For the first time in both of their lives, friends Cathy
Onion and Sarah Patterson will be boarding a 23-hour flight to Johannesburg,
South Africa, with one goal in mind: to bring a smile to the faces of those who
are less fortunate.
OFF TO AFRICA.
Cathy Onion and Sarah Patterson will be boarding a 23-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, with one goal in mind: to bring a smile to the faces of those who are less fortunate.
Smiths Falls This Week
The registered practical nurses, both who work at the Great
War Memorial site of the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital, will be
embarking on a three-week mission on May 11 to the village of Kwa Zenzele,
where they will take part in two different projects: the St. Martin de Porres
Development Project, and Ebenezer.
The St. Martin project is a community-based organization
working in Kwa Thema Township
since 2002 and Kwa Zenzele informal settlement since 2006. The main focus of
the project is on orphaned and vulnerable children, most who have lost their
parents to AIDS-related illnesses, aged four to 17 and their caregivers.
Ebenezer is operated by Pastor Elias Nyembezi and his wife
Pricilla and aims to feed 62 children aged two to five.
Both projects are part of the Afri-Can AIDS Foundation, a
non-profit organization which was started in 2006.
Afri-Can is based out of Brockville,
and has assisted people in Sudan,
Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa by sending funds to
provide bikes and backpacks to local community health workers, assisting with
basis such as food and housing, and with school fees.
At present, the foundation’s focus is on St. Martin’s,
located near Johannesburg, and Ebenezer, which
is near Durban,
which is where Onion and Patterson will come in: they, along with eight others,
will be working on both projects for a little over three weeks.
Patterson’s sister, Meaghan, 19, is also embarking on the
Onion and Patterson are excited and slightly nervous, and
both have a variety of goals in sight.
“I can’t imagine how the kids live,” says Onion, who lives
in Smiths Falls. “It sounds corny, but … if I can
make one kid smile a day, that’s my goal.”
Patterson wants to provide as much help as she can to
“The community is in so much despair,” she says. “We have no
insight until we step foot on the ground and see what is needed most. We’re
going to see what we’re faced with and go from there.”
A quick decision
Onion says she has known Patterson’s parents for years, and
Patterson worked under Onion as a student in the nursing program at St.
It was Onion who learned about the project.
“I just wanted to go,” she says. “I couldn’t think of anyone
else to take. I love (Patterson) like my own.”
Within seconds of Onion telling Patterson about the trip,
Patterson had made up her mind.
“I said ‘Yep, I’m going,’” she says.
That was in October.
Since then, Patterson says time has flown, and the duo is
now counting down the days until they board the plane.
Plans and adventures
Patterson and Onion’s arrival day is marked with a formal
dinner planned with the mayor of Johannesburg.
Then, on the following day, the group will be bussed out to their areas of
placement which, as of last week, hadn’t been fully hashed out.
The duo does know they will be teaching in the community,
building huts, working in orphanages and at the local hospital.
“The opportunities are endless (in terms of what we’ll be)
seeing and doing,” says Patterson. “We’re going to see and help a poor
community filled with despair and devastation.”
Onion says she’s looking forward to working with children in
“Their spirit is amazing,” says Onion.
The group will be billeted with families in the village. In
light of all of the creepy crawlies, Patterson is preparing by crafting two
sleeping bags which will cover their full bodies, but will have netting around
their faces to allow for breathing.
Onion and Patterson think the trip will be an eye-opening
“I’m most excited about getting there and to meet the
children and see the challenges we have to face,” says Patterson.
The pair also reflects on the various cultural and nature
challenges they will experience, such as 120 varieties of snakes in South Africa
and the fact that women in the village never wear skirts and don’t look anyone
in the eye who is older than them.
Shrugging off all inset fears and adding they’ve been
researching the area thoroughly, they chalk everything up to an amazing
“I’m so excited, I’m losing sleep over it,” says Patterson.
And when all is said and done, Patterson wants to make a
video documentary of the experience and
share it with all of those who helped make it happen.
“Everyone has been so supportive,” she says.
Patterson will also be celebrating another special event
during the trip: her 24th birthday.
“It’ll be a birthday to remember, I’m sure,” she says. “I
And on the way home, Patterson and Onion have decided to add
another special event to their already-packed itinerary: a 10-hour stopover in Paris where they will visit the Eiffel Tower.
“It will be a good reflection period and a farewell to the
trip,” says Onion.
But their focus will always be on the bulk of their trip.
“We’ll come back with so much appreciation,” says Patterson.
“We’ll be helping them and helping ourselves.”
“I get so tired of looking at my gas and hydro bills and my
list of groceries,” she says. “Maybe my gas, hydro and grocery bills won’t
upset me as much because at least I have gas, water and food. I’m sure the
things that bother us won’t bother us anymore … We’re definitely going to be
The cost of the trip is $3,500 per person, and so far,
Patterson and Onion have raised $3,000 through a variety of small fundraisers,
such as cake raffles.
“Everyone is pulling through to get us there,” says Onion.
“Everything matters …Everyone has been so supportive.”
Patterson, for example, baked a carrot cake and sold raffle
tickets at work for $1.
In total, that cake alone raised almost $220.
Physiotherapist Mona Boles also donated half of her $216
50/50 winnings from the Perth Auxiliary, which Patterson says is amazing.
Both express gratitude towards friends and family who are
making this trip possible, but note special thanks for their co-worker’s
“We have to thank the people at the hospital,” says Onion.
Here’s a list of upcoming fundraising events:
- A yard
sale at the Perth Civitan on Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. If you have an
item to drop off, please do so before March 26.
- A car
wash, starting at 10 a.m. on April 24 at the Perth fire hall.
barbecue, running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 17 at Barnabe’s Your
Independent in Perth.
night at O’Reilly’s Pub and Restaurant in Perth (43 Gore St. E) with live
entertainment, starting at 7 p.m. on April 17. Donation at the door.
For more information about the duo’s adventure, check out
their Facebook page, which is called “Cathy and Sarah embark in Life Changing
Experience, South Africa.”