Feb 3 was one of our team member’s 21st birthday. Sibusiso, we call him Snowy, was so surprised when forty people shouted so loud from the cafeteria that he could hear us in his dorm room. “We want Snowy! We want Snowy!” All of us made a human tunnel for him to walk through as we congratulated him and shouted happy birthday!
We let him walk into the dining hall first to see all the tables covered with balloons and party hats. His chair had a balloon taped to it with “Happy 21st Snowy” written on it. His gold party hat was made special with red and white garland around the bottom. The whole group chanted “Speech, speech, speech!” Everyone got quiet but Snowy couldn’t speak; his eyes were red with tears. He pulled his shirt collar up over his face so we couldn’t see but we all knew. We all cheered for him again. Once we quieted down, he finally spoke. “I want to thank you all so much. I never had a birthday in my whole life.” His voice choked up again. We cheered once again and let him get in line for his supper first.
We had a chocolate cake with ice cream for dessert. Snowy got to blow out birthday candles for the first time. He is such a sweet kid and from the way he looks, I did not expect him to be as kind as he is. He cares for the team like a family and if there is any discomfort in the group, he senses it and wants to make sure everything will be okay in the end. He totally deserved this surprise and all the love that came with it. My heart is slowly wrapping around each of the young people here, and I’m trying not to think about when this time together will end.
For Monday and Tuesday this week, the session topic was Soul Therapy. Desree, who lead the session, and her husband Mpho work at the YfC National Office in Johannesburg. Desree divided the kids into groups of 6 and brought worksheets for them to write on. I missed the first day’s session but it was basically about admitting that you personally are a broken person. We have all been hurt, and our responses and perspectives are a result of that brokenness and hurt. You don’t always think about it that way, but it is completely true. Our experiences mold our outlook.

Once we put down our pride and admit “I am a Broken Person,” we can move on to healing. That involves forgiveness, which was taken care of on the second day. We first have to identify the people who had a part in our brokenness. Writing names down makes the memories flood back. For this exercise, it helps for the pain or anger to be present because you can deal with it now and make the choice to forgive whoever it was that hurt you. On the flip side, it is at times more difficult to forgive ourselves than others. We don’t let go of the wrong choice we made and keep bashing ourselves about it. We have to let these things go if we want to become a “Recovering Broken Person.”

Desree had everyone sit outside on this most beautiful day and pray about the names we wrote down. We also had to go back and feel the emotions we experienced at the time the person hurt us. We had to feel the bad choice that we once made for ourselves. Then, we had to make the right choice and forgive that person. If you needed to forgive yourself or for God to forgive you, this is the time and place. This exercise was such a freeing encounter.
Week three is here. The kids are tired. They aren’t giving 100% in rehearsals, and I don’t blame them. This schedule here is so grueling; Wake up 5:30 am and don’t get to bed until 10:30 pm. And they’re rehearsing and learning and thinking all day long. Not to mention the emotional stuff they are dealing with, talking about serious subjects like their relationships with their fathers and people they know who have or had HIV/AIDS.  I honestly don’t think I could have made it through training when I was their age. I was going to classes at FSU, everything paid for, cushy apartment with my friends. They are living out here in the bush, on the side of a mountain. Leaders tell them what to do and what time to do it, and how long they have to get it done. They’ve given up an entire year of their lives to make a difference in others’ lives. I was beat on the first day! I would be completely burnt out by now if I had to follow the same exact schedule they do. There is one girl who is leaving today. She’s from the team that will work in an area called Durban. I think she just can’t handle the intensity of the training. It’s sad because now that team is one short, and the leader Sane is stuck with replacing her, or possibly changing their performance to work without her two and a half weeks in.