Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tuesday was the last day at the internships, and at Tuesday night's Farewell Banquet we celebrated and expressed our heartfelt appreciation to everyone who contributed to making our Cape Town experience so special!
Making thank-you posters for the internship supervisors.
Joe Schaeffers' jazz band, the Men in Black.
Enjoying good food and conversation.
Everyone had a great time, but it was hard to say good-bye!

Rae presenting the work she did at Africa Unite.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday was a holiday - it was Youth Day in South Africa - a day to commemorate the Soweto Uprising in 1976 and the young people of South Africa who demanded an end to Bantu education. Equal Education, an NGO working to improve the public education system in South Africa (where one of our students, Maddie, has been interning) organized a protest outside of Parliament, and many of our students participated.  They demanded that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga immediately publish quality Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. Minister Motshekga has delayed publishing the regulations since she became minister in 2009. Here is a link to the memorandum which Maddie drafted as part of her work for Equal Education: .

Early Monday morning, a large group of students made the strenuous trek up Lion's Head - one of the mountains in the Table Mountain chain of peaks - it was a clear, warm day and the view from the top was beautiful.

A few brave students went shark-diving on Sunday (not to worry - they were in a shark cage). It was quite an adrenalin rush - especially for Lauren, who went down twice - once with and once without a wet suit!

Student Reflection: Minibus taxis - Megan Distler

Minibus Taxis.  A common, inexpensive form of transportation for the residents of Cape Town.  For 6 of us, these taxis became our main form of transportation to and from work.  They seemed practical and safe enough that first day, but little did we know the adventures that were to be had riding these.  After riding them, I firmly believe that you can’t truly know a city until you use its public transportation.
The first two days riding the taxis went well for almost all of us, but we quickly realized the next week just how unreliable they can be.  They all start at Parade, and leave when they have their seats full.  Simple, right?  Except filling the bus can take so long, I don’t know how people ever make it to work on time!   And, they will do anything to get as many people in the mini bus at one time (I think their unofficial motto is “There’s always room for one more!”); stuff it way past capacity, stop for half an hour in the street trying to get more people, anything.  Lauren and I take four different mini bus taxis to get to and from work every day, and every ride is definitely a new experience.  Sometimes, we can’t find a taxi near our house.  Sometimes, the mini bus taxi will take forever at the ranks, waiting for the bus to fill to leave.  Sometimes, you think you’re making great time because you found a taxi near your house, and the taxi at the rank was almost full when you got there, but then the caller person (this guy sticks his head out the side window, and yells where the taxi is headed to see if anyone needs a ride) will leave the mini bus for like half an hour trying to find more riders, while we sit on the mini bus just waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  We have always made it to work by 8:15, so I guess we don’t have a lot to complain about.  Rebecca and Matt regularly wait at least 30 minutes just for their taxi to leave the ranks, to head toward Bridgetown.  You just never know what is going to happen on each ride.
After all of these experiences, Lauren and I realized that we could have ridden the bus this whole time to our internship.  Not the minibus taxis, but the bus that Dennis drives, that takes some of the other students in our group out to their internships.  We could have left a half hour later every morning and still been there on time.  We wouldn’t have had to sit cramped on a bus for almost an hour every morning, or walk at least a mile total every morning and afternoon.  We wouldn’t have had hearing damage from the bass which mini bus taxis almost always have turned all the way up.  We wouldn’t have feared for our lives when the mini bus gets gas without turning off the engine.  We wouldn’t have almost been pickpocketed or mugged a couple times by Parade.
But, we also wouldn’t have all these stories about it.  We wouldn’t have gotten to the point where we could only laugh if something new and bizarre happened.  We wouldn’t have gotten to walk with Lara and Sharon from our internship everyday so we could all get a taxi.  We wouldn’t have ever seen Groote Schurr (the hospital where the world’s first heart transplant took place) or gotten over the uncomfortableness I felt whenever someone I didn’t know was that close to me.  As much as I wish we had realized we could have taken the bus earlier, I’m glad we got these great stories!  But, next time, I’ll make sure there isn’t another way of getting there before taking a minibus taxi :)

