Beth in South Africa
Beth Morgan is now into her third month volunteering with Jesuit Missions in South Africa. This new programme is in partnership with Jesuit Refugee Service supporting urban refugees in Johannesburg. She writes about her experiences so far.
My experiences so far in Johannesburg, South Africa have been wonderful. I have been able to immerse myself into the invaluable work that the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) does in partnership with Jesuit Missions to help refugees, asylum seekers and forcibly displaced people and feel as though I am able to help make a real difference to people’s lives. I have been involved with the Pastoral Care Department, the Education Department and have also acted as a teaching assistant for the English language classes.
Although the stories of many clients are harrowing, and the circumstances in which they live are extremely challenging, they have taught me so much about the value of human dignity, kindness and hope. The strength and resilience of all of the people I have met is so inspiring and, no matter how small the help given, people are always so thankful. I have really enjoyed living in a community where faith in God and the values of Christianity are so central to everyday life.
My daily routine is one of great variety. I begin most mornings by assisting the English Language class. We begin each lesson by praising God through song and then by collectively praying out loud. It has been very affirming to see people so passionate about their faith. In the lessons, the students learn basic conversational and written English to help them integrate into South African society. The students vary in age, but all are dedicated and enthusiastic. There’s a real sense of accomplishment when they succeed.
The Pastoral Care Department is headed by Fr Vaidas, a Jesuit Priest from Lithuania, who has been very influential during my time here. Together, we have created and implemented a new Psychosocial Support Programme for vulnerable female clients. The programme aims to improve self-confidence, motivation and happiness, as well as helping the women to take greater control of their own lives and emotions. It has been so rewarding to see how positive the program has been for the women.
My work in Pastoral Care has also allowed me to participate in home visits to the sick and elderly. Although these visits can be emotionally difficult because of the distressing experiences of those whom we visit, I am always filled with hope at the end of a visiting day. I am able to see improvement in the conditions of many clients due to the invaluable work of the Health Teams who work to provide medication, physiotherapy, companionship and financial aid to the sick. I am also filled with hope because, despite the challenges these individuals face, every one of them remains grateful for the time we spend with them and they always show us great hospitality.
I was particularly struck by one elderly gentleman, who was struggling due to illness and poverty, who made sure the first thing he did when we entered his room was to offer us a cup of tea! Such instances have taught me that it is not how much help we can give to people that really matters, but the quality of the time we spend with them.
It is very easy for refugees and asylum seekers to feel ignored and isolated in South African society where the already overstretched government resources fail to cope with the growing influx of forcibly displaced people. However, through the work of JRS and Jesuit Missions, clients are accompanied in their struggles, served through the provision of services to help address their needs and have their rights advocated for. My experiences have allowed me to be inspired by the bravery of clients and become even more determined to follow a path which seeks to help those most vulnerable in society.
I have been welcomed into a diverse and inspiring community and been given the opportunity to follow my Christian Mission in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.