SOUTH AFRICA

Botshabelo Orphanage and School

http://www.botshabelo.org/about.html




In September of 2014, I had the special opportunity of learning about the beautiful light-children at Botshabelo Orphanage in South Africa, and offered transformational music and art therapies, and empowerment meditations to 125 children and teenagers.  ALL the children, and especially one boy, Gopolange, captured my heart, and I just knew I had to return one day! 

 

(See memoirs from 2014)
http://www.lisamariemcgrath.com/about-me/south-africa-memoirs



In October of 2017, I was given the opportunity to return to Botshabelo and bear witness to the lives of 200 children, several teachers, multitudes of canines, felines, pigs, cows and wingeds and the three surrounding poverty-stricken villages of the Sanfancise, Lesedi and Kashani peoples, on a much more intimate plane, by living and inter-being with them for two weeks.


From what I observed and experienced in only two weeks, the dichotomy of life at Botshabelo represents a microcosm of the macrocosm of human experience and development throughout time upon our Earth Mother, from the bad to the good, the ugly to the beautiful, the greedy to the generous, the distorted to clarity.  Every moment at Botshabelo was complex and challenging on many levels.  There was no available Internet at all and I don't know if I would have had time to write anyone anyhow, as each day was packed full of active experiences.  For the most part, I enjoyed the blessed opportunities to serve the light-beings at Botshabelo. There were many extraordinary and touching moments of connection and inter-being, bearing witness and insights that have been woven into my tapestry.  I will carry this Agape in my heart and in turn offer this love back to this enlightened cosmos.  I trust my service to the Botshabelo community has planted many seeds of peace, joy, awareness, loving kindness, compassion, flow and generosity.


Three of the founders and custodians of Botshabelo, Marion, Nicole and Leigh Cloete were, at the start, keen on everything I had to offer Botshabelo.  Marion Cloete had one specific request that I work with the agitated 10-14 year old boys, and so I turned to Zen and incorporated the cultivation of Zen into every moment.  The first thing was introducing the Bell of Mindfulness at mealtimes and during class time.  I would ring the Tibetan Bell at meal times to call the children to line up and prepare to enter the meal space.  I invited them to take three breaths when they heard the Bell of Mindfulness.  There were several times that I rang the bell during meals to bring to their attention back to breath, when the volume of their voices needed to be quieter and to say the Meal Gatha/Prayer.  For the most part, everyone responded well and they particularly enjoyed the Meal Gatha that I introduced to them!  During the class periods, I would quietly enter each classroom and ring the bell.  The teachers and students quickly learned to enjoy stopping and returning to their breath.  This was quite magical and adorable to witness!


Before commencing dinner, a few days into the Botshabelo voyage, I invited all the 10-14 year old boys, who were interested in exploring the Path of the Zen Warrior, to meet me at the double-house room at 7:30, after dinner.   What resulted was a chaotic room filled with garrulous excited boys.  I sat quietly in Zazen and smiled at the boys until they simmered down, and then we embarked together on a beautiful journey into the world of the Peaceful Zen Warrior.   Over the next 12 evenings, a core group of engaged committed boys and a few older girls, learned how to sit Zazen and walk Kinhin, how to inquire, look inside and follow the breath, how to bow to their Buddha Nature and the Buddha Nature of their brothers and sisters, and how to hold a respectful council circle and listen to each other.  It was a process not without complications and challenges.  I had many opportunities to practice Kshanti (patience and forbearance), as I imagined, not unlike what Zen Masters must deal with, in their respective Sanghas!  I gave several child-appropriate Dharma Talks to help them deal with the reality of their lives mindfully and transform their thoughts through inquiry. By the end of our time together, the boys and older girls responded to the Zen magnificently, and resulted in the rest of the students and teachers bowing to each other and me, by the end too!  I was feeling deeply grateful to the Buddha Ancestors for passing on the wisdom of the Tao!  It really works, if you work it!


This core group of Peace Zen Warriors agreed to continue cultivating their Zazen and after a period of time invite more of their brothers and sisters into the practice.  This way everyone will eventually benefit from the gifts of Zazen.

