Friday, April 30, 2010

Blog 5 - Grandmothers Against Poverty and AIDS

GAPA is a very special project sponsored by Stephen Lewis. This organization provides support for grandmothers who are raising their young grandchildren after the death of their sons and daughters. There were about 40 grandmothers at the centre when we visited this week. The centre is located in a large slum township called Khyalitchea where thousands of people live in small tin shacks in various states of disrepair. Driving into this area is an assault on all one's senses. Food cooking on open flames along the street, sheep heads hanging ready to cook, vegetable and fruit stands, people walking everywhere, children playing with old tires and make-shift balls made from plasitc bags, stray dogs everywhere, garbage piled up, clothing hanging to dry, broken appliances abandoned etc.
GAPA provides a little oasis where grandmothers come to grieve and learn life skills. They are taught about nutrition and childcare. They sew and make crafts to sell. Their grandchildren are cared for in a daycare. Every year we bring bags of donated books, toys, games and educational supplies. The grandmothers greet us with singing, drumming, dancing, prayers and this year, a hot meal. It was Freedom Day, so special food was arranged for the grandmothers. We were lucky enough to be included. The director of this program is a very energetic, spirited woman by the name of Vivienne. She is the woman I have struggled to get admitted to the Brock Adult Education program. I am going to pay for her internet service so that she can work from home where she will be safer in the evening. Philip Wright provided a used laptop that she is so grateful to receive in order to complete her courses on-line. After our lunch, several grannies stood and told their stories of dispair, hunger, sadness and pain. Many of us were in tears and shaken to our core.
    Then Vivienne took us to visit three young girls who are orphans - age 12, 15, 18. They live in a two room shack with no running water, no stove, no fridge, no table or chair and no door to close or lock. Luckily the grannies are keeping an eye on them. The 15 year old is finishing her last year of high school. The big threat for these girls is pregnancy. They are very vulnerable. With some donation money I had, I bought a new stove and fridge yesterday that is being delivered to them today. Next Tuesday we will visit again and bring groceries, some clothes and a door. Hopefully my husband can rig up a lock. I hate to think how many other young children struggle without parents. However, I am keeping my focus on the ones we can manage to help a little.
   These people are resilient, joyful and proud, in spite of all their challenges. I go away with a lot to think about and reconcile. I am touched and humbled. Words are hard to find right now.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blog 4 - Mama Lumka's Ncedeluntu Orphanage

I want to tell you about a very special place and a very special lady we visited yesterday in one of the poor townships. Mama Lumka made a cardboard sign indicating that she was willing to care for children during the day back in 1995. She had become aware that many young single mothers were locking little children in their shacks all day while they went to work. Other children were abused and raped on a regular basis. Many were abandoned if they were disabled and many suffered from Fetal Alchohol Syndrome. After a few years she met Chris Willmot who decided to purchase a piece of property and build a proper facility as the need for childcare became greater and greater. Chris and Mama make a great team - she has the vision and determination and he has the business sense. Their sanctuary now houses 32 children ranging from babies to early teens. The government stipulates that children leave an orphanage at age 8 and go back to the townships under foster care. This foster care is not always reliable and Mama Lumka is just keeping them and hoping the government won't interfere. The fate of the older children is obviously not predictable. Since they live in a protected environment, they would not easily fit back into the township. One young boy, Owen, won my heart. I would love to take him to Canada and give him a proper high school education.
    We met two young children at the orphanage yesterday that are very special indeed. Edward has lived with Mama all his life. He is now a handsome young guy about 11 years. When he was an infant, his mother deliberately dropped him on his head three times because she knew she would get a small government stipend for having a handicapped child. Edward is blind, deaf, mute and quadraplegic as a result. He requires one to one 24 hour cared. When you rub his skin, he smiles and he is truly loved. Rubin is also blind and wheel-chair bound as a result of an alcoholic mother. Another young boy, we did not meet unfortunately. Hif mother keeps coming to claim him back. He first arrived on the doorstep of the orphanage wrapped in a plastic grocery bag. He had been raped so severely by the mother's boyfriend that he had prolapsed and many of his organs were hanging and had to be put back in place. It took 2 months to get him medical care. He was in severe pain. Once he was repaired and began to trust these caregivers, his mother arrived and demanded him back. The orphanage could not keep him. This has happened several times and he is now back with his family. I share these sad stories to bear witness to what is happening to vulnerable children who live in tin shacks with no locks on the doors, indeed no doors at times. We were told that poverty is the worst ill here and leads to crime, prostitution, hunger, illness. However, the children under Mama's care are loved and there is laughter and joy at the santuary. They need money for operating costs. Let me know if you wish to contribute and I can direct you. I will leave you with Mama's slogan: "Success is in your feet. You must walk until you find it." Have a good day and appreciate your good fortune.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Blog 3 - Cape Town's Complex History

