Friday, June 5, 2009

Final Day in Cape Town

Thursday night was our farewell banquet at the St. George Hotel. Rev. Rose, Prof. McDuff, Cameron Poole (on behalf of the students), and Elroy Paulus of Black Sash (on behalf of the internship supervisors) all shared our thanks for the opportunity to learn and work together over the last three weeks. Then Friday was a time for last trips - to the bookstores, the market, the deli/bakery, and Nando's, and to say our farewells to Cape Town, the Mother City. Now on to the next stage in our journey - to carry the spirit of ubuntu back to our work in Kirksville and beyond.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

STUDENT REFLECTION - Christel House - Erin Erhardt

I was really, really nervous going into my internship on the first day, both because I had very little idea what I would actually be doing and because I had no experience with social work. As the first week went on (the days before we started our internships), I just kept feeling more and more anxious. The day before we started working, we went to tour the internships, and that helped to change my feelings a lot—I still didn’t really know what I’d be doing, but I knew more about Christel House and the short presentation re-piqued my excitement and my readiness to get started.

Once we got started, I felt a lot better, even though we didn’t end up where we thought we would be: there wasn’t room for us (Megan and me) with the social workers, so we basically got stuck in the remedial room with a teacher called Miss Fran helping to teach students (some of whom can barely speak English) how to read and do math. That, however, definitely turned out to be a blessing-- it was a wonderful experience and it definitely showed me how much even a little bit of help (or a 3-week intern) can give. I learned way more than I ever expected.

Even though, since I’m only working in one room, my role in the organization is really quite small, I can definitely see how big of an effect it has and how important my role is within the organization. Without people like us, without remedial room teachers, the students we work with would continue to struggle and fall further behind, and Christel House’s mission, to educate and break the cycle of poverty, could not be achieved—and the children deserve better than that. They deserve the chance to make a better life for themselves. I’ve seen them work and they try so hard just to read a simple word or solve a math problem. For the most part, they want to be there and want to learn, and they deserve that chance. And that is where Christel House fits within the larger pursuit of human rights in South Africa—they are trying to give the children there that chance, the chance to improve their lot in life.

At first, while really enjoying my internship, I was a little jealous I wasn’t doing something like Adam, or Abby, or especially Cameron, who were working with very powerful organizations where they worked directly with important people in the organization (that’s not to say the children at Christel House are not important) and adults who are already making a direct difference to South Africa and even the world. I mean, they made amazing connections and learned so much about the human rights movement. I was working at a school that, while they definitely appreciated the help (Miss Fran really needs people like Megan and I to come help her, and the school seemed understaffed in general), they didn’t necessarily really seem to care so much that we were there, for the most part. However, after a few days, I realized that I was helping and making a difference. While not making the same connections as some of the other students in my group, I was helping children who could grow up to be the next generation of human rights activists, children who adored us and appreciated our help. And that, in itself, counts for quite a bit.

STUDENT REFLECTION - Cape Argus - Colette Linton

I don't know how to explain how I excited I was when I found out the site of my internship. The Cape Argus Independant newspaper enjoys the largest circulation of newspapers within the city of Cape Town and I was very proud to work there. Each day of work I would start off and head downtown early in the morning with Cameron and Adam. Everyday began with a busy morning where, in the office, the head editor and the rest of the staff reporters proposing topics and recieving assignments. From there journalists rushed off to begin interviews and travel through and across the city to get information for their stories. By the end of the second week I was able to find my own story to investigate. The new plans for the renovation of Greenmarket Sq were announced and the traders that occupied that area were in a hustle and bustle in their attempts to figure out what was to be done with them and their businesses while the construction is, as of now, taking place. The article was in the paper the very next day. During our stay in Cape Town, I was pleased to meet so many interesting people, but most of all I am very appreciative of the support I recieved from the other students on the trip with me. They were the people with whom I was able to explore Cape Towm and were the first audience I had when I returned to the guest house, they were always willing to listen and made this trip most enjoyable.

