There is already so much to say about this country and my experiences here. It hasn’t even been two weeks and I have experienced such varied and opposing situations and ways of life. On the one hand, there is a very wealthy sector while others live in complete poverty. I don’t pretend to understand all the dynamics fully but based on my observations, those lines tend to be drawn around race, for the majority.
Let me start with my first weekend. I landed 4 hours late in Cape Town and immediately went to bed upon arrival to my hostel. The next morning all the new volunteers were taken into Cape Town on a walking tour. We were given the basics on the bus system (a very nice one, I might add) and then shown some of the more popular sites. We saw where Nelson Mandela gave his speech, where the slaves were made to live during Apartheid, Long Street, the Waterfront, some markets and other areas of interest.
That Sunday, myself and 4 new friends hiked up to Table Mountain. There is a lot I can say about this hike but the most important is that it was worth it. I was still getting over being sick and we were probably not prepared for the length or difficulty level of the hike but we made it and were happy to have done it.
I’m happy to say that those same people have become even better friends as we have worked together these couple of weeks. We have even made plans to see each other again after we are all done here.
My first day “on the job” as it were, was the following Monday. We all woke up early to leave the house by 8am. We were then taken into a Township called Du-Noon which was about 20 minutes from the hostel. Wiki describes a Township as “the often underdeveloped urban living areas that, from the late 19th century until the end of apartheid, were reserved for non-white residents, namely black Africans, Coloreds and Indians; built on the periphery of towns and cities.” Even though the end of Apartheid allowed those same people groups to move out of the Townships, most still remain in those underdeveloped areas for lack of resources to move out. This is where the not-for-profit organization I am volunteering with serves. This organization is known as the SAVE Foundation. Their mission is to educate children in the Townships and Settlements around Cape Town. They also have a presence in 6 other African countries where they support similar missions along with wildlife preservation efforts.
The Township school that I am assisting with provides early childhood development and education to children ages 6 months through 6 years. The school is located between several houses made of a medal-like material with porta-potties lining many of the roads. Township homes do not have indoor bathrooms and many of the facilities overflow into the streets and the odor permeates the breathing air. The school I assist in does not have their own toilet for the children or staff and children use a small portable toilet that is located in the middle of the small patio/entrance area. The Foundation is currently raising money for this school in order to have a proper bathroom installed. The classrooms are no bigger than a small bedroom and houses 20-30 children every day from 6am – 6pm. Given the lack of adequate space, the rooms are very organized. The children complete their coloring and writing time on small, plastic, stackable & moveable desks that they can sit cross-legged under. Two meals are provided by the Foundation on a daily basis to each child that attends school and school supplies are purchased with donations given to the Foundation or made directly to the school. Many children wear the same clothes to school several days in a row and have torn or stained clothing and shoes.
What has struck me the most during my time in the Township so far is the vast disparity between those living conditions and the living conditions of many in Cape Town, just 30 minutes away. These two places look very different in so many ways.
My afternoons are spent back in Table View, the town where I am staying. We get to work with older kids from the Townships in the afternoons – teaching them either to swim, skateboard or surf. This has been some of the more fun afternoons I’ve had here. The children, little and big, are so full of joy and contentment that it is a constant reminder of all I have that I take for granted and shouldn’t. They are eager to learn and happy to either sit in my lap while I play toys with them or let me assist them as they try to catch a wave on their surf board.
The weekends are spent with friends I’ve made while here. Most volunteers, to my surprise, are quite young – most 18-21. But I’ve met a couple of mid-20 to early-30’s volunteers that I’ve become friends with (ages that are unusual to see in this program, so we are told). Since we live in group houses, I’ve also had to relearn a little bit of patience living with a younger crowd. Overall, all volunteers have been very nice, accommodating and interesting to be around.
Last weekend, we took a tour of Signal Hill, Cape Point, the Penguin Sanctuary, an Ostrich Farm, the Cape of Good Hope, Hout Bay, Camps Bay, and the Cape Point Lighthouse…not in that order.
My experiences here have been eye-opening, enjoyable and at times, difficult. I am glad that I am participating in this project and I genuinely respect those that will carry on with this work after I leave.