A medical mission trip by 10 Compassus colleagues in 2017 opened their eyes to the beauty and potential of South Africa — but also its crushing poverty.
Compassus sends voluntary employees each year to serve alongside the workers of Living Hope, an organization that provides ministries for the Southern Cape Peninsula and works to combat poverty and disease. And in South Africa, there is a staggering amount of both.
South Africa has a 25 percent unemployment rate — one of the highest in the world. More than half of South Africans live below the national poverty line, with more than 10 percent living in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 per day, according to a new report published by global aid and development charity Oxfam.
HIV/AIDS, lower respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases and malaria were the leading causes of death in 2012, killing 3.3 million people — more than one-third of all deaths in the region — according to the World Health Organization.
Earlier this year, 10 Compassus employees traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, for the 2015 Living Hope Mission Trip, and converged at the Team House, a beach house staffed by Living Hope employees.
The Compassus team traveled to impoverished townships with “carers,” or aides, to visit patients in homes, hospitals, and clinics.
“We began each day with carers by singing and praying together. They welcomed us with open arms and hearts and included us completely,” says Jill Frankel, admissions nurse for Compassus in Albuquerque, N.M. “They were kind and loving with patients as if they were family.”
The team staffed mobile clinics at a university and near a train station, providing blood pressures, blood sugars, and Body Mass Index tests. The also provided HIV screenings and supported patients through the process.
St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town was the site of a 1989 peace march led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“We sang and prayed with alcohol and abuse survivors,” Frankel says. “We danced with hundreds of children and served them sandwiches and apples. We also heard about children who took their sandwiches home to bury or hide them to ensure meals for the weekend.”
“Despite the destitution, bright spots occurred each day,” Frankel says.
“The poverty was eye-opening, but it was incredible to see people focus only on what they have,” she says. “People were so appreciative of visits.”
Compassus also served their colleagues by providing in-services to about 60 carers from local communities.
“Their response to receiving positive, supportive, and useful information and resources was moving,” Frankel says.
Amid the crushing poverty was South Africa’s natural beauty, and the Compassus team got to experience that, as well, with trips to Table Mountain, a prominent flat-topped mountain overlooking the city of Cape Town; a park with African penguins; gardens; and beaches at sunrise and sunset.
They also experienced its culture, including Robben Island, where former South African president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid; the Heart of Cape Town Museum at Groote Schuur Hospital where the first heart transplant was done in 1967; shopping areas; and community markets. They also tasted ostrich, crocodile, impala, kudu and springbok.
“The 10 of us quickly became family as we explored worlds outside of our comfort zones,” Frankel says, “and learned how to see life in a new way.”
“The venture will last far beyond our return to the United States,” says Rolly Legere, a Maine-based Compassus home health aide.
“Our 10 Compassus volunteers and the incredible team members of Living Hope are now one big extended family. We will never forget the experience and love we shared during our time together,” she says.
“Thank you, Compassus, for providing us with a journey of a lifetime,” Legere says. “May we be true ambassadors for Living Hope and help educate, empower, and equip people we meet.”
This article originally appeared in Everyday Compassion magazine. To browse full issues of the magazine, click here.