STUDENT REFLECTION - Township Tour - Artesia Willis

The moment that caught my attention and had the most impact on my stay in South Africa was the township tour experience. This experience was geared toward an exploration of the segregated society of South Africans in Cape Town. I not only learned about the racially segregated laws during the time of apartheid, but the fact that the people in the South Africa were once forced to go into certain sections of South Africa (both cities and rural areas) due to the color of their skin and the classifications of either being a white person, a coloured, or an individual who is considered black. This really struck me for the simple fact that I am a light-skinned African-American female who has dealt with the issues growing up related to similar stereotypes involving people who are all African Americans but have different skin complexions. It was told to me in high school and later my freshman year of college that darker-skinned individuals are more likely to become victims of segregation and teasing within the academic circle than individuals who have lighter skin and a nicer grade of hair. I was at that point in denial and could not grasp the idea of racism existing between individuals of a common culture. However, after attending and exploring the townships in South Africa, I became more observant of the behavior of individuals in the community and how strongly segregation has played apart of this culture since and during the apartheid years. It hurt me to see that so many people have been judged by simple test of skin coloration and the “pencil test” a test that separates an individual into a particular category based on rather a pencil either sticks to the scalp of the person’s head or slides through, dictating the level within the hierarchy between acceptance and poverty. It really hurt my feelings to even try to understand why this had become an existing factor, focusing on how African-American or Blacks were seen as people who stuck together as ONE through the textbooks and the educational system within a lot of schools. It hurt me just to find out and try to believe that things that I have learned over time, within my educational surroundings, were indeed incorrect. It wasn’t until that moment, as I stood standing on the top of the overview, that I was able to feel the pain, the struggle, and the sacrifices that these individuals were making on a daily basis. Not only were they fighting for justice, but they were in a fight to protect their identity.

As I sat there, I tried my best to compare and contrast these same issues to how things are in America and I realized that the only difference is that instead of people being judged solely based on their skin color, individuals highlight certain attributes of people and treat them negatively based on their appearance, their goals and ambitions, and through envious behavior. I found myself saying “ at least things are slightly better in the USA,” not realizing that just because it is seen as being better does not make it acceptable or equivalent to being alright.

I now know through this experience that a sense of community is an important attribute that should be implemented into society as a whole, but especially within the African-American community/culture. This experience has highlighted so many negatives within the black community that I felt that in order to change the behavior of people within society, one must first deal with the issues of overcoming common problems like low self-esteem, self- absorbency, and the individualistic take on life (thinking that everything is about “you.”)

It is important to note that we, as American citizens, take a lot of things for granted and live in a world of individualism. It has been imbedded in our culture to believe that it is great to think only of oneself, but if everyone thought about themselves all the time, then when will we reach a point to where we are able to assist those individuals who can not assist themselves? Who can not read, walk, eat, or even live? These are major questions that came to mind when I looked through these townships and I saw the looks on these people faces as they struggle to eat, sleep, and feel comfortable with their living situations and their inner being. The question that I pose now, is what have you done for your community?

