Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Feeling At Home in the Mother City

            Every year, thousands of people travel to other countries to volunteer in areas that have lower socioeconomic status and worse living conditions than their own.  These service trips are usually the only times that these people will ever be in these areas, and they leave with only the memories and pictures of their experiences.  So when thinking about my trip to Cape Town this summer, I knew I wanted to have more of a connective experience; I wanted to make relationships with the people I met and really continue my efforts to help the people I was about to meet, even after I returned to the United States.  But I was not completely confident that I would be able to do this.  I worried that being a financially stable, Caucasian American I would be so foreign that I would not be able to connect with the people I met and I would simply have to complete my program and leave.  The thought of completing my program superficially, without cultural immersion or personal connections, equally saddened me and worried me.
Funny moments with a child from the
Baphumelele Children's Home
            But soon after arriving in Cape Town, I realized that my fears were unnecessary.  I learned that as long as I made an effort to get to know people and understand their culture and perspective, I was accepted and welcomed by many.  A simple smile and “Molo” (“hello” in the local language, Xhosa), was a solid start, and asking people about their lives and ideas, as well as attempting to learn some basic Xhosa phrases, paved the way for some budding relationships in which I now feel accepted and less like a foreigner.  During my time in Cape Town so far, there have been several instances in which this has occurred and I’ve truly felt this bridge between cultures.
The Bikanis, my home stay family!
            My second weekend of the program was spent on a home stay visit in the Zwelethemba Township, outside the city of Worchester.  During this time I lived with a local family, eating with them and joining them for most activities.  Although initial nervousness led to awkwardness on both my end and my home stay family’s end, by the end of the visit I felt right at home.  The South African people have a way of welcoming newcomers in an endearing and friendly way.  They offer you food and drink, even if they have little of both in the first place, and they make you feel at home as best they can.  By asking my homestay family about their ideas and trying to immerse myself in their lives as best as I could, through going to the market with them or partaking in African rituals with them, I was able to further this welcoming, and make a connection with them.
Learning how to make samosas in Bo-Kaap
            Another cultural interaction like this occurred during my visit to Bo-Kaap, an area of Cape Town that is occupied primarily by people of the Islamic faith.  Although she had never met us before, a local Bo-Kaap woman invited us into her home after the tour of the area, and taught us how to cook traditional Cape Malay food.  She had the typical welcoming demeanor that I had experienced with other South Africans, cooking for us and teaching us about her culture, but I truly felt at home, in her home, when she sat down next to us at the dinner table and we asked her about her life in Bo-Kaap.  She told us about how communal life was for everyone in the area, and how she had grown up in Bo-Kaap and watched her children and grandchildren grow up there, too.  If we had been foreign Americans when we had walked through her door, by the end of our visit we had been more than that.  By extending that extra effort to get to know her, after she had welcomed us into her home, we were able to have a connection that crossed the lines drawn between our very different lives.
The OVC group at Yabonga
            But the place where I have really felt this bridge between cultures is at my internship site, Yabonga.  Although I will admit that I don’t feel this connection with every South African at the site, and it took the last four weeks to have the connection with those that I do, I have started to feel right at home at Yabonga.  Initially my fellow interns and I had felt like foreigners who were welcomed but still had this wall between ourselves and some of the gap year students at the site.  But the last few weeks have been spent getting to know these students, as well as some of the staff members, through talking to them about their lives in the Khayelitsha Township, playing soccer with them, seeing them perform traditional African music and dance and learning their native language of Xhosa.  And these efforts have definitely made a difference.  I feel more and more accepted, just by having gotten to know the students and working with them throughout the week.  I look forward to going to Yabonga because I don’t feel out of place there anymore.
Khayelitsha, the township Yabonga is in
A former Robben Island prisoner
giving us a tour of the prison!
            Developing relationships with some of the people I have met has been one of the most rewarding parts of my trip to South Africa.  Although coming into the trip I had worried about that cultural wall between my life and the lives of the people I was about to meet, I have found that making that extra effort to learn about people’s lives and learn bits and pieces of their language, even after they have welcomed you into their life, is what makes the difference.  I know that these relationships will last longer than just the duration of my trip and I look forward to returning to South Africa to continue doing what I love and helping improve South African public health.

