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Monday, January 24, 2011

Meet Lerato and Monica Ramakhale

Work at Restoring Hope Village is moving ahead full steam.  Just today Brian & Lois Niehoff moved into the first staff house.  The interior was completed yesterday and we received flying colors on the inspection.  There is still a bit of work to be done on the outside, but let’s face it – everyone has that problem, no matter the age of your house.

Meanwhile, we continue our outreach projects in the surrounding community.  The church meetings have continued to progress, with an average attendance of around 30.  Last weeek Brian was able to wire us up some electricity (a story for another time) so we could use a projector and have better background music than a small battery operated keyboard.  The hospice outreach will recommence this week after the holiday season.  And we continue to work with the guys from our Bible Study.

For us the most exciting developments occurred just before Christmas.  Lerato and Monica Ramakhale, cousins who had been orphaned and living with an uncle, joined our family on December 20th.  Since the first house is a month or so away from completion the two girls are living with us.

Anyone who has been involved in foster care knows the excitement and trepidation that accompany the arrival of new children.  You never know how they will adjust, what emotional baggage they may bring, or the unique challenges they will present.  It is the same here in South Africa.

Both girls had been orphaned early in life.  Lerato, age 9, grew to become the surrogate mother for Monica, age 7.  Living conditions have always been a challenge for them.  Growing up in a township is difficult for anyone, but for young girls without a real guardian it can be a nightmare.  By the grace of God we don’t believe that either girl has been abused, but that isn’t to say they have no emotional scars.

The social worker in charge of the case has known of the situation for some time.  Several times the girls have been removed from the uncle and placed with another foster caregiver in the township – usually older women who do foster care simply as a means of survival.  Each time the uncle would find the girls and take them back.  It was clear that he had no real affection for Lerato or Monica, but rather that they were his income as well through the small government grant provided to their registered caregiver.

This social worker contacted us and asked if we would be able to take the girls.  She knew our first house wasn’t completed, but she felt the situation demanded immediate attention before something tragic did actually take place.  She was able to work with a local magistrate and received permission for us to house the girls in our own home until The Village was ready.  The removal process actually took some time, as the uncle knew something was up and seemed to hide the girls in other housing.  He was finally convinced to bring the girls in exchange for a food parcel.  According to the auxiliary social worker (i.e.; translator) he gave the girls some coaching, telling them that if he had to leave without them no one would take care of them and probably that they would be somehow hurt by the people taking them away.  This of course was very hard on the girls and when he was told to leave they put on quite a show for him, crying and such.

Once he was gone and they were brought to our house, however, there was a complete 180-degree change in their attitude.  They settled right in with no crying or appearance of distress.  We had arranged for Okuhle, one of the young girls we have worked with in the past, to stay with us for a couple days as the girls adjusted.  We quickly found out that wouldn’t have been necessary, other than the language barriers.  Both Lerato and Monica fit into the family as if they had been living with us for years.

The next day we had their court appearance, when they were officially removed from the uncle and placed with us.  At that meeting we spoke with the social worker and she informed us that since the girls were removed people in the community were much more willing to come forward with information.  Apparently they had previously withheld certain facts for fear it would get back to the uncle and cause problems for them or the girls.  We learned that often he would leave for a night in the taverns, locking the girls inside the house alone for more than 12 hours at a time.  In fact, another relative that lives in Johannesburg contacted the social worker with other details of abandonment and neglect.

Since their placement with us we have seen them blossom.  Both girls are full of personality and energy.  It is a challenge for Amber to keep up with them on top of our own two children.  The language barrier is still a challenge, but they are learning and we have become fluent in charades.  Sometimes they slip up and we can see that they understand much more than they let on.

Lerato still shows her motherly instinct, often following Amber around trying to predict what she will be doing, then trying to get it done for her first.  Meredith and Monica have become more like sisters than friends, with great fun and random conflict breaking out at all hours.  Both Lerato and Monica adore Drake.

Last week the girls started school at Dunamis Christian School.  Both were bumped down a couple grade levels, partly to lay a better foundation in the basics, and partly because it is an English school and their understanding is still rudimentary.

In their short time with us we have been able to see them experience many new things.  They arrived just in time for the holidays and we were able to give them their first real Christmas.  On New Year’s Eve we had KFC, the local favorite treat.  Every Friday we have family night with pizza and a movie, and although they don’t understand they can usually follow the story – for the record, they think the “Herbie” series is great.

 There have been several people who have been giving toward our sponsorship program, even before we had children.  That is a huge blessing, because now that they have arrived, we are prepared to care for them.  In addition to personal sponsors, the Carroll Rotary Club is funding tuition for Monica this coming year. We want to give a tremendous thank-you to those who have already signed up to sponsor these girls.  We just completed the first staff house last week, and we anticipate the girls moving into the first children’s house very soon.  Once that house opens we will be quickly receiving more children.  If you are interested in any sponsorship information, please contact us at, or at

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Say What???

