FamilyFarms Charities Volunteers Tackle Ag Project in South Africa


Thirteen representatives of FamilyFarms Charities recently returned from Hammanskraal, South Africa, where they put feet to their desire to help others. Last year, representatives of the group had visited Bethesda Outreach Ministry, an orphanage/school serving AIDS-affected children (www.bethesdaoutreach.org ) , delivering needed school and medical supplies. Hearing their report of needs at Bethesda, FamilyFarms Charities committed to providing funds and hands-on help to the orphanage’s fledgling agriculture project. This year’s team of 13 volunteers, including FamilyFarms Team members, staff, and their family members devoted the majority of their time to building a frame and installing netting over the garden area to provide shade and keep out birds.

Orphanage director John Mixon described the FamilyFarms Charities team and their work at Bethesda: “Their passion is farming and helping others learn to farm well AND they emphasize farming as families. They came to Bethesda to help us with our start-up garden….The garden project focuses on several goals – one is to help teach gardening to our children in the school so that they have practical skills. Another is to help provide nutritious vegetables for our families… We hope their time with us was as much a blessing to them as they were to us!”

Team members ranged in age from 10 to “near retirement,” and there were jobs all could do to help out. Stan and Karmen Mehmen, Jim and Cathy Sladek, Erin Bryant, Jake Mossbarger, Michelle Mellendorf, Tracy Heuerman, Vicki Ivester, Kevin and Jennifer Rufo with their sons Joseph and Matthew flew from their homes to Atlanta for the 15+-hour non-stop flight into Johannesburg. Along with the orphanage’s garden project, the group enjoyed preparing lunches for 60 needy children in the Stinkwater area and then spending time with the kids playing games and sharing testimonies before lunch was served. The FamilyFarms Charities group was able to meet a need for the Stinkwater residents by providing seed to plant in the neighborhood garden which had been recently destroyed by vandals.

Other activities enjoyed by the group included a shopping trip to the market, a game drive in the Pilianesberg National Forest/Game Reserve, a visit to a local cemetery, church services on Sunday, picking up trash on the orphanage/school compound and outside the fence along the busy road, and a visit to Buhle Farmers Academy. Playing with the kids at the orphanage and enjoying meals with the families gave the team members a better understanding of the importance of family in the lives of these children.  Team members also had an opportunity to visit classes at the school on the orphanage compound which provides a quality education for resident children and others from the community.

FamilyFarms Charities Board Chairperson Karmen Mehmen was thrilled to see her dream come true: returning to South Africa with a team to provide help and training in agriculture and to meet needs of some of the many orphaned children in Stinkwater. “We are so blessed; how could we know about the needs here and not do something to help? Our help will be not just a one-time effort. Instead, we are committed to investing long-term into Bethesda and nearby communities. We want to make a difference for families and communities. Helping farmers improve their skills is an excellent way to accomplish that. Bethesda has a proven track record of changing children’s lives, a strong commitment to helping their “families” become more self-sufficient through their garden project, and a strong desire to help those working outside the orphanage in their ministry to feed children.”

With a five-year commitment to help and support the agricultural project at Bethesda and with a goal to provide help and training to nearby communities for their farming efforts, FamilyFarms Charities foresees future visits to Bethesda. The next project will likely be construction of a greenhouse.