-Lara Gaffney

Friday, 26 June 2015

St. Joseph's: A Home Away From Home

     The majority of my time here in South Africa is spent at the amazing St. Joseph’s Home For Chronically Ill Children. I have always adored kids.  From the day I decided to switch from being pre-law and instead go into medicine to become a pediatrician, I haven’t looked back.  That’s one of the reasons my internship at St. Joseph’s Home (SJH) is so great.  SJH is a wonderful facility for those children who have life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses. Each day that I am at SJH, I encounter kind, considerate and friendly nurses and staff members.  There are so many wonderful children here who are just bubbling with excitement and filled to the brim with joy regardless of their condition. It is honestly such a privilege to be surrounded by them. JHU_Gauri who also works at my site, in her own blog mentioned some great and also heartrending facts about the kids who live at the Home.

                                                      The delightful lobby of St. Joseph's Home      

      St. Joseph’s Home is not only great in the care it provides for so many children, but also in its pioneering of an innovative short-term block therapy program. Founded by German nuns who did not believe in idle hands, SJH focuses not on the disabilities that limit them, but instead, rather on improving the abilities the children do have. A number of the children at the Home were in car accidents and suffer from traumatic brain injuries. A few of these children have been enrolled in the two-week block program in which they can receive speech, occupational and physiotherapy. After the therapy program ends, the facility sends rehab care workers to follow up on the progress of the children.

      !An article about two adorable kids at SJH who were able to successfully progress to the next grade     

      For the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to shadow these therapists and never once have I found them to be lacking in compassion nor patience with any child, no matter how limited the child’s abilities were (they also certainly had the patience to answer the many questions I asked). It is such a pleasure to see these children who’ve suffered from a stroke or who have cerebral palsy, carry out the fun and creative tasks the therapists set out for them.  Although it is heartbreaking to know what these children have been through, constantly seeing a smile on their faces never fails to cheer me up.  As I watch them successfully complete each task, whether it is pronouncing a word or using their affected hand to throw a ball, I cannot help but to feel inspired by their tenacity to keep on improving.

                                                                  An amazing child who is doing well at SJH

      Since the block program is only two weeks, the therapists can only do so much before the time is up. Thus, the program requires that parents be an integral part of the process and attend at least four sessions so that when the child is discharged, the parent can continue the exercises. Unfortunately, although improvements are made in the program, many of these children regress in someway after being discharged. This is one of the few times I see the jovial therapists look defeated.  Many of these children come from poverty stricken homes and their families face multiple issues. Many parents have various responsibilities such as having to go to work or caring for their other children and so they cannot give their child the attention he/she needs nor do many of them have the financial means to properly support their disabled child.
       St. Joseph's Home allowed us to do a home visit in order to obtain a firsthand experience of the living situations of these children. In both homes we visited, a common concern was the child’s progress in school. After they are discharged, these children end up going to mainstream schools where there are forty kids to one teacher and so the teacher cannot give the individualized attention the child needs.  Unfortunately, as a consequence, the child ends up falling behind. Transferring the child to a special school can be a long and arduous process and in the mean time the kids continue to have difficulties at their current schools. It is saddening to know that so many of these children regress or fall through the cracks after all the progress they had made at St. Joseph’s Home, especially since with the right care they would have flourished. At the end of my days at the Home, I always wish I could have been more helpful to those children instead of just observing their plight, and I am constantly wondering how I could have made more of an impact in their lives.
       When I am taken away from those thoughts by doing some adventurous activity with the other girls on the trip, like hiking Lion’s Head (where I quickly found out I was not the world’s best hiker) or paragliding, I am able to immerse myself in the beauty of Cape Town. Being thousands of feet in the air and seeing all the beauty below, it is easy to just be in awe of what seems like a perfect surface. However, my time at St. Joseph’s Home has ensured that I will never forget the sad reality for so many children that lies beneath it all.
                                                  !Amazing view from when I went paragliding   

