Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mackenzie--looking beyond her own reality & inviting others to do the same

There is something about being ambushed by dozens of six year olds, just short of an hour after waking up. I walked into the kindergarten classroom at Christel House, face to face with a sea of huge smiles, singing and wishing me a “super day”. I sat and watched as the kids went through what appeared to be their daily routine, discussing their weekends and singing the hokey pokey. On the surface – aside from their extreme and obvious openness, the children seemed no different from those that I have encountered in the US. They seemed so innocent, so completely and blissfully unaffected by their unfortunate environments. This innocence touched me deeply, and I wished for them that they could remain that way forever. I wished that they could keep their youth even as they grew, and with that their silly smiles despite any hardship they may have to deal with.

Throughout the day, I had many significant thoughts and moments of awareness that stood out to me. One of them following a discussion I had with the kindergarten teacher. She brought to my attention several of the students situations, one, for example, was a child being raised by his grandmother. His mother was 19 and addicted to drugs. I found myself imagining this child living his life, growing up with a struggling mother. This instance, however, has been one of many I have had since I’ve arrived here. I found myself seriously thinking about the fact that I have existed on this earth for so long without having the slightest idea of situations like this child’s. It scares me to think that I could have gone my entire life not knowing this child, and the people that live in these townships. It scares me to think that I was so unaware, and still am. How insane is it to think that while I exist, live, breath and brush my teeth everyday, this child’s life exists parallel to mine. At the same moment that I scoop a warm bite of food into my mouth, this child may be feeling hunger pains. He may be missing out on the information at school because he is so hungry. At the same moment I am safely walking around the UCONN campus, or driving in my car, this child has to walk through his dangerous neighborhoods. On a larger scare, it astounds me that our minds can be so limiting. That it truly is up to us how much information and how open we would like to be. I can choose to know only my surroundings and only the environment that I exist in. I can choose to only know my beliefs and feelings. Or.. I can choose to step out of that constriction. I can chose to look outside of myself, break the barriers of my mind and open up to the infinite amount of things that exist around me. I hope this is something that people take seriously. It is amazing, and yes, sometimes upsetting, to think about all the realities that exist outside of our own. I in no way enjoy realizing that there are children like this that live in realities like that, but it is important for me to know that they are there. That my reality is not the be all end all. It is not concrete. And there for it’s possibilities are endless.

Another thing I would just like to mention as someone who is white, is my experience that day of for the first time actually noticing myself as white. This day was the first in which I looked all around me I found myself to be the only white person in sight. I literally looked down at my legs and noticed their paleness, and felt a sort of self-consciousness that I have never felt before. It was like another thing to think of myself as. I stood out, and for a very small moment my race was on my mind. I bring this up because I would like to ask my family members and friends who are white, to just become aware of how little (if at all) they have to think about their race. It leads us to instead of acknowledge other races, ignore them. In that sense we ignore those people. I know when we first became confronted with these issues when we started this class, I would think to myself – “ I don’t think race is that big of a deal. Why is it such a big deal?” And then I come to see that of course it isn’t a big deal to me, it doesn’t dictate my everyday life in a negative way. I receive many if not all of the privileges of this racist society, and honestly never have to deal with the consequences. I then drive 20 minutes from my house in Cape Town, into a township where race affects everyday of their life. It affects their future, their hopes, their expectations, their self-esteem, and so on. So in that sense I have found it incredibly important to understand that just because race does not affect me, doesn’t mean I can write it off. When I look around me and open my eyes, it affects many of the human beings I share this planet with.

All in all I think it comes down to opening your eyes. To looking outside of your own reality to see that life expands beyond that. It isn’t only necessary so that you can grow as a human being, but it is necessary so that you can empathize with everyone else in this world – and share their struggle, because it is yours too. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Kelsey preparing to teach and learn

Reading over my last blog entry, I realized just how much really has happened since then. It’s amazing how one week here can easily feel like two. There were two things in particular that really stood out to me this past week: the experience of going to the beach and starting my internship.

