Cold weather, ‘orphans’ that still had parents and no running water for a few days … just a few of the unexpected turns for a group of Escalon residents during a summer mission trip to South Africa.
Among those attending were Escalon High School students Gabby Rigg, Allison Rigg, Taylor Laugero, Trenton Busch and Josie Redberg, 2014 EHS graduates Taylor Busch and Logan LaRossa and adult volunteers Kim Rigg, Kaj Busch and Dan and Terri Franklin.
“This was my first mission, I was kind of nervous but then again I wasn’t, because my mom had gone before,” freshman Gabby Rigg said of the experience.
However, the teen said there wasn’t any way to really prepare for the culture shock.
“It was crazy,” she said.
The mission team from Escalon Covenant Church did several fundraisers prior to their trip to help finance the way, and spent three weeks in South Africa, from early July through the end of the month.
“We were gone from July 6 through July 30 and spent our time in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, an area outside of Durban,” said coordinator Kim Rigg, Gabby and Allison’s mom. “We stayed at Lily of the Valley and Makaphutu Children’s Village, orphanages.”
Many of the children do have parents, but the parents are unable to provide for them so they are sent to the orphanages for care and schooling.
“Seventy percent of Lily’s kids are HIV positive and are taking anti-retroviral drugs,” Kim added. “The kids were on winter holiday while we were at Lily and we ran a holiday club program for the kids.”
Daughter Gabby said the volunteers were all taken aback by the fact that the kids weren’t truly orphans, and also by their attitudes.
“Two things stood out, one, how happy the kids were, they were the happiest kids I’ve ever met and they have nothing but they share whatever they do have,” young Gabby said. “Also the township, how tiny the houses are, the poverty.”
Junior Trenton Busch said he wasn’t expecting the change in the weather, from the Central Valley summer sun to the African winter.
“It was cold, we got off the plane and it was zero degrees Celsius,” he said, adding that their sleeping quarters were in a long cinder block building that didn’t do much to add to the warmth.
Trenton attended the trip with his dad, Kaj and sister Taylor, and noted that it wasn’t his first time serving on a mission team.
“It makes me happy to go help other people,” Trenton said. “It’s what I want to do.”
For Allison Rigg, also a junior at EHS, she has been to Mexico for mission work but said the Africa trip was a lot longer.
“I was excited to go,” she said, adding that it was a unique, rewarding experience to help put on the club program and work with the children.
All the teens admitted to some trying times, from flight delays in getting there to their luggage being lost, to the village losing water for days a time during their stay. Through it all, though, they kept their purpose in focus.
“It made me want to do more (mission trips),” Allison admitted. “You’re with the kids and they’re so happy.”
Junior Taylor Laugero said she had been thinking about service abroad for some time before deciding to go on the trip.
“I’ve always been into helping the community and giving back, I wanted to do it on a larger scale,” she said. “My favorite part was the relationships that were built with the kids. What surprised me most was how impoverished they were … the everyday necessities you think they would have, like shoes, they just don’t have.”
While the team was at Makaphutu, Kim Rigg added, the kids went back to school and the Escalon team helped with the homework club afterschool and helped with the pre-school kids during the day.
“While there, I was able to teach some of the workers and house moms classes on behavior management, adolescent brain development, working together in stressful situations, and signs of bullying and depression,” she explained.
Kaj Busch and Dan Franklin, with help from Trenton Busch, took on a project to re-vamp some of the countertops at Lily. They were able to pull out the kitchen countertops and replace with a concrete countertop that won’t leak and create mold and mildew.
“They were able to do this in five of the houses and this kept them busy for a couple weeks,” Kim said.
In terms of food, the team ate such items as crocodile and a concoction called ‘pap’ that is somewhat like mashed potatoes but made out of cornmeal. They also ate plenty of baked beans, Gabby said, with that dish a local favorite.
The teens also said the experience gave them a greater appreciation for what they have at home – showers when they want them, fresh water to drink, shoes to wear – things that are often taken for granted.
“Work was hampered sometimes when the water went out and we didn’t have running water. This made it difficult, but we were able to come home,” Kim Rigg said, putting it in perspective. “This is what they deal with on a regular basis. Imagine having 150 kids and going without running water. Not easy at all …”