For the past five weeks, Ling and I have had the good fortune of interning at Ikamva Labantu for our community based learning portion of our Cape Town study abroad program.
Ikamva Labantu was founded in the 1960's after Helen Lieberman, a speech therapist, ventured into a Cape Town township. As a white woman, Lieberman was shocked by the drastically different living conditions for the black and colored citizens of Cape Town (disclaimer: colored is an acceptable and widely used term here in South Africa for people of racially mixed backgrounds). These disparities were created by Apartheid, a racially charged policy that separated South Africans according to race. Apartheid began in 1948 under the racist National Party, so when Lieberman entered this township she immediately witnessed the appalling impact this policy. To give you an idea of what she saw, here is a photo of a township located in the outskirts of Cape Town:
Lieberman was inspired by the spirit of people in this township and decided that she must do something to help those living in such horrible conditions. Along with the help of some women living in this township, Lieberman founded Ikamva Labantu. The primary goal of Ikamva Labantu is to teach township citizens valuable skills and provide them with resources as a means to eventually become self-sufficient. According to Lieberman, her mission as an NGO founder is fulfilled when she is told that her clients do not need Ikamva Labantu's help anymore.
Today, Ikamva Labantu is divided into three divisions: Community Health, Community Learning and Development, and Community Resources. Ling and I have spent our time working with the Community Health division, which focuses on preventative health, physical well-being, nutritional health, mental health, and managing illnesses and diseases, including HIV and AIDS. Our daily assignments require us to visit either daycare centers, orphanages, or senior citizen community centers. In all of these places, we complete health evaluations that will eventually help Ikamva Labantu determine how to appropriately allocate resources for its clients.
When we visit a daycare center (or "crèche", the more common local term), we are always greeted by several small children who are curious as to why we are at their school. At first, I would always try talking to them, but I soon realized that they had no idea what I was saying. This is because most of them only speak Xhosa, one of South Africa's eleven official languages, when they are this young. Once Ling and I say hello to everyone at the center, we interview the school principal, asking questions about the health status of the children. After we finish with our interview, we help our translators (who are also employees at Ikamva Labantu) weigh and measure the heights of the students. Here is a photo of Ling measuring a child's height at a daycare center:
Our duties at the township orphanages are pretty similar to those at a daycare center. The main difference, however, is we are able to ask more detailed questions about the children since orphanages typically do not have nearly as many children as the daycare centers. I personally prefer interviewing the foster mothers at these homes instead of the daycare principals because most seem to know their children quite well. Here is a photo from my experience at an orphanage:
Beginning late last week, Ling and I started our work at the senior citizen community centers. These centers are very similar to those in the United States because the purpose of each center is to provide seniors with constructive activities, hot meals, and a place to socialize with peers. I really like working with the older township population because they all seem genuinely happy that we are there to talk to them and learn about their fascinating lives. A particular instance that stands out in my mind is from when an elderly woman told me about how she was forced out of her home in downtown Cape Town when Apartheid began. She reminisced about how her life was so much better before Apartheid struck because people of all different backgrounds lived nearby one another. I will always remember the conversation that I had with this woman because it allowed me to put a face to all of the history that we have learned about thus far on our overseas excursion.
A friendly client at a senior citizen community center.
Alright, I think now is a good time for me to stop rambling about my experience at Ikamva Labantu and pass the torch along to Ling, who will share some of her highlights and personal stories with you.
Until next time,
http://www.capetown.dj/people/CapeFlats/IMG_1226.JPG and Ling Huang.