I officially started my internship today!! I had the most incredible first day I’d ever hoped to have! I wasn’t really nervous going into today because I’ve been mentally preparing myself for this internship for months. I was mostly excited to meet the students, start getting to know them and the other staff, and even exercising my own skills of teaching. At Thandokhulu, I am working with the head of the history department with Ms. Mtiya (or Nina as I call her). Our day started with teaching a grade 10 class about the Ming dynasty of China. Her method of teaching is so different from anything I’ve ever experienced before. When interpreting context for the students she would do so in a way that directly reflected the culture and social aspects of South Africa. She was describing the four different classes/rankings of the dynasty; however, she did so by relating it to race. She said that the classes set up a hierarchy that was wrong, just like that of races and how there’s a social ranking making whites superior. She then held out her arm and asked me to hold out mine while explaining that we all bleed the same color and that “in the Lord’s eyes we are all equal too.” I was shocked in the best way possible because in those four minutes of her explanation were two concepts that American school systems rarely speak about: religion and race. Those “forbidden” concepts to my home high school felt so comfortable and easy to talk about at Thandokhulu. Even more so, the way that the classroom was structured made me feel almost as though I was in church. When Nina was teaching, the students would frequently say yes to show comprehension without ever being asked to but it was extreme natural. It happened in every classroom I was a part of. I found it really neat to be able to draw these parallels between the high school I graduated from and the one I am currently becoming a part of.

And now for the beach. It wasn’t so much the beach itself that amazed me besides the scenery - It was more of my journey to the beach. Although I did try surfing which I was really proud of myself for doing because I now know that surfing just isn’t my sport – too much wave fighting going on and my muscles got way too sore. Anyways, we bought first class tickets for the train ride because we were told it’s safer and more comfortable. However, us being the sometimes unfocused people we are, got on the wrong, regular ones. As a result, we were crammed, shoved, and pushed in all directions getting on. Once we were all inside, we all became sardines. I had sweat on me from people on all angles but it didn’t freak me out as much as I would have thought. I ended up being right by the door and a guy decided he wanted to keep the door propped open with his body. So not only was I crammed but now I had to hold the top of the door to keep myself from falling out of the moving train. However, I think I’m making it out to be scarier than it was. It was a bit nerve racking at first but after that I was so happy for the experience. In a strange way, I felt liberated and refreshed from the crazy sardine can behind me. Amidst all this, I ended up having a conversation with some of the people on the train which was really nice. Half an hour later, we arrived at the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.

To wrap things up, I can’t wait to continue my internship. I have a feeling I’m going to become insanely attached to Thandokhulu but a pretty amazing feeling. My final note is that I get to teach my first lesson plan tomorrow!! Now to prepare for the Mughal Empire…

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Michael's dreams and intense reactions

Dan & Michael at Altydgedacht
So if you are reading the other blog posts from this trip you are probably reading about the same events, described with the same cliches so I am going to try not to do that. But keep in mind, I am not leaving out adjectives like 'happy', 'beautiful', 'amazing', 'heart-wrenching', and 'wonderful' because they are not apt words to use, I just want to tell you something that might be a little more unique. 

I had more or less forgotten about lucid dreaming up until a couple of nights ago when I became aware that I was dreaming. This is the first time that I have ever attained any level of lucidity whilst asleep. When I awoke the next morning I kept replaying the dream through my head, and thinking about what I remember reading or hearing about lucid dreaming. From what I recall, to dream lucidly one must recognize the bizarre aspects of what they are experiencing, things that could only exist in a dream. You may also come to the realization that you are dreaming by understanding that you simply ended up in your situation and there is no real reason that you are where you are or why you are doing what you are doing in the dream. Once you do one of these two things you can realize that you are in fact asleep, and then you can change what is happening in the dream. For me, I dreamt that I was back in Connecticut for a day, which I knew was not true, also I was driving in an old car with Ben Afflack's character from Good Will Hunting, whilst being chased by random goons. After I connected the dots and knew I was dreaming, I then took control of the dream and escaped from the goons by making the car Ben Afflack and I were driving fly away.

So this was clearly an awesome night of sleep, but waking up the next day I was quite dazed and my grip on reality was looser than normal. This loosened grip was not strengthened with the days events. We spent that morning driving and walking around some of the poorest communities in the world, Townships populated by up to a million people, hundreds of thousands of which are HIV+, and live in non-permanent housing (plywood and tin roof 'shacks') without electricity or running water, all while struggling to overcome rampant crime, disease, and under educating.

Around midday we stopped for lunch at a mall in the middle of one of these townships. I perused the dollar store. Scanning the shelves of an impoverished African communities version of the Family Dollar store me and my friends would visit to buy ridiculous kitten t-shirts or weird canned meats, I expected to see the grossest most bizarre products imaginable, because if there is one place where shittier things than those sold in American dollar stores would be, it'd be at an African one. I was shocked, but not because the products exemplified the poverty of where I was, but because some of the products were so ridiculously out of place. The most noteworthy, was an entire section of Merle Haggard's live music. If you didn't know, Merle Haggard was a country singer in the late 1960's who sang songs about how he hated hippies and how good it is to be a country boy (ex. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iYY2FQHFwE). I have trouble comprehending how American's listen to or relate to this music, and knowing that enough people in a South African Township are enough of a fan of Merle Haggard that he warrants his own section is something that I will never understand, furthermore any attempt for me to rationalize it has led to the questioning of my reality. Next, I ate at McDonalds, it was just as gross as any other McDonald's I have been to, so the food was void of surprise. The bizarre part was knowing that the only other white person for quite possibly miles around was the American embodied by the pasty pale Ronald McDonald staring at me from a mural on the wall and given voice by Katy Perry's “I Kissed a Girl” playing on repeat through the restaurant's speakers. Sitting there was too surreal and I knew that any explanation for why either of us were there would be inadequate.