Student Reflection: The Hiker - Matthew Oelkers

It was a rather nice day.  A pleasant surprise, as these had become rather rare of  late.  The days were typically too cold for comfort, or rainy and wet and altogether disagreeable.  They were the sort of days that made you want to curl up with half a dozen blankets and an entire thermos of hot chocolate.  This was not one of those days, though.  Warm, sunny rays rested gently on our faces as the four of us sat peacefully on a park bench across from Parliament.  The building is large, white, and more or less clean, surrounded by flora and quiet walkers.  We were waiting to meet three others, to get lunch after church.  Nothing was against us that day.
                "Excuse me, do you speak English?"
                This was an odd question, frankly.  In my experience, it was difficult to find a person in downtown  Cape Town who didn't speak English.  The question intrigued some of the group, and they nodded.
                "Well, I'm visiting from Pretoria with a group of backpackers.  When I woke up this morning, my wallet was gone and all I have left is this."  The man flashed a 20 rand bill at us.  "We need about a hundred rand to get home, so we would appreciate any help you could give us.  One rand, two rand.  Five rand. Anything would be great."
                He seemed like a well to do fellow, about our age.  With the wool cap, cargo pants, and boots, he certainly looked the part of the hiker.  It was a sad story, and one that we could relate to.  In our first week here in Cape Town, several of the members of our group had things stolen in a break-in.  The story was plausible, heartfelt, and well told. 
                Unfortunately for this guy, he doesn't have a very sharp memory.  This was the third time he had asked me if I spoke English.  A few weeks ago, on my way home from work with Rebecca, he approached us and asked if we spoke English.  Just as the group of had been intrigued by this question, so were Becca and I.  We were tired, though, and brushed past without addressing him.  He made it sound like he had been slighted as we walked away, and we felt bad.  What if this guy genuinely needed a hand with something.
                This thought was crushed when he approached Becca and me again, roughly a week later.  By this time, we knew it wasn't a heartfelt request for assistance.  At least we felt that it wasn't.  The third visit sealed our perception of this fellow, and we finally sat and listened to the story he had ready.  We all sat quietly.  To be honest, I was trying not to laugh.
                "So, does your wallet get stolen every night?" I asked him, waiting for a moment after he had finished his story.  He looked stunned, and very confused.  It was not the typical 'no, sorry' that he was likely expecting.  His mouth hung open slightly, not sure of what to say.
                "I was just wondering," I continued (a little smuggly, I'm ashamed to admit), "because this is the third time you have come up to me and asked whether I speak English or not.  Sorry friend."
                "No you're not," he said bitterly, as he turned to walk away, flustered at having been caught.  There is nothing wrong with asking a person for help.  Some lives are harder than others, and nowhere has that     been made more obvious to me than here in Cape Town.  Every day I am left thankful for the life that has been given to me.  Where I draw the line, though, is when people lie to me.  It blurs a person's vision, making it harder to tell who actually needs aid and who's just out trying to pocket some spare change. 
              Whether this man was truly in need of help for something, I can't say that I am entirely sure.  What I can say is that he was going about procuring that help in the most absolutely disagreeable manner I can imagine.

Khayelitsha, Guguletu, and the TAC: Finding beauty in the townships - Ashley Repka

