“My husband, Paul, and I have just returned from visiting Ya Bana Village. I knew Becky Young when she made her first visit to South Africa and returned talking endlessly about a little girl with whom she had fallen in love. Through the years, Paul and I have been part of the evolving story of Ya Bana, and I can honestly say that it is more wonderful and more beautiful than anything I could have imagined.
As we turned onto the road where the Village is located, we really didn't know what to expect. Potholes almost swallowed our car, and many times we came to a virtual stop as we navigated the holes, going from one side of the road to the other to make the ride as smooth as possible, dodging oncoming cars that were doing the same thing. But as we drew closer to the Village, our driver, Papa George (who is the 'father' of the Village), turned to us and said, "Welcome home! Welcome home!" Just inside the gate were all the children and the house mothers singing a "Welcome Home" song, truly a moment I will always cherish. As they continued to sing, we gave fist bumps, handshakes, and finally hugs to both the children and the workers. Their joy and excitement at our arrival was genuine...and humbling beyond description.
The village is laid out with an administration building (which contains a community hall and kitchen), nine houses for the children, a youth center, rondavel (guest house, where we stayed), a large Early Learning Center (with 166 students!), a small community store, and more - including three large and immaculate gardens, a soccer field and pig pen. The grounds are absolutely beautiful (well, maybe not the pigpen). The houses are different colors - red, blue, green, orange, etc.
Somehow, we spent more time in the orange house where the youngest children live. Seven children live in this house, ages 1-7, with only ONE house mother. All of them attend the preschool, except the one-year-old. We played with them and read to them. Like my own grandchildren, they loved my watch and my phone. We watched the older children do homework at night, some in the houses and some outside with flashlights (it is late Fall there now, and completely dark by 6:15). On Saturday afternoon we enjoyed a Brai (BBQ) under one of the trees, experiencing pap (pronounced 'pop') and gravy, which is similar to our grits.
One of the many highlights was a visit to the Early Learning Center, where both children from Ya Bana, as well as the community, attend. As a retired Wake County teacher, I could not have been more impressed, as the rooms were bright, cheery and well stocked with supplies. The expectations are high, and the children respond well to that. When we went into a classroom where some of the Ya Bana children attended, they wanted to show us what they were doing. They showed me where they sit, and their name on the table (just like children everywhere). They are so proud of their work, what they are learning, and appreciative of everything they have.
My husband, who is a music minister, had a chance to work with their youth choir. He has always loved African music -- the sounds, the rhythms, the pure joy and excitement of the music, and this was no different. He loved their enthusiasm, joy of singing, and their ability to respond to his suggestions as they were preparing for a concert at a church in Praetoria.
As we were leaving for the airport, George pulled the car up to the rondavel to pick us up, and one of the boys simply began washing the car. The children at Ya Bana knew a very different life before coming there, and they are very proud and thankful for the things they have. As we left, George showed us another world right outside the gate. He believes this is also a mission field for the Village and an opportunity to reach them for Christ. He believes he must show God in everything he does, and that is evident in his leadership at Ya Bana. We were truly blessed, humbled and amazed by everything we saw at Ya Bana Village.”