After the mall we went to another township, and the entire group I was with (the other posters on this blog) took out their cameras and started taking pictures of the immense suffering we were in the midst of. This gave me the sneaking suspicion that this group is very dull or first world egomaniacs because the only reasoning I have for these people taking personal photos with $500 cameras of someone who lives in such poverty is because either they could not comprehend what they were doing, or they just like totally really like just had to show like everyone on Facebook what a cool person they are. Anyways, I was so racked with guilt at this point that I wanted to do anything to help the people in these townships. I wanted to rip all the clothes off my body along with all the money out of bank account and give it to them. I wanted to stick my nose in a book until I found the cure to AIDS. Most of all I wanted to punch every one I was with then take their camera and give them to random mothers on the street. It was at this point, mulling over how to handle my situation, that I realized while the rest of my day had led me to question whether I was I in fact dreaming, I now knew that I was not. I knew because no matter what I did I would not change what was happening, and more so, I knew that I never could.

Dan on trying new things

Nellie & Dan at Moyo at Spier

Since I arrived in Cape Town over two weeks ago now (two weeks!? Where has the time gone!?), I have been trying to take every opportunity I have to try something new or put myself out of my comfort zone. Some of these instances have been no-brainers, like learning how to surf. I’ve wanted to surf for as long as I can remember so finally getting the opportunity to was amazing. I picked it up nicely and plan on spending may more days at the beach perfecting my style. Pushing my comfort zone in other areas hasn’t always been as easy though, especially when it came to food. One of my “rules” while abroad is to avoid eating at American establishments (you’d be surprised how many there are) and always trying local food. One of my first chances to do this was at Cape Point, where I went out on a limb and ordered fish and chips! I’ve never liked fish, and while I can’t say I was head over heels about this, it wasn’t terrible. I haven’t had fish again since, but hopefully I’ll eat it once or twice more before I leave.  
Ethiopian food from Addis Restaurant
I’ve also eaten Ethiopian food and used every opportunity I’ve had to order traditional dishes. The South African dishes, such as the lamb curry, have not disappointed, and some of the desserts have been absolutely amazing. My favorite part though is having the opportunity to eat absolutely exotic animal, ones that there is little chance I would ever get to eat while in the States. I’m talking about Ostrich, Wildebeest, Sprinbok, and Impala, all of which I have eaten. I always keep my eye out for cool options and I’m hoping to have a few more added to that list by the time I go home.

Along the same lines, I’ve also decided to try my hand at gardening! It’s something I have never done before, but one of my best friends had a garden in front of his apartment this past summer and there is already an established garden here, so I figured why not try! The climate is perfect for it and if I can produce something it will save me some money on groceries! Yesterday I picked up tomatoes, lettuce, and green bean seeds from the grocery store and plan on planting them with the help of Brandi in the next couple of days. At school I am always really busy, so taking on this additional project will help me fill some of the free time I have here! The expected harvest is within the last month we are here, which gives me something to look forward to at the end of our trip!

Erica's realization that everyone is looking out for her well being.

As I register all the events that took place during orientation I knew I made the right decision in choosing this specific program.  I have officially been in Cape Town for two weeks and two day, and I am still in love with this city as the first day I arrived.

Last week Tuesday and Wednesday we visited all the internships that the students will participate in.  I enjoyed this portion of orientation because it gave each of us the opportunity to see where my fellow co-educators will be interning and what kind of work they will be doing. I am beyond excited to begin my internship at City Mission Education Services (CMES) with Dan. CMES is an alternative school for students who have been out of school from 6 months to two years. This school is located in Bridgetown, a coloured township. Many of the students at this school have either dropped out of school, have family issues, or have had a troubled past.  The goal of the school is to teach these students valuable skills and give them the opportunity to finish school. What I like the most about this school is that they are taking in young people that society deems as failures and provide them with the message that they are important and valued! Dan and I will be teaching a life skills class and participate in a feeding program in the townships at least once a week.  I promise Vernon is amazing for placing me here, because this is exactly what I want to do, and hopefully I get to work with a similar population in the future. 

