These past few days have flown by. Friday was the beginning of our Marquette courses. Though the entire house arrived about 40 minutes late because the drivers were running on “African time,” we still were able to get a great introduction to our first course. The course title is Leaders in Grassroots Organizations: Community Development and Social Analysis. Friday was just focused on life in the townships and how these people actually survive.
During the apartheid, there were many laws about where different races were able to live. When those laws ended, there was no way of just picking up everyone from their living situations and moving them. South Africa is still very much living the apartheid just without the laws. One huge contribution to the poverty is that most of the employment opportunities are in the city of Cape Town. With most empty jobs in the Northwest corner of South Africa and most shacks and poor people located in the Southeast corner, there is not an easy way for these people to get jobs. If some are able to get these low income jobs, the income is almost completely used on transportation to and from work. This means these people cannot even afford bread for their families. This domino effect is seen in every aspect of life. When you cannot afford food, you certainly are not able to afford garbage bags. The garbage then piles up in fields and next to the shacks which makes for horribly dirty and unsanitary living conditions. This, in turn, provides many health issues for the people. There is no refrigeration, no toilets or sanitary sewage outlets….most of our essential living needs are not even a thought in these townships.
The government has put in place a system where they try to replace some shacks with small houses. In order to be chosen to move to these houses, you have to have your name put on a list and those who make less than 800 Rand (about $89) per month get first option. This number may sound low, but most of these people have absolutely no income so there is still a huge waiting list. Even when some people are able to move into the homes, they will stay in their shack, rent the home out, and make enough money to buy bread for the family.
A 4-5 person home is 23 square meters of bare, cement walls with sandy floors. Most of the ground here is very sandy so even when these homes are built, they are never on a very sturdy foundation. This makes for cracks in the walls and ceiling in a short amount of time because parts of the house sink into the sand. There is also mold everywhere in many of the homes. Even if you are lucky enough to move into one of these government homes, it means you must leave your entire community and move to a new place where you most likely don’t know anyone. The communities of shacks are extremely close knit people because their living arrangements are just so close they become family.
This was the introduction to our Leadership course which will coincide with our service sites. All of the children I will be teaching currently live in these townships. In order to attend the Amy Biel after school programs, they must be a full time student at a school and they must agree to come to the program every school day. If they are able to fulfill these requirements, they are never turned away at Amy Biel. This is difficult for children sometimes though because they are needed to take care of younger siblings. There are many circumstances in which if both parents have passed away, there might be a 10 year old taking care of a 6 year old.
This is the reality in which these people are living...something I cannot fathom even in my worst nightmares. The innocent faces of children as they run around at school are just happy to be “away from the shacks” (as I read on a poster a child made at Imbasa elementary school). We are here to be leaders in these places and to begin community organizations for them. Only about 6% of the people from the townships are involved in any type of community organization and about 89% think they have nothing to offer. As we try to understand this foreign life, we are called to implement something they need. We are called to communicate and understand what the needs of these townships are in order to help long term- hoping our projects will be carried on and fulfilled long after our time here in South Africa.
Our service sites begin this week. I am excited to see what this semester has in store for me. I have virtually nothing in common with these children except for true compassion and love. I’m just hoping that will be enough to get me through some of the stories I will hear.
In other news, K-House had our first braii today! A braii is a traditional African BBQ/party. It was scheduled to begin at 3pm and at about 1:30 we were told we had to go grocery shopping and make all the food. Everyone seems so casual about things like this whereas we were all frantically running around the store and trying to cook as fast as possible. I never really felt the phrase "a watched pot NEVER boils" before today trying to make pasta salad with 15 mins left before people arrived. Still, none of the Africans seemed worried or rushed! (TIA!) We had about 60 people over and cooked more food than an army would be able to eat. Our refrigerator is jam packed with leftovers. It was very successful and we all met some great, new people. Most of the guests were from UWC and were interested in an international program so were very willing to learn about America. (MANY more cultural differences were discussed). This was basically an all day event so now most of the house is exhausted.
Much more to come in the days ahead!