STUDENT REFLECTIONS - Independent Electoral Commission - Austin Roberts

It was May 19, and I had just returned from an adventure out on the streets of Cape Town, discovering the perils of the Mini-Bus Taxi system with Artesia and Krista. I was a bit winded after climbing up the steps to the guest house, when Prof. McDuff pulled me aside and informed me that another adventure was about to begin for me. My plans for interning with the Independent Electoral Commission had just changed; Debriefing meetings were taking place all around the western Cape, and I was invited to spend this week of interning out with Granville and the other IEC officials. A few hours later I found myself in Caledon, in the first hotel room I hadn’t had to share with anyone. The IEC was a most gracious host, covering all of my expenses as we journeyed across the cape, to Worcester and then Saldanha. The South African countryside is like nothing I’ve ever seen, an endless horizon of mountains and pastures and winding roads. The meetings were long discussions about what had transpired in the elections a month ago, with a chance for regional supervisors to bring up any major problems that occurred. I got an intimate view of the logistics and operational procedures that the IEC goes through to provide free and fair elections. Also, in Saldanha I saw a sailor who was dressed like a pirate. After three days, I returned back to Bellville to get a tour of where I would be working, and then made the long mini-bus taxi adventure back to Tamboerskloof.
The next two weeks were an adventure of another kind, that of bureaucracy. For the first few days, I analyzed data from an excel spreadsheet that detailed the problem of vote spoilage at a regional level. Overall, vote spoilage wasn’t catastrophic, with about 1% of ballots needing to be thrown out because voters didn’t follow proper voting procedures, but in a few outlier precincts that ratio jumped substantially, with the worst having 21% of ballots being thrown out. I was also supposed to analyze data involving the Section 24A law that allows voters to vote at any voting station, instead of where they’re registered. Unfortunately, this data didn’t arrive. The upside to this is that I got to talk with some of the people at the office, and I’m getting pretty good at FreeCell.
Another part of my experience was the commute. In order to get 12 miles away to the IEC office in Bellville, I would walk 5 blocks to Kloof Street, take a minibus taxi to the hub on top of the train station downtown, and take a Bellville minibus all the way to my office on Voortrekker St. in Bellville. All told, it would usually take me between an hour and a half to two hours to get twelve miles down the road, but it was certainly an experience being in a 12 passenger van with 20 other people, weaving in and out of traffic as the driver cut off every other car and van in Perow, often using curbs or sidewalks as a means to an end. All that and I haven’t gotten mugged or pickpocketed! Neat! I’ve also really enjoyed the other things we’ve done, especially our outings to Robben Island, Cape Point and Kirstenbosch.

Krista at Place of Hope in the Creche

STUDENT REFLECTIONS - Place of Hope - Krista Goodman

As I reached for the handle to the door of the daycare of Place of Hope (a shelter for battered women and children), I heard screams, shouts, and laughter of children coming from the other side. My first glimpse into the room showed a mess of kids scattered about. Some were throwing foam pads at one another, others were banging toy trucks on the ground while others were chasing each other with chairs in their hands. One child was bawling as he ran to across the room to gain attention from the teacher busy preparing their lunch of scrambled eggs and instant mashed potatoes.
What did I get myself into?
I am not very good with little children and I was not looking forward to changing dirty diapers and wiping snotty noses. For the first day I thought I would just observe the teachers and kids, but I was quickly thrown into the role of teacher when both the women working there left to go run errands in the building. I was mortified. The children were running rampant throughout the room, hitting and fighting each other, putting dangerous objects in their mouths, stealing toys from each other and then flipping off others as well as me. I knew these children were victims of abuse and I refused to be forceful with the children, but my soft, quiet ways in dealing with them were not effective. I was so relieved when the teachers came back into the room and regained control.
For several days in the daycare that was all I could see: a bunch of defiant little kids that had no respect for authorities. It wasn't until Steve and Elaine came in to observe and commented about how much the teacher loved the kids that I saw it for myself. I was very critical about how harsh the teachers were on the children. In the U.S., spanking an abused child is taboo, but in South Africa, that is not as frowned upon, but nevertheless, I judged them on that.
Finally I saw the love in it all. The teachers saw behind the mess of fighting, smelly, slobbery kids and saw a child who was deserving of their love. After three weeks of working in the daycare, I am worn out, but my exhaustion is only temporary. Those teachers will continue coming to work every day, putting up with the children's problems, teaching them important life lessons, but most importantly, loving them.
One thing I have learned is that you cannot completely change a person with a one time donation. Change is brought about when you invest in people's lives and show them their worth. This is what the teachers and employees of Place of Hope are doing every single day. With organizations like Place of Hope, South Africa can be transformed into a country that values every human life.