     

 



The Botshabelo Peaceful Zen Warriors


Paballo / Jakob
Analo
Mokubi
Thato Seboko
Lukas
Kelebogile (R)
Boago
George
Letlhogornolo / Jakob
Kabelo
Sadna
Martha
Omphemetse
Orabile
Kyle
Nunusi
Tshiamo
Gift
Dan
Gopolange

 



Samu…Work Practice… IS realization IS worship. Every weekday between 4 and 4:30pm there was supposed to be a communal litter pick up.  I was dismayed to observe some children eat lollipops and then proceed to throw the wrappers on the ground.  As a game, many boys were breaking glass bottles with their rubber tops.   The local villagers do not have ‘trash pick-up’ like most of the world, and so, there were bottles and cans and plastic, littering the Botshabelo Earth spaces! There was always a need for the daily work practice.  From my observations, this practice was unsupervised and most of the kids just hung around or goofed around.  I took the opportunity to “BE” the Dharma lesson…be the example I wish to see in the world, and I quietly and mindfully picked up trash for 30 minutes most days and some of the children decided to join me.  When I talked, it revolved around loving the Earth Mother, as she loves us, and how important it is to be mindful caretakers of the land.  I hope some of these seeds germinate and are cultivated!


Another activity that I offered, that seemed to impact the teachers, the kiddos and their caregivers (the older girls) and myself, was the Blessing Ceremony with Bread and Honey, where we all circled up at the Hopi labyrinth on the land, and later in an open field in front of the ‘double house’, to feed each other blessings with bread and honey. This was fun, uniting and sticky, and my two lovely assistants in stickiness, Sadna and Martha, were incredibly helpful!!!  Thank you ladies!


Throughout the two weeks of Sacred Drifting with the Beautiful Hearts at Botshabelo, I also offered Art and Music Therapies, Rock Painting, Dance and Singing in the Kresh (akin to kindergarten) and a deeply touching Sympathetic-Nervous-System Embracing exercise for the Babies with 8 older girls helping me to facilitate this exercise.


I must say that it was such an amazing pleasure to work with the 1st grade class and their teacher.  These little ones really know how to dance and sing and even more impressively, to listen.  They did so well in the painting class that I showed up in their classroom the last full day of my time at Botshabelo and offered them a musical-art game that required some excellent listening skills.  We all had a great time and created beautiful art.  I gifted this class with crayons and paper so they could continue enjoying the game.


Wherever I am on the Earth, I find it essential to take time most days to touch the Earth Mother, and being at Botshabelo was no exception. One day I decided to explore the land around the Hopi labyrinth and a handful of boys joined me.  The spring birdsong was spectacular and prevalent throughout the day!  Blessings of the Wingeds!  We gazed at as many delicate South African flowers as we came upon.  The boys were keen on finding them first and pointing them out, so I could photograph them.  We gathered enormous pinecones from the foot of a giant pine tree.  We played on the rocks and drank in the smells of the air and the sounds of the birds. Then, all of the sudden the boys grew silent and continued to walk quite reverently.  I looked around and we were walking on sacred burial grounds of their ancestors.  Two of the boys kneeled in front of a grave and appeared to be praying to the grandparents buried beneath their small bodies.  I was deeply moved, being aware that many of the children at Botshabelo were severely abused and orphaned, standing on the ground where most of their Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents, Aunties and Uncles who had perished from AIDS were buried, and feeling the impact of this burial ground and the demeanor of these boys in those moments.  After several minutes of silent reverence, I started chanting and the boys joined in and then we headed back to Botshabelo to ready ourselves for dinner. I felt strangely altered by this experience.


On another day, I stepped out on this very path to do another Earth Touching.  This time there was only one boy, Lucas, and a couple of dogs that silently followed me up to the Labyrinth. Lucas is a very special boy, who is deeply connected to the Earth Mother and pays very close attention to everything.  He showed me how to find this really cool insect that burrows in the ground and we reveled in the beauty of the views from the Labyrinth.  I bore witness to the gentle heart of this boy while another boy attacked him that very morning.   Lucas simply held his angry brother really close to him and took the blows, until I separated them.  I grabbed the other boy and held him tight while talking to him gently.  Eventually, I let him free and attended to Lucas, whose heart was beating as fast as a small bird’s.  We were present together to his beating heart. Lucas was a core participant in the Zen Warrior sessions, and he gave us a great example for a Dharma talk that night; how to care for our seed of anger and how to be compassionate in the face of anger.