Jameson Hall, University of Cape Town
 Last Thursday we started our class at UCT, and I have to say I absolutely love the campus. I am still trying to understand how people get work done on such a beautiful and breathtaking campus! Our first class was: the history and politics of South Africa taught by Vincent Williams. I am still in awe at the fact that he taught a brief history of South Africa from 1652 to present day in about 2 ½ hours. He explained everything in a detailed manner and not once was I confused with the information he provided. 

As I mentioned in my previous blog about the people here being friendly and kind, I still feel the same. I truly feel that I am living in a community that I grew up in, because I feel as if everyone is looking out for my well-being, and not once have I felt as if my life was in danger.   A lot of people may think I am crazy but, I enjoy taking the mini-bus taxis (common form of transportation). Not only is it a fun ride, its also an opportunity to meet and interact with locals.

I am looking forward to tomorrow because I am going to a beautiful beach in Muizenberg, where I might go surfing!  Also we are going to a Braai at Vernon’s house. A braai in South Africa is equivalent to a Barbeque in the United States.
Drumming session at Gugu's Thebe Arts & Cultural Centre in Langa
(front row) Brandi, Kristin, ?, Maria, Brittany, Beck, Theresa, Sam, Erica
(back row) Kelsey, teach, Michael, Mackenzi

Brandi is HERE!

Brandi at Moyo

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of activities, beautiful sights, and trying new things. I feel like I have grown and gained so much independence. Its incredible feeling to see so many things you have never seen before, and actually have the feeling that you are making a difference in someone’s life.
Its crazy to think that orientation is actually over. We arrived here unaware of what Cape Town would bring. We were thrown into a two-week crash course of South Africa, and I loved every second of it. We swam with penguins at Boulder Beach, saw a concert at the Kirstenbosch gardens, and went surfing at Muizenburg Beach. It has been unreal in that aspect, but another part of the orientation was just as incredible.
As part of our orientation we were taken through the townships here in Cape Town. I have traveled to Honduras before, and thought I had seen poverty and knew what it was. But this was a whole new ballpark. Driving through Khayelitsha, Guguletu and many other areas was shocking. I saw so many people walking through the streets, and so many children everywhere. It was such a contrast to the places I have been here where the sights are incredible and the signs of poverty are minimal.
Seeing the townships make me realize how different areas of Cape Town really are. The beauty of the sights is a stark contrast to the inner downtown area where people sell everything they can just to make a couple Rand. I learned a lot from my experiences today and know that I have many more to come. I know this sounds cheesy, but everyone I see looks beautiful in his or her own way. It makes me feel seriously grateful for what I have at home in the states and where I am living while I am here. I realize that there are some children out there in Cape Town tonight that don’t even have running water or a safe place to sleep, so next time I complain about something like my cell phone or computer- I realize that is a luxury only a small portion of the world is luckily to have.
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to learn how to surf. I spent the entire day in the water at Muizenburg beach, something that not many people ever get to do in their lifetimes. We had to evacuate out of the water because a Great White was spotted, and then were given the okay to go back in. It is experiences like this along with the stark contrast of seeing the townships that makes this city so beautiful. I realize that although I do miss the comforts of being home, from the meals to the family and friends, there isn’t anywhere in the world I would rather be then Cape Town. I am so grateful for the experiences I have had and the ones still to come that I cant help but being grateful for the future. Although it is a hard concept to grasp, I have learned to take everything one day at a time and adjust to ‘South African time’. I found a quote from the District 6 Museum that describes the experiences I have had and what I look forward to perfectly. It reminds me to live in the moment and not take anything for granted. It is so simple yet so perfect because “No matter where we are, we are here.”

Amarilz on Two Weeks in Cape Town

Amariliz & Kimmi at Moyo

Two weeks in Cape Town:

Feel at home. In just two weeks we have been bused around Cape Town, each day a new place, a new experience. I have been wine tasting, swam with penguins, pet cheetahs, and experienced an assortment of different flavors ( i.e. Ethiopian and traditional African cuisine).  I have been happy, sad, uncomfortable, scared and simply overwhelmed with both excitement of Cape Town and the obligations of my life in the United States. I have seen magically moving expressions of nature and humanity. I have been on the verge of tears and had my very core and infrastructure shaken. I have also been void and left wondering….

On a superficial level I have experience Cape Town as a series of potential and realized adventured.
I came with a check list
     √  1.   Swim with penguins
     √  2.   Surf
          3.  Hike Table Mountain
     √  4.  Wine Tasting
     √  5.   Eat exotic food
         6.   Bungee Jump
     √  7.   Pet Cheetahs
           8.   Cage diving
           9.  Enjoy and ride the wave

As of today I can say that 5 of the 9 on my list have been accomplished, number nine including all possibilities that are to become available. It will not be check until I have left Cape Town. I am in no rush for this day to come.