STUDENT REFLECTION - Cape Town Refugee Center - Kathrine Olsen Flaate

South Africa has a lot to offer to its tourists and its people. However the benefits are not equally distributed. Every day various aspects of inequality come to the surface, either by seeing the townships or going to spend the night at a nice house. Or buying something at a store, only to later to find that the same product is sold at a market for a different price. These examples are only a few shallow ones. When one walks in the streets of Cape Town one is exposed to two completely different worlds; extreme urban poverty to Gucci bag carriers. While observing peoples' interactions it almost seems as white and black still live in separate worlds, despite the end of apartheid. I one day had a conversation with a white female. To my surprise she told me about her envy of people living the townships. While conversing with her she reasoned it by saying that inside the shacks are beautiful furniture and no rent to pay nor taxes.Through my internship at the Cape Town Refugee Center, I have become exposed to another world as well; the world of refugees, all those who comes to South Africa to seek asylum. It is hard to learn that xenophobia is one of the major parts of a refugee's everyday life. Even if it is a reality that is not fun to recognize, it has to be done. One of the most interesting things I have learned despite all the inequality is that South Africans never give up; they have hope for the future. When talking with a black friend about racial attitudes she mentioned that there are still struggles today, and some people are still stuck in the 1980’s. However there is hope for improvements for the future generations. I think that it is this hope for improvement and solidarity that gives South Africa such a significant atmosphere of hope and spirit for the better; for the future. Everyone seeks freedom, and they are not willing to give it up, no matter how far the walk is. Being here, experiencing, and learning new things every day, I have come to understand that it is true: each drop is what creates the ocean.

Monday, June 1, 2009

STUDENT REFLECTION - Thandokhulu High School - Clint Mohs

My internship experience has been somewhat different than my counterparts that have commented upon their internships thus far. Where they are working in addressing some of the root causes of abject poverty in South Africa, I am working in the educational realm. I am working as a teacher’s aide for the English department, specifically with the eleventh and twelfth grade, at Thandokhulu high school. In working here, I hope to help in the struggle to lend a hand to those fighting to break the vicious cycle of poverty. Through education, it is believed that the students will be equipped with the knowledge and skills, which were denied their parents through the system of Apartheid, required to succeed in today’s industrialized world.
Upon arriving at my internship, I had very little understanding of what I would be doing there or about the South African education system. I was pleased to find out that I would be working in the English department and that I would be teaching literature rather than grammar. While I would have had no problem teaching grammar, and I actually expected to be doing so since English is a foreign language, I was gladly relieved to teach literature, because it is my plan to eventually be a college literature professor. After a few days of basic office work and getting comfortable with the staff and students, I was finally given the opportunity to teach a class last Wednesday. I prepared “Poem for My Mother” by Jennifer Davids, a South African poet, and was confident and ready to lead class on my walk to the mini bus taxi station. I was given a pleasant surprise that put a dent in my confidence on my walk to class that day. Mrs. Bopi, the teacher that I have been working with, was walking to class with me, when all of a sudden at the classroom door turned to me and said, “I’ll be in my office if you need anything.” This took me completely off guard, because I just assumed that she would come with me to help out if needed and maintain order in the classroom. When I turned towards the door my stomach was instantly knotted a million times over, but I took a deep breath and walked into the room. After trying to quiet the class a few times with my normal voice, I soon realized that I would have to speak much louder for a class of forty plus high school students to hear me. Once I got the class settled down, I began to teach the poem. The hardest thing to adjust to, besides talking so loud (I am usually a little soft spoken), was to speak slowly and enunciate very clearly, because, to the students, I have a very strong accent. In the forty-five minute class period, I got through everything that I needed to cover with the class, which was a great relief. At the end of the class, one of the girls sitting in the front row, who I had gotten to know somewhat talking during a few breaks, called me over to ask a question. What she said, I don’t think I will ever forget because it was probably one of the funniest things, given how nervous I was to be alone during my first teaching experience in a room full of students that speak English as a third language to Xhosa and Afrikaans. She said that she felt so bad for me because she could see how nervous I looked throughout the entire class. She did reassure me, though, telling me that I did a good job teaching the poem. The overall experience, nerve-racking as it was, has reaffirmed my already strong desire to continue my education, after the undergraduate level, to teach. It has been not only a great learning experience in how to manage a classroom and make a lesson plan, but also in building a relationship with Mrs. Bopi and the principle, Mr. de Villiers.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day 16 - Cape Town

Our last big adventure and another beautiful day! We began with a stop at Camp's Bay to walk on the white sand and put our feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic, then on to Hout's Bay, a fishing village, for fresh fish at Mariner's Wharf. At the Cape of Good Hope, most of us made the long climb to the lighthouse, where not even gale-force winds could keep us from enjoying a breathtaking view of the cape and both oceans (and some made an even longer trek to the point). Our last stop was the penguin colony at Boulders Beach, where the fuzzy new babies were everyone's favorites!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Day 15 - Cape Town

