It’s hard to visit Bulembu and not walk away carrying a piece of it with you when you return home. The children, the people, the sights and sounds, the beauty of the community, and the joy that each person carries in the hope that comes with every new morning is ripe for the picking and available for you to tuck into the suitcase of your heart and mind forever. Most people who visit return home with a newfound zeal for making a difference wherever they are. But some just can’t shake what they left behind in Bulembu. Their physical work may have ended but they’re just not quite ready to give up volunteering on behalf of Bulembu. Such was the case for Gisela Miessner.
Vernon Puttkammer introduced Miessner, who hails from Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, to Bulembu while vacationing in South Africa. Puttkammer is the Director Of Child Care while his wife, Leigh, works as the Child Care Administrator. Since that time, Miessner has become close friends with the couple and their two children and has made several trips to Bulembu. With each return trip, Miessner, 66, has brought goodies and schools supplies for the orphaned children and has taken several of them on safari so that they can enjoy their home country and wild life in their natural habitat. But it wasn’t enough to take the children on trips and bring them candy. They needed so much more. That’s when she decided to form “Kinderlächeln Bulembu” or “Children Smile Bulembu.”
The purpose of the association, which is based in Germany, is to give the orphans in Bulembu a safe home, to allow these children an education, to provide for their medical care and to give them safe sport and play facilities. Much of her fundraising will consist of monetary contributions and 100% of the funds will go back to Bulembu. But she’s not stopping there. As the club president, Miessner is determined to collect donations for clothing for children of all ages, including newborns, toiletries, school supplies, toys and blankets. “The simplest of things are lacking,” she explains. “They need everything you can imagine. We don’t take anything from the orphans. We are just volunteers. Every cent goes back to them.”
Miessner wants her German friends and countrymen to become engaged and see Bulembu for the potential it has. She wants people to take off the blinders to the reality of what awaits these orphaned children if they don’t receive the help and care they desperately need. Miessner now has a Facebook page and has an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, to make it easy for people to make donations. And in March 2012, she’ll return to Bulembu with some of the fruits of her labor. But it’s only the beginning of what she hopes will be a lifetime of Children Smiling in Bulembu.