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.