So today we were on our way home from church (a very good morning at church, by the way).  As we're leaving Thabong Amber and I overhear Meredith explaining to the girls in the back seat what she carries in her purse.  The conversation was as follows:
"I have a brush and a comb.  This is my jewelry, my bracelet, my glock, my necklace..."

Now, I happen to own a gun back in the States, but I'm not a gun fanatic.  She would never hear Amber or I carrying on a conversation about our favorite piece, and we certainly don't allow her to watch that kind of television.  Amber & I just looked at each other, as if to confirm that we both heard the same thing, then we simultaneously shrug.  You just never know what is going on inside the female brain.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tales from a Township - Life

Life In A Township

The country of South Africa is filled with informal settlements, frequently called  townships or squatter camps.

During the Apartheid Era Government, races were forced to live in different areas.  Typically white people occupied the town proper, and the other two races, “black” and “colored”, lived in settlements at the outskirts of the town.  Although these laws are no longer in effect, racial segregation is still a reality of life for most South Africans.
While township life has evolved in the last 80 years, it has historically been characterized by poverty, crime, poor education, poor health and a general absence of hope for anything better.  The onset and spread of HIV/AIDS has only served to compound these problems, especially for children.
Restoring Hope International is working to meet the needs of these children, to provide the love and care they deserve, and to give them hope for this life and for eternity.  You are our partners in this work, and it is our desire to keep you informed and updated on our progress.
Alcoholism is a serious problem
Most of the children who come to Restoring Hope Village have been orphaned.  Their life before arrival at The Village is often very difficult.  Many are sick and malnourished.  A few are infected by HIV, but all have been affected by the disease.
Finding daily food can be a challenge

In winter it is difficult to keep warm

Life in the townships lacks many of the modern conveniences that those living in the towns enjoy.  Many homes have no sewer, water, or electric service.  Those who do have such luxuries often cannot use them because of poor infrastructure, lack of maintenance, or inability to pay.  The “good” houses are built out brick, but most are just pieces of scrap wood and tin held together with used nails and wire.  Roofs are kept from blowing away by piling old tires, rocks, or firewood on top.  The wind is kept out by stuffing old newspaper in the cracks.
Most people use small stoves like camp stoves or open fires for cooking and heating.  This, coupled with their newspaper insulation, creates a dangerous fire hazard. Firewood is a very valuable commodity and is guarded closely.  In fact, due to the crime rate, all possessions must be watched carefully, with doors locked and windows barred.
Household chores can be difficult.  Laundry is done by hand.  Keeping perishable food can be complicated.  Food preparation is tedious and can be easily contaminated.  
The typical diet is not healthy.  When food is available it is usually rich in carbohydrates and lacks good protein or vitamins.  The main staple is called pap.  It is basically boiled corn meal.  This is eaten at every meal, with whatever vegetable is available.  Meat of any sort is a delicacy and no part of an animal wasted.
Families are rare, but neighborhoods are very tightly knit.  This is both for protection, and because many people live their whole life within a radius of a couple city blocks.  Most neighborhoods have street gangs and this is a major temptation to young boys.  Assault, theft, carjackings, murder, and rape are common in the townships. 
A garden covered by sticks to keep out birds
Under Apartheid there were separate educational systems for each race.  Education in the townships was limited to basic life skills that would teach the people only for service jobs.  It has improved in the last 16 years, but is still lacking.  Many of the teachers were trained themselves in that era and therefore lack the ability to teach the subjects they are now teaching.  Because so many children have no real caregiver, school attendance is inconsistent, and assistance at home is non-existent.

A pot of delicious sheep intestine
Hopefully, this helps you understand the challenges before these boys and girls.  You need to know that you are a vital part of changing the outlook for your child and potentially others for generations to come.  It is the goal of Restoring Hope International to raise up a generation who knows God and is equipped to reach others for Him.  We appreciate your partnership as we establish this crucial ministry.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Brian's Present

I got Brian a Christmas present that he's been wanting for a long time.  You can see here as he displays it proudly.

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Christmas Photos

Amber is so crafty, and the girls loved making their own ornaments

Reading the Christmas Story
Drake passes out presents

Meredith received a new pillow from Bob and Susie Niehoff
Both girls received new fleece blankets made by some of the women of Lakeside Fellowship

New backpacks filled with school supplies courtesy of the Babb family and Point of Grace youth
When it's your first Christmas even pencils and erasers are exciting

Drake got a new firetruck from Brian and Lois
Opening presents comes naturally

Even in the middle of African summer the girls love their blankets so much they wrap up in them all hours of the day and night
Meredith received a new apron from her 2nd cousins the Pearson girls

Our Christmas day included a family trip to the local park
Three friends (most of the time, anyway)

Monica and Meredith perfectly balance the see-saw with Lerato and Drake

We would like to express a sincere thank you to everyone who thought of our family at this Christmas season.  It is difficult to be away from family, friends, and everything that seems "normal".  But we heard from so many and have been blessed by the generosity that has been poured on us that the small things we have given up have been replaced over and over again.  Thank you.

There are a few more photos posted on Facebook