Woman on a mission
PUBLISHED: 09:51 24 March 2015 | UPDATED: 09:51 24 March 2015
Volunteering overseas can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be dangerous, lonely and heartbreaking. For Hannah Earrey, from Ipswich, the difference she makes far outweighs the negatives. She talks to Tara Greaves
She was just a few hours old when she was placed in Hannah Earrey’s arms.
Baby Angela Grace, as Hannah named her, was one of the lucky ones – her birth mother had arranged a place for her at the South African orphanage, many others are not as fortunate.
“Angela arrived on my first day. Her mother had arranged it beforehand because she had been raped and was unable to keep her,” said Hannah, 31, who trained as a nursery nurse at Suffolk College.
“They asked who wanted to perform the checks, give her vitamin drops, bathe her and get her into clothes, and I didn’t want to come across as pushy when I had just arrived, but when no one volunteered right away I said I would like to do it. The manager said, because I had first contact, I could name her.”
For the next eight months Hannah, from Ipswich, became the closest thing Angela had to a mother during her shifts at the Door Of Hope Children’s Mission, which runs three orphanages in Johannesburg.
One, in a deprived area called Hill Brow situated behind high walls and an electric fence, has a ‘hole in the wall’ where unwanted babies can be placed anonymously 24 hours a day.
According to the charity, three babies are abandoned in the greater Johannesburg area every day, and before Door Of Hope they were often discarded in rubbish bins, or deserted in parks or back streets.
“It has saved hundreds of lives,” Hannah said. “There is always a spare cot in case a baby comes through the hole.”
Hannah has just returned from her third trip to South Africa, where she spent six weeks, including the festive season. While she has always helped in her community at home, her first experience of volunteering overseas was taking Christmas shoe boxes to children in Kosovo when she was 21 with the charity Smile International.
The idea of volunteering further afield came while at a church meeting in 2006.
“They were talking about people being called to help and mentioned helping your neighbours or someone in your community and then maybe further afield, like Africa, and it just rang a bell with me. I said to the person next to me, ‘That’s what I want to do’,” she said.
“The next day I had a brochure come from Smile International saying they were looking for people to volunteer at Door of Hope in South Africa.”
She handed in her notice as a private nanny and just a few weeks later was on a plane to Johannesburg, a city with a very high crime rate, including violent crimes such as rape and murder, despite also being a tourist destination.
“The first time I did have the niggling, ‘this is scary – should I be going?’ feeling. And then when I was there I heard from other people what can and does happen, but I think I feel like I’m being called to go there.
“That doesn’t mean I take risks, or think I can go anywhere I want and be safe. I’m very careful and very aware, and listen to the people at the orphanage about where not to go and what not to do,” said Hannah, who has support from family and friends and held various fundraising events to pay for her flight and a donation to the charity.
Although she admits it can be tough being away from home, she says it’s worth it for the difference she can make to young lives.
When her time was almost up on her first trip and baby Angela still hadn’t found a family, she was considering extending her stay, but two weeks before she was due to leave she got the news that Angela had been placed.
“There is nothing wrong with the orphanage, it’s not like the ones you sometimes see on TV where they are left to cry, and it’s dirty and there are flies – it’s lovely. So it wasn’t about leaving her in a horrible place, but I just wanted to see her get her new mum and dad,” she said.
“You love them all the same and care for them all the same. If Angela was crying and another baby was crying I wouldn’t automatically go for her first – I would assess who had the greatest need. But every volunteer gets attached to one baby.”
Thankfully Hannah was able to meet Angela’s new family and know she was in safe hands before returning home . . . already dreaming of her next trip.
If you would like more information or to help Door Of Hope Children’s Mission visit www.doorofhope.co.za