Thoughts: Internships:
  • ·       Funding….. a major component and essential  when it comes to the success of your organization and as such the success of a vision. This is reality, a sad reality of life and the world that we live in. Our areas of internship contribute services for the betterment of individuals. This component of vision especially its availability was represented by the structure and integrity of the building and further more denoted by the location,  Mowbray vs. Mitchells Plain.
  • ·       We are a part of this gradient.
  • ·       Christel House-- this organization really touched my heart. I had to hold back tears. I found this organization truly inspirational and it gave me hope, the belief that the cycle of poverty can truly come to an end. The school was originally and privately funded to educate the “poorest of the poor “and further educate their family.  This was the first time I had heard that students were not required to pay school fees. It was a true success story. “ Once  a child is part of Christel House they are forever”, this I found beautiful. This organization embodies good, and integrity.
               ~~Dreams are possible. Christel House is the equivalent of my dream to open a clinic in Ecuador ~~~
  • ·       Tafelsig:   My internship
    I'm scared, nervous, excited. I am afraid that I will love to be here but not contribute in significant way.  I am afraid that I will fail.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Becky experiencing the specialness that is Cape Town

Becky at Moyo

As I am sitting here reflecting on everything we have done during our orientation, I find myself thinking about the people I have met so far on this trip. I was so excited when we went to my internship at Thandokulu. Ever since I first found out about the opportunity to teach children I have been so excited for this day to come. I have been inspired by the idea of helping children who are less fortunate, never considering that there were people who never had the opportunity to go to school in the first place. My happiest memory thus far in Cape Town happened only yesterday and it was completely unexpected. I went over to the house at Loch Road to spend time with everyone there, and found out that the house cleaner needed help with her math homework. Everyone suggested that I should help her (which it didn’t take much to convince me) and try and teach her how to do it. There was an obvious language barrier, but she was learning something I learned about ten years ago. She was probably in her fifties or sixties and was trying to work on problems using order of operations. Every time I helped her through a problem and she found the answer, the sweetest most genuine smile appeared on her face and she looked so happy. It was the most rewarding and eye opening experience for me because before I only thought that I should be helping the children who are trying to learn math. Now I see that my help should not discriminate by the age of the learner, but I should want to teach anyone that wants to learn. The feeling I got from helping this woman with her five math homework problems is something I cannot yet describe, but I hope this feeling will continue throughout my stay here because I have never experienced something so rewarding.
Something else that I find so amazing about the city is how friendly everyone is. I have felt more open with people here and tend to smile even at strangers walking down the street or sitting next to me in a mini-bus taxi and my kindness is always reciprocated. I feel as though the love of one person can spread to everyone in this city whether is be making a house cleaner smile by helping her with her math homework or just a simple smile to someone on a train. It is so refreshing to see and experience so much openness. Even when we went to the Sivuyile Baptist Church in Guguletu, which is one of the townships, the people there had so much love and passion for their lord and I felt an overwhelming sense of community while I was there. There is something about this culture that is so special and I can’t wait till I feel immersed in it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Brittany: I could live here.

Brittany enjoys a cupcake from the famous Charly's bakery

I’ve been in Cape Town for exactly two weeks and I am no less in love with it than the day I got here! One of our orientation leaders, Vernon, told me that I would grow to love Cape Town more every day, he was right! The end of last week and the beginning of this week helped me to see all of Cape Town. I have been able to interact with the city and its people for myself.

At the end of last week, our group went on a tour of the townships. Although we were all aware of the poverty in Cape Town, on Friday we were face to face with it. Rather than shock I felt disgust. I was disgusted that such poverty could exist in such a beautiful place. I also had to be honest with myself. I have been saying “I want to move to Cape Town,” but which part of Cape Town did I want to move to? I was falling in love with a Cape Town that many of its residence will never know. However, having the opportunity to visit the Townships allowed me to truly experience all of Cape Town.

Another experience that brought me closer to Cape Town was our excursion using the minibus. At nine o’clock Monday morning, Vernon sent us on a mission to use and familiarize ourselves with the public transportation system. We were assigned to groups of four where each group was told to take a certain mode of transportation to different parts of Cape Town. Not only was I impressed with the detail Vernon used to map out each trip, but also with how the program had already prepared us for this assignment. Although we were not completely sure what to do, we had a general idea of how to get where we needed to go. My group went to the city, where my internship will be taking place. To get there, we took a form of public transportation called the Minibus. What an experience! From the moment I stepped onto the minibus, I felt as if I was a real Capetonian.  Oddly enough it was much like taking the city bus in Connecticut. At the end of the day, each group made it home safely and excited about their new found knowledge. For myself,  I was really experiencing Cape Town for myself. I thought, “I could live here”!