Last night we were invited to the Cross-Cultural Solutions Centre - an international orgainzation that hosts volunteers from around the world. Luann, the director, gave a presentation on the history of South Africa followed by a wonderful meal of typical South African and Malay dishes (steamed bread, lamb biryani, buchu tea). I will share a few of the highlights of her talk. Luann is a white South African married to a black South African. She has spent some of her life in exile and her story embraces many diverse perspectives. She invited us to find our own stories because it is through stories that we validate ourselves and determine how we will live our lives. She is a former social worker who worked mostly with HIV/AIDs patients and poverty alleviation. Here is what she told us . . .
South Africa has a clouded history that will not disappear quickly. It is the cradle of mankind, where earliest humans originated. Khoi-San were the indigenous hunter-gatheres. After 1500 many different groups migrated here and merged together to escape, flee or seek resources:English, Dutch, Porteguese. 80% of Khoi died of smallpox. Slaves were brought from S.E. Asia to work in the gold and diamond mines bringing the Muslim culture with them. Malay people settled in Bo Kaap area of Cape Town and are still there today with their bright coloured homes and unique spiced cooking. Many people bear the last name January to December because slave ancestors were names for the month that they were brought here. The principal in one of the schools we use is Mr. February.
The Dutch came to stay and settle here on farms (Boers) and the English came to colonize, rule, take resources and return to Britain. As a result these two cultures clashed (Boar War - English won but gave land to Dutch but kept resources). Many Brits became wealthy and killed thousands in their attempt to conquer the entire continent for Britain- such as Cecil Rhodes, a white industrialist (Rhodes Scholar, Rhodesia). As Dutch moved inland, they encountered other native tribes (Cosa and Zulus). Today there are 10 official languages as a result of these people merging.
Segregation emerged slowly - the powerful who had guns attempting to separate themselves from those who resisted their laws. Hierarchies emerged as a result of opportunities or disenfranchisement: Blacks laboured in the mines, Coloured were trades people, and Whites were colonists and privileged. The Aparteid policy came into effect in 1948 out of fear. Thus a deep-seated psychology emerged in which status was based on race. People here may never get over this. It limited access to resources. It humiliated and divided people. Blacks were required to carry passports and were put in prision if they did not comply. Some women resisted in 1960 and were shot. Peaceful resistance failed. In the area we are staying in, Athlone, riots occured and police ambushed young demonstrators shooting from the back of a truck (Trojan Horse Massacre). Black people sought shelter in the house where we are staying. These young kids resisted being forced to learn in the Afrikaans language, resulting in poor grades in school. Hundreds were killed and detained in Soweto. The Groups Areas Act, forced people from their homes and neighbourhoods and they were moved far from the city in the least desirable locations.This history is preserved in the District 6 museum in Cape Town. Blacks were depicted at terrorists - the media carried this message around the world. Blacks living in exile became very strategic. They became well education and prepared to return to their country one day to lead the way to peace. Nelson Mandella was one of them. Many in exile were assassinated or imprisoned for life.In 1993 political prisoners were released and in 1994 all people got the right to vote for the first time. I will end here and continue on my next blog.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The first four days in Cape Town

