Sunday, 20 July 2014

A Fourth of July Celebration - Ubuntu Africa Talent Show

Imagine children frantically running around getting costumes ready, older kids practicing skits, dances, songs, poems, facilitators tending to performances and acts to make sure every little detail is in order, administrative staff well… administrating. It’s July 4th, independence day in the United States. At Ubuntu Africa, it’s the day of the first annual talent show.

Ubuntu Africa ( is a nonprofit organization based in the township of Khayelitsha that began providing services to children in the community in 2007. It has the mission of improving the health and wellbeing of HIV+ children through community-based health and support services. These services follow a four-pronged approach in the provision of psycho-social support, life skills and education, health and nutrition, and community engagement.
View of Khayelitsha from the UBA Office
UBA's four-pronged approach
This day was dedicated to the commemoration and celebration of the talent of all of these children living with HIV. We began the day by setting up for the talent show. Elizabeth and I helped in every way we could. From blowing balloons with eight year olds, to setting up posters with twelve year olds, the day gave us a chance to get closer to the children for whom we were working to better the lives of. All around us, during set up, the anticipation for the childrens’ big breaks was contagious. Some children were dancing while helping in setup, practicing every little foot placement and arm movement. Other children sang traditional songs while putting up posters, or practiced skits with each other on the side.

Throughout the course of the day I was given the opportunity to take pictures of this children, and this is what I loved the most. With a camera I was given by Hannah, one of the administrative staff at Ubuntu Africa, I was able to take lots of pictures of kids fooling around, posing, and giving grins to ear to ear. The role of photography has been an ongoing debate that we have had in our study abroad program. I saw the uplifting abilities of photography, allowing the children to just let loose and have fun! It was great fun to see the little girls pose in one way and another, while the boys ran away from the camera as if it was some sort of enchanted wand. Some kids had to pull others into pictures while others ran from all cracks and crevices of the building to be a part of the pictures! They’d ask to get their picture taken, run over to see the picture, and then only wanting to take more.

Practicing for a Skit

The Guys in front of the Posters

Me with my "girlfriend"

She is a diva

Everyone really went all out and dressed up for the day!
One of the insights I gained over the course of the day was the stigma that children at Ubuntu Africa received from the surrounding community. While speaking to Lele, one of the staff members and teacher of the class 2 students, I learned of an incident that had occurred earlier that day. The talent show was being held at an auditorium-type room that was open for the general public to use. However, at first when we tried to enter the stadium, the park supervisors would not let us enter because they had some complaints that they were filing against us. They were falsely accusing the UBA staff members of drinking in the buildings and not cleaning up the mess, even though it was common knowledge that the rugby players of the stadium were the ones who often did this. For quite a long time the supervisors told the staff members that they would not let the children enter, even though they had been practicing for these performances for weeks. The children were miserable and the staff members furious. Apparently this was something that they experienced a lot, because the local community was aware of UBA’s status as a space for only HIV positive children and thus the stigma in the community against HIV meant that the organization and the children in it met a lot of negative sentiments and discrimination. After a long and heated argument the park supervisors told the UBA staff that they would allow the children to use the park building just for the day, but after that UBA would have to find a new place to go. All this is despite the park being a public area. This was eye-opening for me because even though I knew that stigma and discrimination existed and were common place, this was the first time I had seen it so directly and first-hand.

The actual performances were amazing and uplifting. They ranged from dances, to poetry and raps, to songs, to skits. Many of the concepts throughout stressed the ideals that the children were being taught at UBA. For example, there was a skit on a rape scene and how negatively it impacts the surrounding people. The entire family was broken down, and the emotion behind the skit was evident. Then there was a poem about gender equality and female empowerment, given by Lele herself. Many people and children alike were in tears by the end of the performance, because of how strongly worded the poem was. It was clear that Lele felt strongly about the subject, and that she had gone through many of the experiences that she described in her poem. When talking to her later that day, I found out that she had written the poem the previous night!

All in all this was definitely an amazing day, and an amazingly appropriate way to spend July 4th.

Shaun Verma, Class of '17

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