The 2 hour trip to work each morning provides ample time for thinking,
sleeping, and/or consuming as much caffeine as possible. Driving from
stop to stop dropping each person off results in a nice daily tour of
the Cape Flats, and our route just so happens to include about 20-30
minutes of ocean-side road. The timing is perfect; the sun has usually
just risen, and the view of the water, the mountains behind, and the
mist that hasn’t risen yet leaves little to be desired. But, all good
things must come to an end, and before long we’re taking the left to
turn towards Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha.
        The scenery changes quickly to one of informal housing, littered
roadsides, tuck shops, and graffiti-marked walls. Many days we pass
long lines of people waiting for water with jugs in hand. Each day
when we drop Priya off at Tafelsig we see lines of people waiting for
medical care. After the rain last Friday we saw countless flooded
roads, which undoubtedly meant flooded houses.
        It’s very easy to feel discouraged on these drives each morning. It
is easy to feel insignificant in light of the sheer magnitude of
poverty and inhumane conditions that are only illustrated further by
the personal narratives heard at TAC, EE, Tafelsig, etc. For me, it
has been a challenge to reconcile the two views from the bus – the
hard, messy reality of everyday life that I have seen every day in
Khayelitsha, and the serene, beach-front view of our weekend
excursions to the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I have found
myself wondering whether many of the people I see daily at TAC have
ever seen the view from the top of Table Mountain, or gone on a
safari, or seen the wine country. It seems odd that I should so easily
be able to see and enjoy these places that belong to South Africa,
while the view of many South Africans is so limited.
        Enter Mzoli’s. We visited Gugulethu today to try out what had been
described to us as the ‘Cape Town Experience’, and my only regret is
that this didn’t happen sooner. Today is Youth Day, the anniversary of
the Soweto uprising, so we were lucky enough to see the place at its
prime. We waited an hour and a half just to get in the door, and at
least two more to have the meat cooked. There was hardly standing room
in the place, and back by the fire the trays of meat were stacked 3-4
tall. Out in the streets, music blared from the tent, and people sat
and stood up and down the street, singing, dancing, and drinking. Many
older kids, and even some adults, showed up in school uniforms in
honor of the day. Mini buses and other cars drove slowly through the
street, honking at dogs and stopping to wave a person dancing off to
the side of the road. I found myself feeling a little bit foolish for
thinking that these people had to go to Table Mountain, or the Cape of
Good Hope to see something beautiful. Gugulethu on Youth Day was one
of the most ‘beautiful’ places I’ve ever been, albeit maybe in a
different way.
        When Vernon asked us what word we would use to describe this trip,
the word that came to my mind was ‘perspective’. While it’s not an
adjective, and it’s pretty cliché, I truly have learned more about
perspective than anything else on this trip. Perspective in the
expected way of course – I have learned more about peoples’ lives in
South Africa, about their daily perspective and about the issues they
face. But more so than that, I have learned the importance of actively
working to change your own perspective. I have learned that my
definitions of knowledge and of beauty should be expanded. Because in
the articles I’ve read and edited in broken English and the meetings
in which I’ve seen people struggle to articulate their view with
correct grammar, I’ve learned incredibly knowledgeable things. Among
people who have much less education or training than I do, I’ve heard
incredible insights and seen an enviable ability to connect with and
understand their fellow human beings. And in an area that is often
seen as hopeless, or ugly, I had one of the most ‘alive’ and beautiful
experiences of my life.
        Lwazi, from TAC, explained to Andie and I one day that he loved the
community in Khayelitsha, something that wasn’t found in the
middle/upper class. He asked us how well we knew our neighbors – I
wave at mine sometimes.. He explained that he knew that if he ever
needed anything, he could go to a neighbor and they would reach in
their pocket and give him what they could. I suppose this is the
‘Ubuntu’ we’ve heard so much about, and it is an idea that will stick
with me long after the trip. I have learned that each of us has
beautiful things to share from our own life-many times right in our
back yard - and that each of us has knowledge that can benefit
others-whether it is from a book or from an experience; The important
part seems to be that we share them.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Saturday, we finally were able to take our game drive at Buffelsfontein. The weather was perfect, and we enjoyed seeing giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, springbok, eland, kudu, oryx, lions, a cheetah, and caracal.