While the minibus and the township tours were important and fun, the most important task this week was the visit to the internships. On Tuesday morning, I discovered that we would be visiting my internship first, The State Attorney’s Office. I was a little nervous but also thrilled to see where I would be interning. The Attorney introduced herself and staff to our group and explained her line of work. As a student interested in the law, I realize how great of privilege it is to work with such a distinguished institution. I especially enjoyed how this internship will allow me to see how the law can work to progress human rights. I pray that I can be helpful to the State Attorney’s Office. I am just so grateful for this opportunity.

It seemed as everyone was equally as thrilled with their internships and rightly so! Each and every one of us has the rare privilege to intern at an organization that is helping the people of Cape Town. I am so excited to learn from the people of Cape Town and continue to share my experiences with you. 
Rina, Maria, & Brittany lunching:  Moyo at Spier

Alex on excited nervousness

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Cape Town for almost two weeks now, and that orientation is officially at an end. I can’t even begin to describe how much I adore this amazing city, and how enjoyable my time here so far has been. From swimming with penguins and Robben Island, to visiting townships and more, I feel like we’ve been shown an overview of every aspect of the city, and now it’s our time to explore what is in between. 

For the past two days we have been visiting internship placements, learning more about the organization, and seeing what we will be doing when we get there. Each one looks like it has so much to offer, and I really feel like everyone of us is going to have such life changing experiences. Today I got to visit BeautifulGate where I’ll be interning, and I have to admit I was VERY nervous about it. We drove through Phillipi East passing farms, cows, and goats, and finally arrived to a nice gated area covered with lovely murals, that was Beautiful Gate. We were led inside one room and watched a short video that went into detail about what the organization does, and then Alice told us about the programs they provide. They have two main sectors of the organization: the Community Support program, and the Community Development program- each with subdivisions of their own. The organization works in a wide spectrum ranging from medical help to childcare and youth development, as well as a reunification team (where I’ll be!).

Alice explained a little about what I’ll be doing, and I’m looking forward to starting Monday to find out the rest. She told me I will be placed within the reunification team working with a social worker. Tuesdays I get to accompany the social worker into the townships to meet with families, working in integrate the child back into their home and community. I can’t put into words how excited I am to be so hands on and working within a community that really needs help. The experiences I’m so fortunate enough to be able to have truly are going to be life changing. However, with all that said I am actually even more nervous.

You know that dream or goal you have in life about what you want to do when you grow up? What happens when the next step you take puts you really close to making it come true…and that next step happens to occur Monday? For as long as I can remember, my goal in life was to work in developing countries and areas that truly needed help. To work with people who are in need- true need. To be hands on, doing everything in my power to change the negative parts of their lives, and to be able to positively impact them and their community. When I begin Monday at Beautiful Gate I’m going to have that chance to help someone do what I’ve always pictured myself doing. I am thrilled and excited to experience it, but in the back of my mind is a pool of “What Ifs?” It’s scary thinking that in a few days everything I’ve wanted to do will actually be happening, and what if I don’t like it after all? What if I realize I’m not cut out for this type of activity or career like I always thought I was? What happens then if that’s the case? Am I back at square one? What then?

I guess that’s why the program sets up such amazing opportunities like this for us. It allows us to try out those things, which we are passionate about and see if it actually is a nice fit. And regardless of what I might find out regarding if this really is what I want to do or not, it’s the experiences I’m going to have that count. Just knowing that I am able to make a difference in one person’s life that makes everything worth it. I can’t wait to see what this adventure will hold- stay tuned to find out!

Ryan could see himself settling down here one day

Ryan looks happy to finally be in Cape Town
So we’ve been in Cape Town for almost 2 weeks now and I’m finally starting to settle in and feel at home. I can honestly say that I can see myself settling down here permanently one day. This place is so amazing and beautiful that it’s indescribable in a single blog post and the pictures that accompany it cannot possibly do it justice. We’ve done so much here in the past 12 days that it feels like almost a month. In the first week we did many different activities such as site seeing, trying new foods, and getting to know our surrounding community. We’ve eaten dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant, took a bus ride around the peninsula, swam with penguins, registered at the University of Cape Town, explored the city, visited the Waterfront, toured the townships, listened to jazz music, went to a vineyard, and attended a service at Sivuyile Baptist church. Every single activity so far has been amazing, but besides visiting many popular tourist destinations, learning about the history and culture of South Africa has also been an incredible experience. Touring the District Six museum, the Slave Lodge, and Robben Island have all been remarkable experiences that truly complement learning about the country’s long history in a classroom setting. I particularly enjoyed the tour of Robben Island because all of the guides there are former political prisoners during apartheid who have different stories to share.