We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day to visit the University of Cape Town and Kirstenbosch Gardens! The University was founded in 1829, and its middle and upper levels offer some of the most beautiful views in the city. The gardens spill down the eastern slopes of Table Mountain just south of the university (both are on land formerly owned by Cecil John Rhodes) and include around 9,000 of the 22,000 plant species indigenous to South Africa. The oldest plant in the gardens is an almond hedge planted by Jan van Riebeeck in the 1600s. Favorite sections include the sculpture garden, the fragrance garden, and the proteas.

Kirstenbosch Gardens

Kirstenbosch Gardens - the Tea Room

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

STUDENT REFLECTION - Black Sash - Cameron Poole

Right off the bat, one would expect me to say how much I have learned about Cape Town and the culture here in South Africa. Though such is true, learning from South African culture has taught me even more about American culture, especially within the black community. The same ways poverty, and more broadly economics, affects class structures in South Africa is very similar to how it does in the United States as well. The primary factor contributing to such discrepancies in class in South Africa is the baggage carried over from apartheid. The affects of apartheid are prevalent in South African society and continue to separate the society by race and class. Until, psychologically and mentally, these affects can be overcome, it seems these discrepancies will continue in South Africa. Such is similar in American culture, regarding the effects of slavery, slave codes put in place after slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, and the Civil Rights movement. Today we are still struggling with class and racial discrepancies that were put in place to hold African-Americans back in society. Through Jim Crow laws, slave codes, and segregation, America further promoted a more institutionalized version of slavery. If African-Americans were not physically controlled, then through legislation and discrimination they would be mentally and psychologically controlled. Same goes in South Africa regarding apartheid. Though slavery had existed, people were in psychological and mental slavery during apartheid, and continue to be to this day, as are African-Americans. Angela Davis (political activist, professor and former member of the Black Panther Party) has a quote that states, We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society. Before society in American and South Africa can rid itself from all the baggage and effects from slavery, slave codes, Jim Crow, segregation, and Apartheid, minds most be empowered to think otherwise from these hatred based regimes. Once that is possible, then equality may be reached. It is funny that less that 1% of a humans homogeneous makeup is skin color, yet it holds us back globally. America and South Africa have a lot to learn from each other regarding their current situations. Though South Africas present, physical situation is a lot worse off, psychologically, they have been affected the same way as African-Americans and vice-versa. It is funny; this trip has helped me realize all of that and a lot more. I have not even begun to go into my internship or any specific experiences through the trip. Maybe I can do that in another blog. This trip is the best decision I could have made, and I will truly carry all that I have learned from the trip with me the rest of my life.

Day 12 - Cape Town

Tonight we had another guest speaker, Mr. Elroy Paulus from the Black Sash, the oldest advocacy organization in South Africa. His presentation focused on poverty and development, and the current activities of the Black Sash. He helped us to understand the factors that contribute to the high levels of poverty in post-apartheid South Africa, and the challenges of bringing civil society and government together to work for the kind of economic development that will benefit all South Africans - in the spirit of "ubuntu." According to Bishop Desmond Tutu, ubuntu is the essence of being human. "Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity. "

