As all of us here in Cape Town have been placed at different non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Lindsay, Sierra, Shelby, and I (Brett) currently work at an organization called Yabonga. This organization started out as a sort of daycare for women taking care of young children. As HIV took hold in South Africa however, Yabonga evolved to become an organization that provides support to children whose lives have been affected by HIV. This does not necessarily mean that each child in Yabonga is currently living with HIV; the child could have a close family member who is infected or have lost a parent to HIV, just as long as HIV has affected the child’s life in some way. Yabonga provides many services to these children such as support for dealing with HIV, teaching them useful skills such as baking and gardening, and helping them with school work and the college application process. During our time at Yabonga, we were put in charge of planning a career guidance workshop for kids from grades 10-12. The workshop would take place at Yabonga’s new youth center in one of Cape Town’s many townships, Khayelitsha. The center itself was much nicer than the buildings around it, but small by American standards. It consisted of a kitchen, restroom, storage room, break room, and a larger, open room for conducting activities. In the back of the main building, there was a red shack that we learned would be used as a computer lab for the students. Next to the two buildings was an open field for outdoor sports such as soccer.
The Yabonga main office
During our second week of working at Yabonga, we attended the opening of said youth center, an event that resembled that of a party or celebration much more than a formal ceremony. There was singing, dancing, skits, and speeches. Students, parents, and faculty from support centers from all over the Cape Town area came to the youth center at the opening, completely filling it. After several of Yabonga’s managers and teachers gave speeches about the youth center (some in Xhosa, one of South Africa’s many native languages), the students put on performances for the crowd gathered there. All four of us American students were shocked by the amazingly high quality of each and every performance. The skits and songs were heartfelt and full of emotion, while the dances were choreographed to a degree of quality we did not expect from high school students. Even the audience became incredibly animated and cheered loudly as the students performed. Perhaps one of the most striking performances was put on by an all-male group that talked about some of their own experiences through song. One of the boys announced to the audience that when he disclosed his HIV positive status to his parents, he was immediately kicked out of the house. The disgust felt by the members of the audience was immediately seen and heard as they shouted their disagreement with the boy’s parents.
Opening of the youth center
Also interesting to us was how much of a role music and dance played in the community’s actions throughout the entire occasion. There would be points where one woman would sing three notes and, like a well-trained chorus, the rest of the audience would rise up in song and dance. At the end of the youth center opening, music was played and everybody, young and old, started dancing.
At the end of the day, our experience at the youth center was perhaps one of our most intimate looks into the culture of South Africa’s townships. The people we met and activities we observed gave a small look into just how jubilant and joyful the Yabonga community can be.