                           Ryan, Nellie, Kelsey, Theresa hanging with the penguins
Ryan & friends enjoying penguin watching

Most recently, in the past 2 days, we have spent most of our time visiting each other’s internships around Cape Town to obtain a better description of the environments that each of us will be working in. Yesterday we went to the State Attorney’s office, the Black Sash, the Network of ViolenceAgainst Women, Thandokulu high school, the City Mission Educational Services, and the Maitland Cottage Hospital. After visiting about half of them, I was extremely excited to see mine today and anxious to begin working on Monday. Today we went to see the Cape Argus newspaper, the Children’s Resource Centre, the Vera School, Christel House, Beautiful Gate, and finally Tafelsig CommunityClinic where I will be interning. Tafelsig is a poor community in the township of Mitchell’s Plain where the majority of the population is classified coloured due to apartheid. I was really nervous at first walking into the clinic with many people patiently waiting for their care in a large lobby, but after getting briefed on what I will be doing and who I will be working with, the feeling of excitement soon retuned. Many of the other internships caught my eye but one that I found particularly interesting was Christel House and how their program is structured to reduce poverty in families and subsequent generations. As of now I cannot wait until next week when I will be helping out at a clinic that sees over 500 patients a day and learning more about the history of this magnificent place!

From Ryan's first 2 weeks in Cape Town:

Michael & Ryan at arrive at their home away from home
Ryan at Signal Hill "embracing" Table Mountain
Ryan at Maidens Cove
Ryan & friend at Elonwabeni Home
(clockwise from bottom) Kelsey, Nicole, Ryan Amariliz, Kimmi, Maria, Brandi, Sam
Maria, Brittany & Ryan lunchtime at Moyo

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Theresa's insight into two cities that are Cape Town

Theresa arrives in the rain but sees clearly through the haze
Orientation wrapped up today, in the last two weeks our group of 21 has said our tearful and excited goodbyes to friends and family, flown eight thousand miles, spent copious amounts of time hazed by jetlag, listened to dynamic jazz, experienced poignant gospel music, and lived through some of the most profound and bewildering experiences of our young lives. All of this has been near impossible to believe.  Throughout all of this Table Mountain has been the omnipresent constant, ready to greet us through the fog as we arrived off the plane, ready to remind us about our insignificance as we wandered in the townships and ready to celebrate with us the strange and vibrant beauty of this unnerving place.  
The omnipresent constant of Table Mountain
It’s hard to put into words the experience of being in Cape Town without talking about the sickening feeling walking from the bowels of a township into the clean consumerism of a shopping mall, the powerful feeling of being on a mountain edge watching the waves collide into the shore below you and the leisure of long conversations late into the night. 
waves collide as Theresa stands on the edge
Cape Town; snuggly nestled between the ocean and the mountain, is a tale of two cities.  But then again, aren’t most places (minus the post card backdrops, of course.) Once you peel back the whitewashed, vineyard wine drunk privilege; you reveal the inconceivable poverty and disease and starvation and substance abuse. 

Maybe it is South Africa’s barely healing wounds of apartheid that allow me to see the disparities so clearly or maybe it is being a stranger in this new place, but the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty has never been so apparent in my entire life.  At the District Six Museum, we exposed our own involvement in this mess as the picturesque area we are staying in had its occupants vacated for white people to live in and occupy.  Being confronted with my own privilege, and trying to find an equilibrium between appreciation and guilt and responsibility has been one of the most challenging balancing acts of my life and will continue to be something I work on for my continued existence.

Theresa centered in thought

In the United States, I am lucky enough to work at Hallie House, an in-patient substance abuse treatment facility for pregnant and parenting women.  Our group had the honor of being able to go to a home much like my place of work.  Elonwabeni Home in Mitchells Plain, is a home for women and children living with HIV/AIDS and many of the women are struggling with their own substance addictions.  As I talked to the women at Elonwabeni, I struggled to maintain my presence in Cape Town and not time travel back to Hallie House.  The seemingly unique stories the women shared with me echoed the countless stories I have heard whispered within the walls of Hallie House. What I took away from this experience was the reminder that addiction, abuse, violence against women, poverty saturates many peoples lives regardless of the country we live within, the color of our skin and our financial circumstances in life.  I was centered when one of the women laughed when her daughter entered the room, and the woman told me that she would be graduating within the month, and it reminded me how hope, faith, and love saturate the world as well and this is what keeps us all going.

