by Tony Copple
Bella is a brown South African orphan brought up by her ouma (grandmother), whom we met at a large Bible Study in 2018 when she was 16, and who volunteered to lead a small ‘Mailbox Club’ Bible study for children. We ran weekly trainings for 8 volunteers in our house during 2018, which continued in 2019 with Bible study and social time, and over the weeks Bella and Laurie-Ann formed a special friendship. Bella was smart and with a strong Christian faith, and was truthful.
She had a rare bursary to pay for university tuition. We would take the girls on outings and give them birthday presents. In November the Cupido family suffered a trauma they never recovered from. The drug addict boyfriend of Bella’s sister stole all the stock from their grocery reselling business, spending the proceeds on drugs. On 6 December Bella had major surgery for scoliosis at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town. We visited her two days later. That Christmas we had Bella’s family of 6 for turkey dinner followed by Christmas pudding. The food was all new to them, and must hadn’t been in a proper house before.
2020. For a few months I drove Bella (and friends) to and from school to reduce strain on Bella’s spine after the operation. In February Bella had serious toothache (her two front teeth had been extracted before we met her) and was told by the free dental service they would extract all the bad teeth. Unhappy with this we took her to our dentist who built her a partial denture with 6 teeth. Two weeks later we received an unexpected donation which almost exactly covered the cost. In late February the kids were so famished when I picked them up for school I bought them hamburgers. There were other signs of famine in the townships. On 23 March President Ramaphosa announced a 21 day lockdown of the country due to Coronavirus, at a stroke taking away the livelihoods of those township families which actually had a wage earner, but giving a R350 ($30) a month social grant to qualified individuals. On 25 March I told the four families we had primarily been working with that we would pay their airtime and power online to same them leaving their houses during lockdown. Schools were closed. Many borrowed with no way to repay, leading to (family) violence. Requests for food were increasing, and I decided to buy in bulk and store in our house to make savings. In September we decided to buy a cheap laptop for Bella, which would be essential at university, but we kept it in our house or it would have been stolen. Bella’s family continued living at near starvation levels, alleviated only by food from us. Bella needed a new phone, and we said we would buy it in exchange for doing occasional housework for us.
2021 Cape Provincial University of Technology (CPUT) postponed her entry from 27 January because of Covid. We invited her to several trips that her ouma refused to let her go on, citing housework needs, but on 12 February she finally came with us to Hermanus, and wore a swimsuit I had bought her. In March we took her to Paarl, including the Spice Route for ice cream and chocolate. She came to our house to watch several powerful Christian films. We had tracked the spending on food for the girls, and on 11 April launched the ‘Sponsor Our Girls’ appeal. One of our friends replied that she would cover Bella’s family needs for the next 6 months! Over the next month the appeal brought in $3,626 and we were able to allocate the money for individuals based on what we had spent on them in the past. This was a tremendous relief for us. On 18 April I launched the spreadsheet to track all expenses, and the allowances due, much of them funded by the appeal. Mid April Bella distributed CVs to multiple retail stores, without result. Leroy, Bella’s sister’s boy friend was in court for throwing a rock at Cathy when she refused him money, and Bella was a witness. Next day I gave Cathy taxi money to pick up a restraining order. On 2 May Bella was asking for bread and poloney, a sure sign they had nothing else left to eat even after the allowance. On 11 May I sent out a second ‘Sponsor Our Girls’ appeal to a different target audience. We took Bella to see Pomegranate, the mission house in the mountains where we lived for our outreach after Harvest School in Mozambique. We had noticed that Bella had difficulty with distance vision. I took her to an optometrist for her first ever eye test. They provided a prescription, and she selected a frame. The total cost was $97.52. At this time Laurie-Ann received money from an art commission which covered the cost.
