Del Cramer Child Development Center
Setting the Stage
After serving on many short-term medical mission outreaches around the world, Dr. Jim and Beth Blessman began their full-time mission careers in 2001. Having served in over 70 countries, both felt the need to put down roots and sensed God calling them to South Africa.
During their early years doing short-term medical mission work, they noticed a large problem with food insecurity in many of the children they were seeing in their medical clinics. Somewhere around 2007 they were doing optical outreaches in a rural South Africa public school and found many stunted children…their physical growth and intellectual ability often diminished and delayed from extended undernourishment.
The Campus is Born
Michael Simonson joined the Blessmans on an optical mission outreach team. Michael enjoyed visiting with many of the children’s teachers, and the stories they told him broke his heart. Teachers told him most of the children came to school having had only tea for breakfast and many would report going to bed hungry at night. During the school day, they were too lethargic to pay attention to their lessons. When Michael got back to Iowa, he called Dr. Blessman into his architectural office and explained that he could not get rid of the image in his mind of these starving children. Doc recalls, “He told us he was depositing $120,000 into his charity account at the Des Moines Community Foundation and that Blessman International would be given the funds once we found matching funds for his gift to be used to feed 300 children for 2 years.” With the resulting $250,000, Blessman International started their first feeding program. In 2009, the local tribal chief heard Dr. Blessman’s vision for helping the children and gave Blessman International 10 acres of land in Segkagkapeng. The Center had a home.
“The Del Cramer Child Development Center was named in honor of my father, Del Cramer,” explains Beth, “My father grew up in a large family without a lot of money, but he learned the value of hard work and generosity through the family’s bridge construction company and farming. He and four of his brothers started the company which turned out to be very successful. Besides my father’s interest in business, he was also interested in farming. He was always very involved in our home church, and we had many pastors and missionaries visit our home over the years.”
After Beth’s mother died in 1995, she and Doc started a free medical clinic in her honor that is still up and running today. Beth continues, “We wanted to do something special in honor of my father also, and that opportunity came up when Chief Kekana offered our ministry 10 acres of tribal land to build the campus. Within a week, money that we had inherited upon my father’s death unexpectedly became available, and we knew we wanted to use it to create a lasting legacy.”
A Helping Hand from Iowa
Vermeer Company in Pella, Iowa sent 5 employees and a brick making machine to South Africa to manufacture bricks from the native clay earth. The year-long construction project included a commercial kitchen, educational hall, toilets, and a playground.
Identifying Those in Need
The first children served were selected by meeting with local social workers and school principals from the 3 neighborhood elementary schools. Each school provided the names of the 25 most impoverished children in their school. A social worker helped select 25 children to be part of the first class and attend the center for a hot meal and educational opportunities. Over the years this number has gradually grown to presently 165 children attending the center each day after school. The center is a place of safety for the children, where they receive a hot meal and educational programming.
Partners in Feeding
Convoy of Hope and Meals from the Heartland collaborate with Blessman International to ship and distribute 11 large containers of nutritious rice packets annually. With 287,000 meals in each container, that’s 3.2 million meals per year! Blessman purchased a 150-acre farm to teach local school children how to farm and to provide additional food for the children. Since 2017 NB Safaris, a large safari hunting farm with a program called Hunt Against Hunger, has provided meat for Blessman International and the Del Cramer Center … 37,000 pounds of game meat as added nutrition for thousands of children in 2019 alone!
Expansion of Programs at Del Cramer Children’s Campus
- Lighthouse Church (2012)
- Del Cramer Bakery (2015) to provide children with freshly baked bread.
- Poultry Project (2015) to provide eggs and chicken meat for the children
- 14 desktop computer lab (2015) with internet access
- 2nd Lethabo Sewing Center location (2018)
- Sports 4 Christ (2020) boys play soccer, and girls play netball
- Celebrate Recovery (2020) meetings for 80 local high school students
Beth Blessman’s Summary
“The Del Cramer Children’s Campus impacts many children and families with it’s after school program, church, and sports programming. It also serves as a food distribution point for many other feeding program partners and provides space for community workshops and meetings. We are thankful to have the prayers and support of so many!”