Sharing all the meals, of creamed grains, soya gravy, and sometimes beets and cabbage, with the children and offering a fresh new Meal-Gatha (Prayer), along with ringing ‘the Tibetan Bell of Mindfulness, seemed to bring us all together in solidarity and trust. Something that I, the children, the kitchen angels and the aids (older students) delighted in.  At each meal, I spent time at a different table, asking the children questions about themselves and interacting with them.  After two days of sharing mealtime together, various children approached me and excitedly invited me to sit with them at their respective tables.  They were keen to interact and ask me questions about my life too!  Love the innocent curiosity of a child’s mind!


Each weekday morning, after breakfast, the children were gathered into their respective groups and were required to run less than a ½ mile and then re-gather in front of their classrooms for ‘brain-gym’ (some stretching and fine motor movements with the fingers).  I joined them and observed that most of the children were not participating and instead gathering in little groups to do their own thing.  So I approached Teacher-Alice, who was attempting to lead the ‘brain-gym’, and offered to guide them through Qi Gong Mind-Body Centering exercises before they entered their respective classrooms, and she said, “Absolutely!”  “Please do!”  So, the next morning, and for the
following two weeks, I instructed the teachers to gather all the students into a large circle, and I quietly sat Zazen under a tree in the middle of the school yard, until the students had gathered quietly enough in a circle, and then, I lead the exercises in focused silence!  It was tremendously successful, in that the 200 students enjoyed the playful Qi Gong, and responded well to being invited to observe and imitate, instead of having demands to “be quiet and do what you are told,” placed on them.  My playful methodology was appreciated and the teachers and students expressed their gratitude with accolades and hugs.

 



It was amazing to embrace my Spirit-Boy, Gopolange, again, and talk about his aspirations.   We have a deep connection that cannot be shared via words.  I feel so maternal with this boy. Gopolange was the first being who greeted me so joyfully in 2014.  He participated in all 6 of the music/art therapy classes that I gave, and was the last being who tearfully said goodbye to me in 2014.  Nicole Cloete helped us communicate over the last few years and our connection in October of 2017 was just as strong if not stronger.  Gopolange, if you ever have the opportunity to read this memoir, I want you know that your beautiful gift to me made it through Australia undetected, and is sitting on my Altar in Colorado.  I treasure your gift and smile upon it every time before meditating.  It was so hard to leave you again…Know that I love you dearly and I will be sending you vibrations of Light, Love, Peace and Beauty!  May you Dance your beautiful Dreams Awake!


BIG LOVE, HUGS and DEEP RESPECTFUL GASSHO BOWS TO YOU ALL, BOTSHABELO
TRIBE!  THANK YOU FOR YOUR AMAZING ENERGIES, THE GORGEOUS SEND OFF OF
DANCE AND SONG (I WILL HOLD THOSE VIBRATIONS IN MY HEART TO THE MOON
AND BACK-THROUGHOUT ETERNITY), AND THANK YOU FOR SHOWING ME HOW TO
DANCE AND SING THE COOL DJ ZINC SONG!  …UBUNTU! …NAMASTE!


I could write volumes and volumes about my experiences at Botshabelo. There were so many transformational, challenging and touching conversations, heart-connections and situations, which make it impossible to choose what to write and what not to write, without creating a three-inch novel.   Like I stated in the beginning, Botshabelo is a place of complexity, as is each and every one of us. I will leave you with these photos, which will speak a thousand words.

If you would like to donate to Botshabelo to help provide food for these incredible children, Nicole Cloete has given me the following options for donation.  I recommend wiring the funds and paying the fee to wire, as the post office in South Africa is unreliable.  One still needs ALL the information below to wire funds to Botshabelo.  



 

Option 1: Option 2:
Banking details are as follows: Posting a cheque made out to:

BOTSHABELO COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT TRUST     
FIRST NATIONAL BANK
ACCOUNT NUMBER: 62036709527
BRANCH  CODE: 250241
SWIFT ADDRESS: firnzajj

Botshabelo Community Development Trust   
P O BOX 438
MAGALIESBURG
1791
GAUTENG
SOUTH AFRICA