Chantal Clough

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Youth Day Festivities

My very first Friday of interning at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Center, I had the pleasure of attending the site's annual Youth Day celebration. I heard murmurings of the upcoming celebration as soon as I began work at the beginning of the week. As I was getting to know my site, which consists of a positive youth development center and clinic, I could sense a tangible feeling of excitement among the staff and my fellow interns. I attended a planning meeting, and learned that much thought and enthusiasm had gone into the preparation of the celebration long before my arrival. On Friday morning, as I rode through the mountains on the way to the Youth Center, I eagerly wondered what the day had in store.

Youth Day is a South African national holiday on which people celebrate the youth of today and remember the youth of the past. In particular, South Africans commemorate the youth involved in a protest that took place on June 16, 1976 in Soweto. On this day in history, school aged individuals rallied for the right to education taught in their native language of Xhosa. Recent apartheid-era laws had instead mandated instruction in the language of Afrikaans. This initial protest led to a string of other youth protests, collectively called the Soweto uprising. Very sadly, these children and adolescents were met with harsh police brutality. On June 16, 1976, South Africans remember these brave souls as many children across the country take part in festivals and marches. Schools and work places are closed on June 16, so the Youth Center holds its celebration the Friday before the actual holiday.

The main individuals in charge of the celebration were six interns hired from the community the Youth Center services. This community, the nearby township of Masiphumelele, has a high rate of HIV and is home to many lower income families. The Youth Center provides Masiphumelele with a safe place where youth can learn educational and self-betterment skills as well as access clinical services. The six youth interns go through a competitive interview process in order to earn these positions of leadership, and are fully dedicated to helping kids from Masiphumelele succeed and be healthy. For me, their kindness, enthusiasm, and friendship have made them the best parts of working at the center so far.

When I came into the Youth Center that Friday morning, the first thing I saw was the six Masiphumelele interns dressed in school uniforms. Though they had all graduated from high school, they thought it would be fun to promote the holiday's theme of education. I helped them to set up chairs for the youth that would soon arrive. Before long, all the chairs were occupied and only standing room was left. Children filled the room in large groups of friends, laughing and singing. I watched from the far back as the festivities began!

A full house at the Youth Day celebration! 
Puthuma, one of the most outgoing interns, took on the role of master of ceremonies. She told jokes to get the kids riled up and then engaged them in a trivia contest. A giant wheel with numbers was spun, and kids from the audience were asked questions about the history of Youth Day. Correct answers earned the youth lollipops and an invitation to one of the Youth Center's upcoming programs. The children loved this activity; it was hard for those in the audience to resist shouting out the answers to the questions as each one was asked.

Puthuma working the microphone and asking trivia questions
Following this, a string of artistic youth performances took place. An a capella singing group blended beautiful harmonies, and a young girl recited striking self-composed poetry. A group of drummers and dancers amazed the crowd with their rhythmic talents and acrobatic skills. A group of mimes even made an appearance, which caused the youth to howl with laughter and enjoyment. All of these performances had ties back to the original theme of the holiday: the promotion of youth and the remembrance of the Soweto uprising victims.

Dancers at the front of the stage

The hilarious mimes!

When the performances had all finished, the youth gathered signs with positive messages, and went outside for a march led by the Youth Center. During this short window of opportunity, the other interns and I prepared snacks of muffins and oranges for them to enjoy upon their return. The festivities had come to a conclusion, but they had been a great deal of fun.

That evening, as I was riding home to Rondebosch, I thought about all that I had experienced that day. I had seen so much positivity in the youth of Masiphumelele, and I found it truly inspiring. I was excited to get to know the rest of the interns better, and I was excited to interact with more of the kids at the center. I knew that the rest of my summer at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Center would be informative, fun, and fulfilling.