We arrived on Thursday night just ahead of the volcano eruption luckily. Watched the sunrise in Amsterdam and sunset over the west coast of Africa that same evening - two different continents in one day. We took advantage of the beautiful sunny weather on the weekend to get oriented in the area. We took the cable up to the top of Table Mountain for an incredible view. I was most taken with the interdependence of the plants and animals in this harsh rocky environment. Why can't humans learn to support each other like this?
   We took a boat out to Robben Island where Nelson Mandella was imprisoned simply for being vocal about racial injustice. What affected me the most was the limestone quarry where prisoners toiled for 8 hours a day moving rocks back and forth for no purpose.  These bright men managed to communicate in a small cave in the wall - each one tells one. Their resiliance was so amazing. At the end of this ordeal to advocate truth and reconciliation was truly inspiring. One sign read: the journey is never long when the  destination is freedom. One prisoner, Robert Sobukwe, was kept in isolation and not allowed to speak for 6 years. His cell was smaller than the dog kennels and after this ordeal he lost the use of his vocal cords. He led the resistance in which blacks refused to carry ID cards during Aparteid. We also visited the District 6 museum that bears witness to a neighbourhood of black people who were forced to move and watch their houses demolished so that white people could have their land. The museum houses the artifacts they collected and saved from their old neighbourhood along with their stories and testimonies and memoried. This is a very powerful exhibit. '
   Cape Town is a city of extreme diversity - the rich and the poor or rather the privileged and the disenfranchised. I struggle with the question of my purpose here. Why do I bring students? What can we truly contribute to compensate all that we take away and learn? We are living in the suburb of Athlone where many of the resistance battles were waged. There is a large Muslim population and I awake every morning an hour before sunrise to the call to prayer on the loudspeaker from the mosque. This is very soothing. I am impressed with how well this mixed neighbourhood works together (much like the flora and fauna on the mountain top).
     Another interesting phonomenon we observed was the unique meeting of two ocean currents at the southern point of the continent - cold Antarctic water in the Atlantic meeting warm tropical water in the Indian Ocean. A lesson in contrasts of a different sort.
    I have decided to condense my journal entries each day into one key word. So far, day 1 is 'interdependence', day 2 is 'harmony', day 3 is 'reconciliation' and day 4 is 'connection'
    The students started teaching in the schools today. The classes are very large - 40 - 50 students per class. The school board will not hire a new teacher until the number is over 48. The classes need repairing and resources are scarce. Teachers are overworked, underpaid and burnde out. They make a valiant effort. Hopefully the extra pair of hands we can provide makes a difference. Students are struggling to learn unfamiliar names and learn routines while trying to teach lessons addressing the Western Cape curriculum. They are tired and a bit unsure of themselves at this point. There are lots of  questions as they struggle to find their footing outside their comfort zone.
    We had an interesting discussion about our purpose for being here. We are privileged to travel this distance to immerse ourselves in a different culture. For who's sake are we doing this? How do we reconcile the privileged and the disenfranchised? How do we as a nation contribute to this disparity? How can we make sense of our own sense of entitlement? The first few days we scrambled to make our electronics work, find hangers for our clothes, cope without a decent cup of coffee, have a hot shower and dry off with an extra small thin towel. One of the ladies that works in our accommodation has lived in one room here for 26 years. I admire her lack of desire for accumulating possessions. Another young boy travels 75 minutes by bus everyday from the townships just to sweep and clean up for very little wages. Another woman has come back to work here after caring for her husband who had his leg amputated. These people have the biggest smiles every day. I am in awe of their spirit. These are the lessons that surround me here every day. It is truly an honour to meet and work with these people.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My new blog to document my experiences teaching in South Africa

Welcome to my blog. I am a new blog user. I will leave tomorrow with ten students from Brock University who will be teaching in South Africa as part of their certification. I am their professor. I will document our experiences during the month ahead. I invite your comments and ideas. Enjoy!