The Pines is located in the city of Welkom, South Africa. Welkom is in the Free State, which is the central part of the country. The landscape around the Free State is very similar to the Panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas - typically very flat, grassy, and arid. The population is small and spread out.
Welkom itself was founded in the early 1950's due to the discovery of gold. Before that time it was just farmland. When the town was founded over 3 million trees were planted. Welkom is famous for it's traffic circles. In fact, before we moved to South Africa we met a few different South Africans that had moved to the US. When we would tell them we were moving to their country without fail they would respond with a list of how beautiful it is and all the places we need to visit. We would inform them we were moving to Welkom and without fail the response was "Oh...I've heard the traffic is really nice there." And they are right on both counts - South Africa has many beautiful places and Welkom has nice traffic. Amber at first was terrified to drive in the roundabouts; remember, in South Africa the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, you drive on the opposite side of the road, and everything is a manual transmission. She is getting quite adept but there is still a little trepidation. We are used to driving in Iowa where everything is nice and square, north and south. Here the roads wind and curve all over the place so it takes awhile to get familiar with the layout of the city. Northeast of Welkom proper is Thabong. During Apartheid the races had to live in separate areas and Thabong became the black township of Welkom.
The Pines is located almost straight south of the city center. We are on the edge of town but on the opposite side of the township. We do have people living nearby in old mine hostels and in informal settlements but the majority of the population is about 10km away. This has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand it would be much more convinient to be closer, and it would enable different aspects to the ministry, but on the other hand security would be a much greater concern. In addition, we would have even more people than we do now stopping to ask for help, handouts, or employment. All around are old mine buildings and closed mine shafts. These serve as a constant reminder of the struggles of the people here. At their peak, the mine companies employed about 200,000; now the number is down to 30,000. The unemployment rate in Thabong is about 80%. The HIV infection rate is estimated by local doctors to be 50%. The spread of HIV can be traced back to the employment policies and living conditions of the miners. No one is originally from Welkom - it is a melting pot of South African culture as people came from all over the country and even the continent seeking employment. Most of them would leave wives and families back home. The miners would be housed in tiny hostel rooms, with up to a dozen men per room. Prostitution was rampant which in turn became the vehicle for the spread of HIV and other diseases. These miners would then return to their families and it quickly turned into a pandemic infecting the continent and the world.
The Pines currently has 24 children, all housed within the main, "L"-shaped building. Eventually we hope to add an additional 4 flats in the second building and 1 more flat in the main building, allowing us to have 54 children. The goal is to have 5 flats of 6 girls each housed in the main building, and 4 flats of 6 boys each housed in the second building. To this point we have had about 5 teams come each year to help with projects. Many of these teams do fundraising before they come, allowing us to obtain the funds we need to complete those projects. Without these teams the work accomplished so far at The Pines would be impossible. I want to thank everyone who has made the effort to join a team and commit their time and resources to this work. We also want to encourage more people and churches to consider forming a team to serve here. It has a tremendous impact on the kids and ministry here, and to a person every team member says that they have left different than when they came. If you're interested in joining or forming a team contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.