We took Bella with us on one of our monthly visits to Hillsong in Cape Town and found ourselves in the front row, spectacular for her. By the end of the month the food subsidies were working almost too well, since the girls would call on us continually with their lists of food and toiletries, and I would drive all over town and Avian Park delivering. So I decided to pay them their allowances in cash every two weeks, so they would do the shopping, In Bella’s case we sent the allowances direct to her bank account. They still asked for us to help with extra needs. By early June Bella was self-sufficient in cash flow, and I introduced the direst deposit system to one of the others, who now had a bank account. One of my major time-consumers was keeping the girls in working cellphones, and sometimes I regretted ever offering to help. June was Matric exam month and Bella and her friend Joy spend hours using our wifi for revision. 7 July was the first weekday in lock down that we had no calls asking for help. Bella sent out another 10 CVs, and one of them bore fruit for her and for Joy: cooking fast foods at ‘Sailors’ take-away, although it only lasted a month. On 7 August Bella’s phone was stolen right out of her house by a neighbour while she was in. This meant she could miss vital calls from the Basic Education department, or the university. However she was earning good money from Sailors, and I went halves with her on a Mobicel Blink, with 16 GB. For R700 that could see her through university. 6 months after the Sponsor our Girls funding scheme started the stats were (for the 4 girls) R62,466 paid, R57,869 funded. Not too shabby, but as our year end departure date loomed this would change. We told Bella that after we left, her R1000 a week would fall to R500, but continue when we were in Canada. The other girls: no continuation. I delivered Bella 5 suitcases for use at CPUT donated by friends.
2022 On 18 January we finally flew out from Cape Town to Newark and on to Toronto. We were met in the snow by Brian and Cathy McBride – bless them. From then to now, our new mission has been caring for L-A’s 93-year-old dad. Mid February, Bella told us (via Messenger) that she had fallen off a chair while cleaning inside windows and damaged her fragile back. X-Rays showed the good work achieved in her operation in Dec 2019 had been undone. An operation was scheduled for 8 March, but would be more expensive now she was over 18, and she asked us to contribute R3,000. The operation was successful. On 19 May, Bella was diagnosed with drug-resistant TB, a potential killer, and she must spend the next month in a Cape Town hospital. She needed R1,000 hospital fee. CPUT is arranging for her to begin her studies remotely from hospital when term starts in June. She needed R830 for transport to the hospital. On 7 June, Bella heard that she needed a further scoliosis operation, requiring R3,500 hospital fee within days. By 18 June we had exhausted the funds left in FNB from the Da Vinci rent rebate, and the sale of the Mercedes to Lovejoy, and I began a series of wire transfers of R5,000 to keep the FNB account in the black. We made the decision to continue to support Bella and family even though it was eating into our limited financial resources. What else could we do? Cut her loose? We believed a way would be found to afford it. Support for the family of R500 weekly was just as vital as Bella’s medical costs; without it Cathy would pull her out of university and have her take a job in Worcester.
On 6 August Bella asked us for R3,000 to be paid in 2 day’s time for university residence fees. Apparently her bursary only covered half of the fees. Bella’s total reliance on us for money is precarious, so on 21 August we had a Skype call with her explaining that any unexpected needs might reduce the time we can support her for. We could then only last the full 2 years with divine help. 6 September: Bella needs an urgent operation for TB with a hospital bill of R1,500. I had a bad thought: if she becomes too ill to answer her phone we would never find out? I could no longer help Cathy and the family with the R500 weekly allowance which Bella sends on. In investigating the TB, her doctors found that the source of some recent serious pain ha been a kidney problem that needs to be operated on – R2,000. Hasn’t this girl endured enough? Then on 17 September a heart-rending message bordering on despair: she needs another big operation on her legs to prevent her becoming disabled for life. We sent the R2,000 hospital fee. Then on 21 September we received an uplifting message: “I’m OK!” The last operation is done! On 22 September the university demanded her R3000 residence fee for October to be paid by the weekend. On 30 September they then asked for the fee for November – but then there would be 4 months when it would be paid by her bursary. On 4 October Bella slipped and fell and her back was damaged again. A big operation was needed - R3,500 – with some time afterwards in hospital recovering.
The totals since we returned from South Africa had been R29,790 ($CAD 2,305) for medical operations, and R12,060 ($933) for residence fees. The exchange rate had been kind to us so far.
Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple (usually Laurie-Ann)
L-A's devotional blog
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Tony's south african journal
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