Here is one of the pictures Andi shared of the preparation of the smileys in Khayelitsha.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Student Internship Reflection: Eros School - Rebecca Gingrich

When I first set foot in Eros, a school for children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities, I had some concerns about the facilities and the technology. The building and the limited resources of the school do not appear to meet the standards of what would be expected in the United States. It unfortunately took me a couple days to see beyond the façade and discover the love and community that make this school great. It is wonderful that these children, who often have many past and current troubles, are provided with a community that they can come to every day to both learn and receive the care that they need. The faculty and staff work with what resources they do have in order to offer them the care and attention that they need and probably would not receive at a mainstream school.
            My time at Eros has taught me many things. I have learned more about disabilities, occupational therapy in South Africa, the Muslim subculture of Cape Town, and many of the issues that South Africa faces today. The most important issue that I have learned about and seen in action, however, is acceptance of others. The school preaches not to treat people differently and make fun of them for their disabilities. I have seen firsthand how amazing these kids are and how much they can accomplish in spite of their disabilities and often not so perfect home lives. Not only do I accept these children, but I care for them and admire them as well. I have also learned the importance of accepting others from the faculty and staff. They come from different religious and cultural backgrounds, which can be tricky at times. I have seen the benefit of understanding and accepting the religious beliefs and practices of others, which can help to strengthen relationships and improve the overall atmosphere of the school.
            Half of my time at Eros was spent in occupational therapy, and the other half was spent in the kindergarten classroom. Though the OT department applied more directly to my future career as an occupational therapist and taught me a lot about the field here in South Africa, I enjoyed helping in the classroom because it allowed me the opportunity to get to know some of the kids better and to interact with them directly. As it nears time to leave and head back to the United States, I am realizing how difficult it will be for me to say goodbye to all of the children. I have learned from their situations, and they have truly made an impression on me.
            Though I have many favorites from the class, one of them is a boy named Tinashe from Zimbabwe. He has cerebral palsy in a more severe form than some of the other kids and cannot walk at all on his own. He also has trouble speaking sometimes and with his fine motor skills.
Tinashe’s mother cam e to South Africa with him in order to get better care for him. He lives in the hostel that is connected to the school, as his mother cannot take care of him during the week or on most weekends. Though Tinashe’s life has not been easy or stable, his smile can light up a room, and I cannot help but smile myself when I see him. One day the kindergarten class was cutting out pictures of food from magazines and pasting them on a page. I was helping some of the kids who struggle with cutting because they were having trouble and were getting frustrated. Tinashe, on the other hand, wanted to do it all by himself and worked hard for the entire time to get two pictures cut out perfectly. This was not an easy task for him, but he persisted and refused to give up. Tinashe could be the poster boy for determination. He does all he can not to let his disability get in the way, which is a moving thing to see.
            I have been helping Tinashe a lot on the playground because he wants to get out and play like his classmates do. I help him climb up the play set, but then I encourage him to get across it on his own as much as possible. I help him along the way when he gets stuck, and I help him down the fireman’s pole at the end as well. I feel that he is getting more and more independent as the days pass, and I hope that someday he will be able to play on the playground all by himself. I have also been encouraging Tinashe to walk by letting him hold onto my hands while he walks to the play set. He usually uses a wheelchair or crawls on the ground, but I turned around the other day and saw him heading towards the play set by using a walker instead. One of the other children exclaimed, “Tinashe is walking!” and Tinashe’s face lit up with pride. Of course I cannot take the credit for his progress because the therapists at the school are the ones who have been working with him directly and regularly to improve his skills. Nonetheless, it is exciting to witness his progress and see his excitement.
Several of the students had a unique adventure today in Khayelitsha. After work, they stopped with Parks and Dennis to try a "smiley." This is a sheep's head that has been cleaned, boiled, and roasted over a fire. It is cut in half, and then all the parts are eaten with spices. Most of them tried at least a few bites - others were more adventurous! Then they brought one home for their friends to try!

Student Intership Reflection: Drinking Tea at Economic Justice Network - Rikki Watts

I’ve been interning at Economic Justice Network (EJN), an NGO devoted to working for justice on issues of tax equality, food security, climate change, and trade fairness. Through reading the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and talking to some of the people in the office, I’ve learned about some different policies options regarding food security. I’ve also been working with Simon on a workshop with the goal of opening discussion on inequalities in the emerging economies that make up BRICS(AM). I’ve even leaned some about the issues surrounds mining and extractives from Rumbi and Mandla has told me some about the different projects EJN is working on and NGOs get moving.

