by the orphanage to the HIV-positive children in order to provide the children the chance to live as normal of a life as possible. We learned that some children come to the orphanage as newborns, having been dropped off at the front entrance of the orphanage by parents who sadly abandon their children. The orphanage takes children in from situations other then just abandonment, including situations of neglect and abuse, as well as parents who have died of AIDS. The children are raised and educated with the goal that they will be healthy and fully able to become integrated into traditional schools.
While many challenges of social integration await these children, they are taught to be strong and believe in themselves to succeed amidst the many challenges that face them. Overall, our group left the orphanage feeling privileged to have not only donated to such a worthy cause, but to also have taken part in a wonderfully enriching discussion regarding the benefits as well as the issues facing the orphanage.