Monday, May 25, 2009

STUDENT REFLECTION - Treatment Action Campaign - Abigail Helmick

This trip so far has been a true exploration and submergence into a completely different culture. The things that I have experienced thus far have challenged me to look at the bigger picture; which has allowed me to critically analyze the present challenges within the Treatment Action Campaign. Some of these challenges include high poverty rates, economic viability, and language barriers. Issues like these are present not only where I am interning, but everywhere in South Africa. By this, I mean that poverty rates are high (there is close to a 50% unemployment rate). With high poverty, how does a person scrounge up the money for transportation to get to work? Many of the people I have met work for R8 per day or less; which is the equivalent to $0.95 per day in America. These people whom I have met are among the most dedicated, most passionate people that I have ever encountered. But how far will passion alone take you?
The struggle for these people lies not in ideology, but rather in economic viability. For example, a bus ride to work costs around R5, then a ride home from work is another R5. If that same worker only earns a meager R8 per day and actually losing money rather than making it, how does that worker survive?
A significant difference that exists between South Africans and Americans is the ideology which they live by. If going to work everyday to an activist organization; such as the T.A.C., means making a difference in one person’s life…working towards a collective goal, and spending more on transportation that day than they make during that same day…it is worth it.
In America, people work towards the so called “American Dream,” the white picket fenced in house in the suburbs, the perfect children, the middle class dream; but how many people do you know in America that work beyond this dream? How many take action to fight for a common cause?
It is easy to criticize political leaders, and even more easy to say that it’s some one else’s problem or someone else’s issue. During my short stay here in South Africa, I have come to realize that nothing will ever change unless you take action. Just like my mother used to say, “You just can’t keep doing the same thing, and expect to see different results…something has to change!”
Activism is a challenge, but it is one of the most effective tools a community can possess. Nelson Mandela explains it best when he says:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter: I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill one only finds there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” (Mandela, 1994)

The issues that so many South Africans face on a day to day basis are countless. These people fight every day for human rights that are so often taken for granted in our American culture. Here in South Africa, people are denied so many human rights everyday. The fight to gain these rights has begun and South Africa has made large strides towards a true democracy; but there is still a long way to go.

Abby at TAC

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day 10 - Capetown

Today was a free day for students - a day for jogging up and down steep hills, enjoying Cape Town's beautiful beaches, encountering sharks at the aquarium, or just soaking in the sunshine and laid-back atmosphere. At dinner we hosted two guest speakers - Rev. Rose and Derek from the Institute for Democracy in South Africa. We heard about the many events in South African history that led up to the establishment of the apartheid system, with a particular focus on legislation, from Rev. Rose, along with the various forms of resistance that eventually led to the dismantling of apartheid LAWS. Derek then addressed the question "After apartheid, now what?" pointing out how apartheid is still perpetuated in terms of group segregation and unequal opportunities based on both race and class. He categorized the period from the first election in 1994 to the recent election in 2009 as Transition Stage I, during which time the government focused on breaking down the pillars of apartheid and writing a new constitution. The 2009 election was the first genuine election, producing a government with the strength to address the serious problems of poverty, health care, education and jobs, and marking the beginning of Transition Phase II - a 10 year period in which significant change is expected. The discussion was lively, addressing many of the questions that have been coming up during our first days in Cape Town.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day 9 - Cape Town

Our tour of Robben Island, a place of imprisonment for over 400 years, was led by two former political prisoners, one of whom was the tour guide for Senator Obama two years ago. As our guides shared the history of political repression and struggle in South Africa and their own stories, we were reminded of the power of the human spirit to overcome all efforts to suppress it. Our ferry ride across the harbor was very different from the ones that brought inmates to the island for indefinite periods of incarceration - in solitary confinement like Robert Sobukwe or crushing rocks in the limestone quarry like Nelson Mandela. And our hunger and thirst as we left the island was only a small taste of the suffering of those confined there for years.

Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island

On Robben Island, looking back toward Table Mountain

Friday, May 22, 2009

Day 8 - Capetown

A typical experience of cool, foggy weather on Table Mountain! A beautiful view of the city and the harbor from the cable car, but at the top we went into a cloud that only broke long enough to give us tantalizing glimpses of th panorama below. In proper terms we experienced Table Mountain's "tablecloth...a meteorological occurrence that is caused by the hot and moisture-rich southeasterly wind that blows up against the mountain and rapidly cools down near the top, to form thick clouds." In other words, we spent the morning in a cloud - but our spirits weren't dampened; in fact, one student asked, "Is this heaven?" A hot lunch in the restaurant on the mountain tasted especially good! After the return trip on the cable car, we visited the Slave Lodge Museum, which commemorates the history and impact of slavery on the life and culture of the Cape. We ended the day with a group dinner and a delicious chocolate cake from Charly's Bakery (thank you to Mrs. Roberts) for Austin's 20th birthday!