Good Night Cape Town, Good Morning World

Happiness, and hiking. Never have I ever had any intentions of hiking…especially up a mountain. Well, particularly because I am not a huge fan of nature – the woods, bugs, snakes, all of that good stuff. Yet, when you find yourself surrounded by a landscape that looks like it belongs on the cover of National Geographic magazine, you have to give it a chance. I mean, I look straight ahead, I see mountains; I look right, I see mountains; I look left, I see mountains; in my dreams, well, I haven’t seen a mountain just yet, but I feel it coming! 

True Beauty of the12 Apostles !
Cape Town, South Africa is absolutely beautiful. So beautiful that I did, in fact, decide to go hiking. Not once, but twice in 24 hours! It all began with Lion’s Head. I remember driving past looking at this thing for days. Every time, the same thought would circle my mind: Mufasa and Simba belong there! Or, are you sure this isn’t Pride Rock? It took a few days before I realized that they don’t even look alike. Well, kind of, but since its definitely not Simba territory, I decided it was certainly my opportunity to make my mark. I had to climb it, and my girls were coming with me! 

Pride Rock
Lion's Head

It couldn’t have been a more perfect day to hike 669m above sea level (even though we didn’t walk right out of the sea, we could see the sea so it still counts)! The trail began very much so path like, with a wide and not-so-scary walkway up the hill. I started up, arms pumping, feet moving, smile shining, but it only took about ten minutes uphill for my feet to slowly trot, arms fall – but nonetheless my smile didn’t fail me (: I picked up the pace a little and pushed through until walking up this hill became second nature. Of course, being the girls we are, we had to take pictures on pictures on pictures every chance we could get, even though at the end of the day most of the pictures looked completely identical. It was worth the pit stop water break! However, the clear path didn’t last too long. It became narrow real quick! I peeked over the edge a few times and quietly died inside. I used to be the most daring kid. I really don’t know what happened to me with this whole fear of heights situation. But, its cool; it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you fall off, right? WRONG! Ok, back to our lovely adventure. After a few ladders, role calls, and scaling the mountain time after time again, we were on our way to standing on top of this lion’s head! 

I'm on top of the worldddd!

Don't Worry, Be Happy (:

Climbing up wasn’t too bad, but all I could think about was trying to climb down. About an hour and a half into our journey, we made it to the top. Just in time for the sunset! I can honestly say that making it to the top was one huge accomplishment. And it was awesome! The beauty of this sunset relieved all of my worries and deepened all of my happiness. Perfect place for some quick selfies!

Hey, look what we found  


Ahhhhhhhhhh !

What better way to start your day than to wake up to your alarm clock blaring at 4:30am? Attempting to move a leg realizing it feels about five hundred pounds because you’re so sore from walking up a mountain only a several hours prior. I mean it doesn’t get better than that, right? False. That was the ultimate struggle. But I had to persevere and climb another mountain…in complete darkness, yay! Today’s special was Devil’s Peak with a little bit of sunrise on the side. I know the name sounds quite mean, but I didn’t realize how evil a hill could actually be. This time our so-called “trail” consisted of nothing but rocks, shrubs, dirt, and more green pieces of nature. This time, our so-called “trail” also meant walking straight up a steep, vertical hill. I felt like I was walking on the treadmill with an incline of about 234,329. I got that feeling where you feel like your lungs are going to explode, blood pumping. The good part, my Fitbit was really feeling it. I had about 10,000 steps by 1:00pm that afternoon! As we walked up the mountain, the brisk morning wind kept us cool and eager to reach the top. I was feeling accomplished, my determination though. Few breaks and about an hour later, I reached the blockhouse on the mountain just as the sun was about to peek out from under the darkness. It was so refreshing. The sky adorned itself with intense streaks of navy followed by soft orange in color. It was honestly such an incredible feeling. As the sun continued to rise brightening the sky, I felt like the world was waking up one moment at a time. Good morning Cape Town! I couldn’t believe I made it up two mountains in less than 24 hours. Before this weekend, I had never hiked in my life! Maybe this hiking thing isn’t too bad after all. It made me really happy (:

Dusk above the clouds.

I see the sun coming !

Would you look at that ! Hello Cape Town.

Made with Love 
Danni (: