Originally Published: October 26, 2003 10 a.m.
Courtesy photo/Prescott College students Ann Radeloff of Prescott College sits between a pair of orphans as they paint pictures at Topsy's Rufford House in South Africa in early September.
Shortly after that eye-opening discussion, Andrea Flanagan, Connie Hockaday, Ann Radeloff, Lynsey Markey and Kaitlin Noss formed an independent study class at Prescott College. They agreed that they would travel to South Africa and offer their support, through their art background, to a group of orphaned children who live in a Topsy camp within Mpumalanga.
"We all decided that this is what we wanted to do," said Hockaday, a junior who majors in social change, of the independent study class. "We wanted to create a sustainable art program there and raise money to bring materials to Topsy."
On Aug. 11, Flanagan, Hockaday, Radeloff, Markey and Noss boarded a plane and braced for a 48-hour flight to South Africa. They flew from Phoenix to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Johannesburg, South Africa, with only a five- or six-hour layover.
Upon deplaning, the women went through an extensive adjustment period, since South Africa is nine hours ahead of Arizona time, and embarked upon a life-altering experience that lasted about a month and a half.
"I'm still recuperating," said Hockaday, who returned to Arizona with her group Sept. 24. "I was stimulated every second I was there. It was impossible to write things down as they were happening. My body was processing everything in fast-forward while I was there. Every second counted."
When they first arrived at the Topsy campus' child sanctuary, called the Rufford House, the women noted its vegetable program. Topsy, which offers food parcels and medical help to three different townships, ensures that the children are well nourished and have medication available to them on a daily basis.
The campus, on an old mining compound, has teachers who teach glass-, pottery-, brick-, and candle-making, as well as business and computer skills, to about 35 to 40 children.
The young boys and girls, who range in age from 7 months to 16 or 17 years old, live in refurbished flats where miners' wives once lived. They will soon be moving into a newly constructed compound adjacent to the camp that will house 2,000 orphans. At that point, Topsy will assign one caregiver to every six orphans.
"I look at each child as one that has needs," Flanagan said of herself and her colleagues, "and what I can do to cater to that child."