But, Rumbi taught me the most important thing I’ve learned here—where to get tea. Equally important, I leaned that when you go for tea in Phindi’s office, you don’t just ‘make a cup and then run off, you stay and talk with Phindi’.

Going for a tea break to Phindi’s office is probably the best thing I’ve done here, and not just because rooibos has high levels of antioxidants, phenolic compounds, and flavonoids. I love chatting with Phindi and hearing what is going on in her life. Like last week, she was so nervous. So nervous that she couldn’t sit or think or anything. I asked her why and she told me about her favourite tennis player, her ‘son’, was competing in the finals and she was worried that he wouldn’t make it on. I told her about how in 2011, when the Cardinals were playing in the World Series, they kept letting it get down to their last strike, but were able to come back and win. Her ‘son’ didn’t end up making it, but she says, ‘you just need to regroup and come back stronger’.

Phindi also tells me how important it is to have good friends and people close to your heart. On her birthday she told me how happy she is to have friends calling and wishing her well. ‘I’d rather have a few friends close to my heart than a bunch of people who don’t really care.’
Erin McCann with her internship supervisor, Pastor Jonathan Clayton, at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Student Internship Reflection: Finding Ubuntu at Thandokulu High School - Connor Maguire

            A question that I have been asked frequently during my time here has been “So what do you think of South Africa?” My first reaction is always to say how much I have enjoyed my time here, but that is never what they are asking.  The question that they are asking is, “what do I think of South Africa and the current political/socio-economic situation we are in as a country?” and I can only ever reply, “South Africa seems to be full of some of the most horrible problems, and the most wonderful people.” In talking with the learners and marking the many of their papers, I have been able to hear and read their stories and get to know where they come from. Just earlier this week I was reading a learner’s paper, and this is what she had to say about her life in Khayelitshia: “As I said living in Khayelitshia is not good.  Life is not perfect everything that is bad is there.  Every human trafficking is there, every drugs is there, every abusing people are there, criminals are there, gang groups are there. I find that life is too hard for me there…The life we live there is bad in such a way that the teenagers are become the destroyers of their freedom and future.”  This is one excerpt from one paper, and sadly these kinds of stories are the norm, not the exception. 
            Almost all of the teachers at Thandokhulu are also Amaxhosa and live in the townships.  As they have told me “Yes it is sad, but these are simply the lives we live.  Everyone has nothing. We can only do what little we can to help those around us who have even less.”  A teacher’s salary in South Africa is fairly small.  However, one of the teachers, Cana, was telling me about how, when she was teaching in a primary school, the teachers and administrators would identify learners that were in the most need of assistance, and the teachers would essentially adopt them.  They would pay for their school fees, transportation to and from school, and help provide lunch and books.  Teachers would even collect used clothes from their family and bring them in for the learners.  They would pour their own small amount of resources back into their learners, because they knew that the learners needed it more than they did.
            Another story Cana was telling me was of a brother and sister. The boy was grade five and the girl grade four, and she learned that their father, the only person that they had living with them, had passed away.  Every day the brother and sister went home to a two room corrugated iron shack in the townships with no one there to look after them.  They would sit there, decide to go to sleep, and then wake up and walk to school the next morning.  That was all they had.  When Cana learned of this she told the administration and the social workers on staff.  Unfortunately, because the school year was coming to a close, the administration felt it wouldn’t have enough time to adequately address the situation, so the social workers asked Cana to take the two learners in for the summer break until they could find other family members or figure out what to do for the next year.  And she did so, unhesitantly. 
            “All of us have nothing.  We can’t change the facts of our existence; it is too large, but we do what little we can.” South Africa is full of some of the most horrible problems.  It has extreme, concentrated poverty that feeds into problems of drug addiction, violence, sexual exploitation, and gangsterism, all on a scale that we could not possibly imagine in the United States, but it is also full of the most amazing people, people who are always willing to give all they have and more to help someone else.  It’s not charity; it’s a part of the culture.  It’s Ubuntu, and it’s alive and well in South Africa.