Rina on visiting placement sites

Ryan, Rina, and Kristin upon their arrival in Cape Town
Today we visited the various internship placements where our peers will be working.  We started at the State Attorney's office, Brittany's placement.  Everyone introduced himself or herself, briefly stated what they were studying and where they would be interning during our three month stay here.  (This became a monotonous task, as we had to repeat this information at every internship site that we visited.)  The woman that Brittany will be working with explained what type of tasks she would be responsible for, such as filing and reading some cases which can be based on sensitive matters, so confidentiality is important.  She also told her what form of dress would be appropriate, and what time she is expected.  This placement requires a person with a strong personality, someone who will take charge and won't get walked all over; and the one person who I thought was best fit for it was Brittany.

The rest of the day followed the same routine; we visited the other internship placement sites, introduced ourselves and the person who was going to be working there, and learned a bit about each one.  We were able to ask questions and it was a good way to understand what our peers would be doing and even gain a perspective on different NGO's.  Many were not very well resourced, and especially so in funding.  Regardless, the people that worked there were very passionate about the driving factor, the cause behind each organization, which was the people.  It wasn't about the pay, which was a great thing to see, as money seems to be the only factor of concern in the US.

We went to the
  •  Network on Violence Against Women (Theresa's placement) which was a welcoming place, that I hope to visit when they host events. 
  • Black Sash, (Meika's) is an NGO that offers paralegal advice, mainly concerning labor issues.  It was sad to see that due to low funds, they had to close down three of their other locations from seven to four offices. 
  • Thandokhulu High School (Becky, Maria, Kelsey) is a public secondary school, where many children travel great distances from their homes in the townships; some have to leave as early as five in the morning, just to make it to school by eight.  Although it is a public school, they still have to pay fees, not to mention transportation costs.  Because the school is not well funded, they only focus on academic subjects like math, life sciences, geography, history, and English.  Fine arts, music and other subjects of the like are not offered. 
  • City Mission Educational Services (Erica, Dan) is another school in Bridgetown, another township, but this school is special because they take students that have fallen behind in their classes, or are not up to par with other students in their age group, so they can have a second chance at receiving an education.  The students may have dropped out or fallen behind for a number of reasons, maybe family issues, or transportation troubles, but this school is designed to help the children move forward regardless of their age.  The students range in age, and they have only grades eight, nine and ten.  The school also provides the learners with a hot meal because many do not have this luxury at home.  I really liked this about the school, because it is important that the children are not going hungry at school, as it can be a major distraction from learning.  Another thing about this school which was great was that they did provide dramatic arts and music as classes.
  • Maitland Cottage Hospital (Kristin) is a hospital that specializes in orthopedic and pediatric services.  This was the last stop and a very difficult one for myself and a few others.  As soon as we entered the boys ward, my eyes flooded with tears upon seeing the rows and rows of beds, all filled with broken boys.  Many of them had broken femurs because they had been hit by a car on the street.  It was sad to see how many there were.  The nurse told us that many of their parents did not have the funds to come visit them regularly, which was hard to hear.  She also assured us that the children settle in quickly, and they did seem especially happy to have any kind of visitors.  I approached the cribs of two young boys, about three or four years old, but when I tried to speak to them , they would only speak in Afrikaans or Xhosa.  All I could do was reach my hand in between the bars, to hold their hand. The boys immediately grabbed my hands and were so excited to talk to me, pulling me in both directions.  They would not let go, even when I had to say goodbye; one refused, and pulled my arm further into the crib.  In the girl's ward, many were also bedridden, with their legs either elevated, or probed with metal bars and other devices.    I felt so bad I couldn't approach any of the girls' beds because I didn't want to choose one girl over another.  I'm sure they would have loved to talk to anyone, but I couldn't decide, and I also didn't one girl to feel left out if no one approached their bed.  It was a tough situation, and I felt bad that we had such little time to spend there. 

I hope to revisit many of the internship sites, because I liked each one that we visited.  I wish I could help out at all of them, but it's easier said than done.  I hope I love my internship placement as much as I loved everyone else's.  As each person found out more about their internship, I grew more nervous and excited about mine, at the Children's Resource Center, which I will be visiting tomorrow.  I hope that I won't feel completely clueless when I get there, as I expect to be teaching a class on environmental conservation.  The best part about the placements though, is that each person is well suited for their own internship; so although I am nervous, I assume it will be a perfect match for me.