On the cable car, descending through a cloud from Table Mountain

Thursday, May 21, 2009

STUDENT REFLECTIONS - Internship at Cristel House - Bre Palmer

Yesterday was my first day at my internship at Christel House (a school for children from poor backgrounds that seeks to break the cycle of poverty). After a couple of assemblies that helped us get acquainted with the school, I was separated from the two other students who are interning with me and put with a grade R (kindergarten) class.
This school was different than your average school in a couple ways. For starters, it is stricter. The children wear uniforms, call teachers “miss” or “mister”, and are quiet and well behaved. Also, they clearly really want to be in school, and have worked very hard to get to where they are. They have the full support of their parents (who are required to volunteer to cook and clean at the school), and the school offers many programs that benefit them and their families on many levels (providing substance abuse, child abuse, and HIV-AIDS education, dental and eye care, etc). Those were the differences I noticed in the first five minutes just looking over the kids sitting in the assembly and glancing around at the posters on the walls, which explained the social services the school had to offer.
The real differences slowly came to the surface throughout the day. Two teachers (and I) were in charge of 40-50 kindergarten-aged kids, many of whom were DESPERATE for attention. When I first sat in class, they smiled shyly at me, and some came over to ask me questions. After the first hour, they were hanging all over me. If I stood up, they crowded me, hugging me, grabbing my hand, and fighting over me. They wanted to me to tie their shoes even if they knew how to, they wanted to me to mix their food up at lunch, and they wanted me to give them my undivided attention, even if only for a minute.
In class, we covered ordinary stuff (like the number nine), but also stuff that isn’t ordinarily covered in American schools (HIV-AIDS prevention, or, how one must “never ever touch another person’s blood). Several classroom posters featured HIV-AIDS (including one that said AIDS Is Deadly Serious and another with a giant red ribbon). It was clear that AIDS had affected many of the children in some way, from losing a loved one to living in fear of being infected.
While the kids were very wild and tiring, I enjoyed my first day. The other teachers seemed exhausted, and I understand why. Instead of teaching, I will mostly be assisting them in simply taking care of the children. My job is to be an extra set of eyes, someone to check the students’ work and make sure they are paying attention. I’m supposed to remind them to keep their hands behind their backs and to go to the bathroom in a single file line. All those things seem easy, if not trivial. However, I know that what I am doing is important.
As I was helping the kids get on the busses to take them home, one little boy hugged me and said, “Miss Bre, are you coming back Monday?” Even though that interaction seems a little cheesy, it really made me feel better working at Christel House. Even though I’m not in a leadership position or working at a political organization, I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. Just by spending time with these kids and giving them a little attention, I am doing my part to help them towards a better life.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Athlone Youth Center

Sivunyile National Baptist Church in Guguletu

14 pizzas! Just ask us!

Moyo's - A "Taste of Africa"

"On the road again"

Day 4 - Cape Town

Today we visited all the internship sites - all amazing opportunities for immersion in the exciting and frustrating process of building a democracy based on principles of human rights in South Africa. Two students dove right into the work going on in their organizations: Austin is helping the Independent Electoral Commission with debriefings of IEC officials in several towns in the Western Cape, and Collette is shadowing reporters for the Cape Argus who are working on stories related to the township housing crisis. Everyone else starts bright and early tomorrow!

