Children enjoy the new play structure at Itipini.
Jason Schmidt (MCC), John Bergen (hammering), construct the Itipini play structure.
Bergen's grandsons, Marcus and Sam look on.
- Transkei was established in 1959 as a home for the Xhosa people and one of
10 homelands created in South Africa under the system of Apartheid. The homelands
ceased to exist in 1994 and have been incorporated into the rest of South Africa.
- Transkei borders on the Indian Ocean and Lesotho. Today it is home to 7.4
million Xhosa people, most of whom speak English and often several other languages,
the main language being Xhosa.
- Itipini is the site of much activity. A clinic established by British nurse
Jenny McConnachie has been running for almost 10 years, and is a focus of activity
for the community. There are also a pre-school, after-school program and a craft
- Though known as Itipini, the real name for the community is Titipini. According
to Lynell Bergen, the "first person who established a clinic there got the
spelling wrong, and it kind of stuck that way among missionaries."
The community of Itipini is situated on the site of a former garbage dump. Play
structure builders contended with "the very strong odour emanating from the
old garbage, the pigs that were running around freely, the chickens, the lack
of wind, and the heat," a part of everyday life in Itipnini.
May 21, 2002
MC Canada release by Amy Dueckman
Photos by Brian Dyck
Abbotsford, BC.- Thanks to Sunday school collections and pie baking
in Canada, children in South Africa are happily romping on their own play structure
instead of wallowing through manure and garbage.
The seemingly opposite worlds of children half a globe apart were brought together
earlier this year with the construction of play equipment in Itipini, a community
located on the site of a former garbage dump, with help from churches in Saskatchewan
To some, building play equipment in the poorest neighborhood of Transkei might
seem frivolous. But to Brian and Lynell Dyck, Mennonite Church Canada Witness/Africa
Inter-Mennonite Mission workers and their friends and family back in Canada, the
building project undertaken recently in the home of the "poorest of the poor"
was both a way to help the local children, and a way to connect with children
in the churches back home.
The idea for the project began when Lynell Bergen's parents, John and Martha
Bergen of Drake, Sask., were planning to come for a four-week visit. Lynell and
Brian mentioned to their Bible study group that they were wondering how to fill
their parents' time for that long period. One friend looked outside at the play
area that the elder Bergens had built for grandsons Sam and Marcus on their previous
visit, and commented "It would be great if they could build something like
that at Itipini." And so the idea grew from there.
The Itipini garbage dump had become home to many residents who established
dwellings on the site in order to scavenge there. Even after the dump was relocated,
many stayed to find more treasures, or simply because they could not afford to
go elsewhere. This means that the children have had no place to play, except among
the remaining garbage. "Itipini is probably the smelliest, most run-down
place around here, where the poorest of the poor live," says Brian Dyck.
Making the environment even more unhealthy are the pig and chicken manure which
litter the ground.
Meanwhile, John and Martha Bergen began planning their part of the project,
and members of the North Star Mennonite Church in Drake where they attend got
involved as well. North Star children were excited to help out and designated
their December Sunday school collection and half the Christmas Eve program offerings
to go towards the playground project. "The whole situation was something
that the congregation naturally and easily connected with," says pastor Ken
At the same time, the Arnaud Mennonite Church in Manitoba, where Brian Dyck
and Lynell Bergen are members, had also been seeking a way to connect with the
family. The children's Sunday school collections and Thanksgiving offerings went
to help with Itipini projects, and the junior high youth baked pies and then hosted
a soup and pie luncheon as a fundraiser. "The enthusiasm the kids had for
this was just amazing," says Dianne Enns, Arnaud Sunday school superintendent.
"We could really see the Lord working in each of their lives as they did
this project for him."
Adding to the $1,000 from each of the two churches, John and Martha Bergen
had also contributed $500 seed money. They arrived in South Africa in January
eager to begin building, but with some obstacles to be overcome. The ground was
hard and rocky, there was no electricity for power tools, and the weather varied
from rainy to very hot. Getting the right materials was also difficult.
"One of the 'overcomers' we had to contend with was the very strong odour
emanating from the old garbage, the pigs that were running around freely, the
chickens, the lack of wind, and the heat," says John Bergen. But when they
looked at the children, they knew they had to keep going. "They were always
very welcoming with their 'good morning' regardless of the time of day, and their
friendly faces," he says. Eager children who closely watched the progress
of the construction sometimes had to be shooed away.
Also helping with the building project were local men and Jason Schmidt, SALT
(MCC Serve and Learn Together) worker from Kansas.
The design process of the play structure was ongoing. Realizing that numbers
of children would always be a factor and space was very limited, the builders
decided to go up. Six-metre-long poles were put up to form the structure, which
eventually grew to several levels of platforms.
Before the Bergens returned home, the community thanked them with a program
of singing, dancing and speeches. Reflecting on their experience, the Bergens
say, "Itipini will always remain a highlight for us. The children are part
of our frequent prayers."
The children of Itipini are thrilled to have a safe, clean place to play, and
as Brian Dyck notes, children in this part of the world, especially where AIDS
claims many lives, have to grow up very quickly. "Maybe this new play area
can help postpone the heavy responsibilities these children will face all too
soon in their lives. Maybe it will just give them a short respite from the gloom
and grime around them. Regardless, I hope that they sense God loves them, cares
for them, and wants them to be happy."
- 30 -
Lynell Bergen and Brian Dyck work in Transkei through Africa Inter-Mennonite
Mission and Mennonite Church Canada Witness program. They connect with local churches,
teach at Bible conferences, and participate in a women's theology group. Lynell
and Brian are planning to return to North America for three months, beginning
in mid September, 2002, to visit churches and speak about their experience. They
have two sons, Samuel and Marcus. Brian and Lynell can be reached at:
Rep. of South Africa