In loving memory: Our visit to South Africa

Thabo, Believe and Tholiwe. Photo from 2012 Link 4 Life project. 

In July this year, Melissa, Emily and I are heading for a remote area of South Africa, called Bush Buck Ridge. While there, we will meet children orphaned by HIV and Aids and help care workers who look after them day to day.

The reason behind our visit is uncomplicated -- to meet the children, be at their side and help tell their stories.

This is designed to be a lasting connection. There's no big charity fanfare, no massive building project, no international marketing effort, just the prospect of helping. You can imagine how much that appeals.

Each day, we will be guided by a team of care workers to let us know what needs doing and we will get on with it.

Experience of previous visits has shown that this is likely to be helping feed the children or washing clothes, plus a load of other straightforward tasks to lighten their day.

Me, Melissa and Emily have also been set the task of listening to a child's story and helping share it. It's as simple as that. And as someone whose life has been largely taken up by telling stories, it's a role I relish.

I'm doing this in Neil's memory. I hope that one day, maybe not this year, but one day, there will be an element of our involvement, that I can put his name to as a lasting reminder for all to see of his decency and compassion. It's such a cliche, but I know he would like that.

We're members of a 12-strong group travelling to meet and help the children, under a project called Link 4 Life, helping charities called Hands at WorkMercy Air and the Baby Bear Project.

Our stay comes days apart from a visit from my children's school, where older pupils, plus teachers, will also contribute.

Fellow team members have been so very kind to us, assuring us that our presence is special and that we will bring with us an empathy for children who have lost a parent. That makes me feel useful.
There's also an opportunity to visit a hospital in one of the country's poorest areas, where babies are now sent home clothed, rather than in newspaper, thanks to a group of knitters, some of whom are just streets from where we live. This is the Baby Bear project.

I find it amazing that such an unassuming, modest group of people should make such a difference and honoured to be allowed to walk alongside them. It's hard for me to imagine that mothers have so little that their newborns are sent away from hospital wrapped in newspaper but amazing to consider women in my village are easing this burden.

There's a yearly commitment for contact and support with the people in this part of South Africa from the Staffordshire villages of Great Wyrley and Cheslyn Hay. Some people come from our local churches, where we have been sporadic visitors over the years, some from business and some from schools. The aim is to forge longstanding links that will build to bring fruitful relationships.

Already young people from Cheslyn Hay and Great Wyrley are spending longer periods in the community to complete much-needed practical tasks.

Neil and me first heard of Link 4 Life in 2009. We were both interested in taking part, as we worked together from our offices on voluntary publicity material for local media about the project, led by local vicar Richard Westwood.

We looked forward to a day when our girls may be able to join a school group and chatted about how realistic a possibility either or both of us getting involved could be.

Richard was always hugely grateful for our help with fundraising and publicity and I don't think there was ever a time we spoke that he didn't tell me that. As non church-goers our paths didn't cross that often but we kept in touch to follow the progress of Link 4 Life.

And then, in the blur of all that has happened, Richard became a remarkable source of support -- for Neil, me and our wider family.

He married us in January and just months later, led Neil's funeral.

He spent time with us in our most desperate hours in a hospital room.

I can't remember when exactly the idea was mooted that the three of us should join Link 4 Life this year, but it was Melissa's idea and we have stuck at it.

So this has become our "thing", a focus for us to work towards. In our grief and shock, our commitment hasn't lessened. I'm not as far forward as I would have liked to have been with officialdom to do with the visit but I'm catching up now the best I can.

How you can help

I would like to ask for your help if I may, and this is connected with fundraising towards our trip. My daughters have plans of their own with the help of classmates and teachers.

I have £637 from the wonderful journalists' community at JournoBiz and we even went and packed bags at Asda. (I never thought I'd see the day.) We lasted at least an hour.

But now I need to step up my fundraising efforts. I'm going to self publish a book of short stories if enough people are interested, to help, and hope to tap into my lovely works colleagues' expertise for more ideas on generating some cash. The stories are a bit rude (as in earthy humour) and have been received well.

In the meantime, I have set up a donate button on this blog. I know that times are very, very tough for people, but if you would like to help me do this in Neil's memory, I would really appreciate any amount, however small, you can send my way.

You just need to click on the donate button and you will be taken through how to make a secure payment.

The button is here and also in the top right of the blog:

If you'd like to help but would prefer to send me a cheque, please email me linaitchison@gmail[dot]com and I will reply with my postal address.

Please also email me if you are interested in knowing more about the form my book of short stories will take.

This will be put towards airfare for the three of us. Should there be enough funds raised, more money will go towards local feeding programmes.

Thank you for reading.


  1. I think this is such a worthwhile thing you are doing, Linda. I like the idea that it is a small scale initiative, building a long term relationship with the communities in South Africa.
    Looking forward to hearing about the children's stories and will definitely be interested in your book of short stories, if the hilarious ones I've read from you already are anything to go by!

  2. Thank you Trish, that's so kind of you to say, and thank you also for your wonderful donation, your support has been so lovely. I'd better get writing, the book could be a while!

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