STUDENT REFLECTIONS - Preparing for the Journey - Adam Conway

It was surprisingly cool for a May night, but Neil and I had decided to walk and weren’t up for making any negotiations. He was looking somewhat alien to me- a once dark and pudgy boy turned into a muscular, thick-necked lounger, reminiscent of a casual bear with his baggy clothes, new body, and shaggy hair. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly a year, but we were determined to have another talk, per usual- a life-affirming, soul-bearing, emotionally draining confession and suggestion fest. And we succeeded, only more blunty and simply than before.
“So you’re going to South Africa.”
“Cool. Why?”
Why? An absurd question. No one else had required that answer. They knew it was an amazing opportunity, that it’s focus was human rights (a passion of mine that I flaunt too proudly), and that it would be in a damn pretty country. That suited most just fine. Neil, however, was never satisfied with a resume. He wanted the answers I was not even telling myself.
I rambled. I made excuses. I cited statistics from my research project. He was not convinced. Instead, he spoke of his own plans to study abroad in Russia and shared with me his realization- “I’m running away from the certain; I’m running to the new and terrifying.”
And I nodded. So was I. So were all of us. Yes, this particular program has its own appeal- an internship AND tourism. Beautiful. Affordable. History. Human Rights. Other Truman students. Short enough, if things proved too terrifying. It was like finding a meal on the menu consisting of all your favorite foods- just too perfect to pass up. But why go abroad in the first place? Because I am tired of the security, comfort, and monotony of Kirksville, of Missouri. I’ve found my life stagnant and my growth nonexistent as I become too familiar with the people, the customs, the realities of my little life. And in Cape Town, I am an alien, a stranger, trying to learn how to function and who to be. It is in the “new” and “terrifying” that I will not only encounter the eye-opening, fascinating, humbling, and expanding, but I will hopefully return with a little more clarity on where I am to go and who I am to be.
Babies only grow so much in the womb, eventually, it’s time to get born. But I didn’t leave kicking and screaming, crying and terrified, or smiling and thrilled. I’ve seen in all of my new friends a vacancy. We have not yet realized that there is life beyond the birth canal as we creep, sedated and zombie like through the airport, through the plane. I don’t know whether to cower or cheer because until I arrive, South Africa might as well be Oz, Narnia, or some other fantastic impossibility.
But I hope when I get there I will act with the curiosity, humility, sense of humor, and grace I’ve seen in the international students who have come to study at Truman. After working with them for two years now, I’ve got a vague idea of what it takes to learn, to teach, and to grow in a new world; here’s hoping I’ve got the stuff to execute the lessons they keep sharing. I hope I listen more than judge, that I share without evangelizing, that I learn more about what I’m capable of and about what I value, and that I send a few postcards a long the way.
And I hope that some time in the next few weeks I fully realize why it is I came here and who I can become.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 3 in Capetown

A powerful experience of music and spirituality at Sivuyile National Baptist Church, followed by tea with the pastor, and a tour of Guguletu, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Mitchell's Plain, and Langa Townships led by Dr. Guma's daughter, who is a graduate student at Stellenbosch University. An important opportunity for learning about the challenges of addressing the legacy of apartheid, and for experiencing the strength and resiliency of the people of South Africa.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Day 2 in Cape Town

Still raining and windy, but by dashing betwen raindrops, we visited Uitkyk and Spier Vineyards near Stellensbosch and had a huge "taste of Africa" buffet with drumming and dancing at Moyo. We ordered pizza for dinner and somehow ended up with 14 pizzas! (We ate 9!) We're hoping for better weather soon!

Friday, May 15, 2009

District 6 Museum

Ready to enjoy a delicious lunch at Charly's Bakery

First day in Capetown

A good day in spite of cooler temperatures and rain showers! We started the day with a trip downtown to get oriented and learn how to get around the Cape Town area in trains, buses, and minibus taxis - useful information once students start going on their own to their internship sites next week (this week our program bus will take them there), or for going to interesting places during their free time. Lunch took us to Charly's bakery for quiche, meat and vegetable pies, and delicious desserts. After lunch we visited the District 6 Museum, where we heard an excellent history of the devastating effects on non-white communities of the forced removals carried out under the Group Areas Act. Then home and a free afternoon exploring cafes and shops on Long Street - and tomorrow it's off to the winelands!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

We made it!

After 2 1/2 days of travel (the students said they felt like they had been in airports for a week), we finally made it to Cape Town! Lots of pictures were being taken of the gorgeous view from the guesthouse, and tonight's fresh seafood dinner! But by 8:30, weary travellers were ready for bed!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Heathrow airport - ready to board the plane for Cape Town


We're almost half-way! A typical rainy London day, but we all made it safely - tired but happy to be closer to our goal! Only 10 more hours in tiny airplane seats! And a cake is waiting to celebrate Cameron's birthday.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ready to Depart!

Excitement is building as we are making the final arrangements for our impending departure! Emotions are high as we prepare ourselves to embark on an adventure of learning, experiencing, feeling, and working that will surely bring us new perspectives!