Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

May 18, 2012

Sisters amazed at South Africa

Debbie Blank
The Herald-Tribune

-- — After 30 hours of travel time each way, Batesville sisters Cathy Bauer and Claire Nichols experienced Cape Town, South Africa, for just over a week recently.

“The reason for the trip was to host a conference for pediatric surgeons and nurses,” explains Bauer, a 29-year registered nurse who works at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“Our founding director, Dr. Alberto Pena, invented the surgery we do. Our director, Dr.  Marc Levitt, is passionate about teaching other pediatric surgeons about the technique.”

“I held a conference with nurses from South Africa and taught our pre- and post-op care and the medical management of our patients.” Levitt and a urologist instructed  pediatric surgeons from Africa and Europe.

Nichols points out, “Children's Hospital and Cathy are making such an amazing difference for children all over the world.”

During a mission trip to Ethiopia several years ago, it was all work for the 1980 Batesville High School graduate – 24 surgeries.  “This time I wanted to see the country and experience the people and culture outside of the hospital.” 

She wanted a companion. “I invited my sister, who had just helped me remodel my house and let me stay at her house during that time.”

According to Nichols, “I honestly had to take a day to think about going because you hear of such terrible violence in Africa.  But I quickly accepted her offer. I became the planner for our visit, while my sister spent her free time working on her schoolwork (Bauer is in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing cohort program at College of Mount St. Joseph) and planning her presentations for the conference.” 

The daughters of Ray and Mary Lou Werner, Batesville, report the most impactful part of their journey was visiting one of the townships, “which were formed when the apartheid forced hundred of thousands of people into shantytowns,” Nichols notes.

Her sister explains, “There was minimal employment for the people and minimal resources.  There are currently 3 million living in townships ... What was most amazing was that the 30 percent who do have jobs take care of the other 70 percent who don’t. 

“During our visit no one begged.  All the kids wanted was to have their picture taken and see their picture on our digital cameras.”

“I assumed they were sad, scary and dangerous areas,” says Nichols, who has a husband, Chris, and two daughters (Hannah, an Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis Herron School of Art sophomore, and Morgan, a BHS senior). But during a half-day trip to see  Langer Township,  “we brought our leftover toiletries and snacks, hoping we could help a few of the families.  It ended up being the most positive experience.  The people had hardly anything, but they were so welcoming to us.  There was a clear sense of community and cleanliness for what they did have.”

Another highlight was exploring the Aquilla Private Game Reserve with 10 other tourists after traveling for two hours.   Nichols reports, “The reserve has over 18,000 acres and had the ‘Big Five’ – elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino – along with hippopotamuses, zebras, giraffes, ostriches and springboks.  

“We were in an open air truck and felt safe being so close to the animals.  There was one time when the three female lions started to approach our truck with their ears raised, and some crazy lady a few seats in front of us was sticking her hand out, calling, ‘kitty-kitty-kitty,’ that made me a little anxious to keep moving.”

According to Bauer, the mother of two (Kyle, a Purdue University junior, and Holly, a Ball State University freshman), “my other favorite experience was the Freshly Ground concert in Kirstenbosch Garden.  We sat on the lawn with a bottle of wine and cheese, and enjoyed a great concert by the well-known African band.  There were people of all ages and races.  By the end of the show, thousands of people were standing up dancing.”

The sisters took another day trip to see the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. 

Bauer was the daredevil foodie, trying ostrich, a lamb burger  and locally brewed beer. Nichols, a 1985 BHS grad, played it safer.   “I enjoyed tasting the wonderful wines, cheeses and olive oils.” 

Nichols knows the trip will stick with her. “We experienced just a tiny corner of Africa, but what surprised me was how welcoming and accommodating everyone was to us.  Since apartheid has ended, the country is still overcoming the extreme racial and religious segregation and extreme wealth disparity that separates the city’s citizens.” 

The Batesville Casket Co. finance, lean and sales employee who graduated from Indiana University in 1989  is hopeful there will be more journeys ahead. “My sister is trying to get their next mission trip to Greece, and if that happens, I have reminded her how helpful I was in planning our tours. 

“We did have a great trip, and I do hope there will be more opportunities to travel again with my sister.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at 812-934-4343, Ext. 113; or debbie.blank@