The Heart of It
“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
In the early part of August 2012, the concept of the heart was repeatedly on my mind. My own heart was expectant, on its way to South Africa with its other half – its better half – my wife, Amy, close beside. The group of 24 Foundation for Hospital Art (FFHA) members came together from various parts of the United States, but united by a sense of adventure and a purpose – to give comfort and hope to people in rural South Africa through artwork.
I didn’t receive many text messages while in South Africa, but the first one I received was from a childhood friend explaining his decision to have heart surgery the following week to address his atrial fibrillation. He is just 40 years old and was troubled by the prospect of leaving his infant son and wife of one year without a father and husband. In the end, he felt the surgery was his best option for sustained quality of life with his family. There were several text responses of well wishes and prayers and so I made my long-distance contribution as well.
I filed away the surgery date in my head, and got back to the business of absorbing (what was for Amy and me) a new culture, a new country, and a new continent. The first day in South Africa, we were still getting to know the members of group (including our host Malan Moolman), and making our way from Johannesburg to our ultimate destination, the Sekororo Valley, and the Karongwe Game Reserve where we would be staying. As we pulled into Karongwe, our heart rates increased. We were greeted by giraffes, impalas, and kudus, and thus, got a hint of the wildlife with whom we would be sharing our week.
The next morning was Sunday, and we were able to attend a spirited local church service prior to conducting the trip’s first Painfest® with the congregation. The event was as magical as it was chaotic. Twenty-four Americans clad in white T-shirts with a giraffe on the front and the FFHA logo on the back (a paintbrush stroke with a heart) attempting to show 200 Africans (mostly children) how to paint canvases with giraffes, birds, frogs, and butterflies drawn on. Soon we were taking pictures with each other; talking about our families, the Olympics, and 9/11; sharing an experience that would not be forgotten by anyone any time soon. The artwork we created together would be donated to various hospitals in South Africa.
Monday marked another Paintfest® with the staff at Karongwe, and also the annual board meeting for the FFHA involving the board members who were present on the trip. In addition to the energetic discussions on the future of the Foundation, we also got to hear Malan Moolman’s ideas and strategic plan for creating a self-sustaining Sekororo Valley. Up until now, we had heard pieces of the story of the region and his family’s role in it, but hearing the entire vision laid out by Malan was inspiring. Despite its natural beauty and welcoming people, the Sekororo Valley is troubled by poverty, and lacks infrastructure and a foundation in education. Malan described a plan involving his training of local pastors; his wife, Elmarie training teachers to teach others; and his teenage son, Francois managing the farm which employs several hundred local workers, not with the goal of making a profit, but to provide jobs and business experience. It will not be a quick process, but the transformation of the Sekororo Valley is underway.
The rest of the week’s activities were equally moving: painting a school, seeing fascinating creatures on numerous game drives, seeing the vistas of Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window, and touring Johannesburg and Soweto. We also had held another large Paintfest® at the Sekororo Hospital with staff members and some patients. Amy and I were in a small group that got to paint with some patients in the pediatric ward. We couldn’t help but notice the hospital conditions being below the standards we are used to in the United States, but the experience really reminded us of the importance of what the Foundation for Hospital Art is trying to achieve: making hospitals throughout the world beautiful places for healing – a worthy aim regardless of the facility conditions.
At our last dinner together in Karongwe, each member of the group went around and expressed a reason they were thankful in relation to our South African adventure. As one member of the group remarked, she was thankful to come together with a group that “shared the same heart” – an apt description for the Foundation for Hospital Art. Coming back home, we were excited to see our children and grateful to hear my friend’s surgery had gone well (time will tell how successful it was). Our own hearts were strengthened as well, in recognition that we have so much to be grateful for, a lot more to contribute to our world, and that no matter our situation in life, there are dreams still worth pursuing.
“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist