Fran Hewitt from PALMS writes...

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Home > Media > News > Fran Hewitt from PALMS writes...
Fran Hewitt from PALMS writes...
Fran at Blyde River Canyon

Fran Hewitt, from the Archdiocese of Hobart, has sent an end-of-year account of her volunteer placement in Holy Family Care Centre which is responding to the needs of the sick and vulnerable, especially orphaned children with HIV and AIDS.

“The children were really good, and performed all items beautifully; even the clowns got things nearly right!” says Fran,  writing her end-of-year story about her volunteer placement at Holy Family Care Centre, South Africa.

12th December 2011

Dumela Everyone,

Le kae? Re gona. (That means “hello everyone, how are you? I am fine” = the traditional greeting here). Well here it is nearly the end of the year already, how time flies! I have been really busy since I last wrote, but feel that I don’t have much to relate that is new. November began with incredibly hot weather, often around 40 degrees and more, then the rain would come and cool things down for a few days. The wet season is here, but now (early December) the temperatures seem to be only averaging 30 degrees, which is quite comfortable.


Early November also heralded concert practices – Holy Family has been going for 10 years, so an anniversary concert has been planned, to which major sponsors, the local government officials, health and social workers, and other stakeholders (past and present) have been invited. Lilly and I are in charge of organising the kids and items! Lilly is overseeing a drama, a comedy, singing and some traditional dancing, and I am organising the little kids (preps and Grade ones) to be masked clowns, a gymnastics group and a ball skills group.

The first week of concert practice is promising, and the kids are enthusiastic! The little kids (ages five-seven) are having a ball, but can’t remember anything. The ball skills group, where the aim is to throw and catch the balls at the same time are doing ok with throwing and catching but have no idea of timing. The gymnastics group are great; they can do handstands, cartwheels and balancing on a partner’s back. So that’s one group looking good!

Bursting into song and dance!

The next weekend was eventful. The power was out for about 28 hours, so on the Saturday evening after tea, all the kids, even the little Crèche children,  were congregated in the courtyard between all the buildings. It was dusk and there was nothing to do. Some of the older girls started singing, then the rest joined in and began clapping and all of a sudden all the kids began stomping, and burst into dance. It was fantastic, so spontaneous and tribal – no one suggested it, or seemed to be leading them. It went on for about an hour, and we were invited to join in too. It finished as suddenly as it started, as though they were spent, and had completed something. It was such a great thing to witness and be included in.


That night little Eugy was not well and couldn’t keep her milk down, she was worse in the morning so Carmel Lawry, a Palms volunteer nurse also at Holy Family, took her in to hospital. She stayed with her until the afternoon, but then had to come home. Eugy’s grandparents were notified, and they went to visit her. Her condition worsened, and sadly she died that night. The grandparents were with her when she died, thank goodness. She was so beautiful; she was only with us for a short while, but got right into everyone’s heart. We were all so upset when we found out, and there was a noticeable sadness around the place that week. The kids really felt it.


From mid-November on the secondary students had exam preparation, so I took extra homework sessions and did study sessions during the days they had off school. I also visited the local high and primary schools to talk with the principals about the exam timetables and the children’s education in general. There seem to be days when the kids get sent home early, and the secondary school girls said they were told not to go to school again unless they had an exam, even though school doesn’t finish until 9th December. The principals said the situation at the schools with overcrowding, not enough teachers, and trying to prepare test papers etc. was too much, so that’s why the kids were being sent home.

The school reports came home last Friday, and over half the children failed their grade. Just 2 weeks ago, the federal government stepped in to take charge of 11 government departments in the Limpopo Province, including the Education Dept. Failure rates are soaring, and the whole education system is in turmoil.

Clowns and all!

By the end of November most of the concert items were going well - except my clowns, who haven’t improved one bit! The ball skills people are finally showing some coordinated and timed actions, and the gymnastics group are performing some complex balancing acts. The drama and comedy are ready, so are the singing and dancing troupes. I think the concert will be really entertaining.


1st December brought some sad news – the social workers have decided some children will be leaving us and going home for good. There are lots more orphaned and abandoned kids needing care, so some of the children here who have relatives willing to take them have to go. Sister Mary told about fifteen kids they will be leaving, and most are upset to be going. This is the only home some know, and for others it is a haven from abuse and neglect.

Some children are being sent to relatives they don’t even know, so of course they are feeling insecure and upset. We had a farewell for those children one afternoon last week; there was some singing, some speeches, and then everyone, from the smallest children to the big kids and then Mary, Michael, Carmel and I, filed past them to give them a hug and wish them well – it was really  sad and there were many tears. They were also given their Christmas presents to take home with them.

The three older girls will be leaving; Stembiso is going to a boarding school, but will came back here during holidays, Mosibudi (and her brother) is going to a grandmother, and Lucia (and her sister Promise) will be going to an aunt. I will miss the girls a lot, as they have been the ones to teach me Sepedi, share foods, and help me learn lots of other things about their culture. We all get on really well, and they have asked me to visit them in their villages next year – which I will try to do.

Successful concert.

The big concert was held on Saturday 3rd December, and the children were so excited. There were eighty guests, including all the local workers. The children were really good, and performed all items beautifully; even the clowns got things nearly right! The visiting dignitaries and government and health officials were impressed; it was a really lovely and successful event, and a credit to everyone involved.

Happy Christmas to all!

So, that’s the news from Ofcolaco to date. Thanks again to all those who have emailed or sent letters, cards and packages – it is always exciting to receive news from home. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas with family and friends, and that the New Year brings good health and happiness.

Love from Fran xxx

 You can join Fran and Carmel helping the children and staff of Holy Family Care Centre by supporting their placements.  Go to and or contact Palms Australia directly on (02) 9518 9551