"One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity."
--Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008
Ubuntu Africa Child Health Care truly demonstrates the African meaning of "Ubuntu." Founded in 2007 by Whitney Johnson, it began with the mission of improving the health and wellbeing of HIV positive children through community-based health and support services in Khayelitsha. There are few support services offered to children in Khayetlisha who are HIV positive, and they are often left to bear the burden of disease alone -- particularly those contending with the challenges of extreme poverty. Children come after school by Ubuntu's transport services to the facility and are divided into four classes: ages 4-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-18. They go to their respective classes and are provided one hot nutritional meal a day. Ubuntu's method to care is a 4-pronged comprehensive program model, which includes: Psychosocial Support, Community Support, Life Skills & Education, and Health & Nutrition.
When Shaun and I first get there are around 10 am, we are greeted by the welcoming staff who are all huddled in the kitchen making coffee, since it is still very cold outside! Lele, the class facilitator for class 1, is always really bubbly, and gives me a huge hug upon our greeting (She has promised to give me cornrows before I leave). On Mondays, we end the staff meetings by dancing to “Happy” by Pharrell. It is a great start for the morning to get us pumped for the week! For the next couple hours, we are usually researching and doing our own projects and occasionally doing some side work such as photocopying or filing. Nick, the education manager, will usually come by our table several times to chat about last night’s world cup game or teach us some Xhosa. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the staff and will always remember their kindness, humility, and generosity.
Nick, the Education Manager, and me
Our biggest project at Ubuntu was creating a computer lab from scratch. The most expensive items were donated -- laptops and tablets, and the next step was to design and build the physical lab. We came up with a technology class syllabus and narrowed down the biggest goals, differing by each age group: to be a proficient typer, hone their academic skills (like math), set up emails, and learn how to create documents and resumes.
My other project was to create a new monthly meal plan. Thumeka, the cook, wanted a more nutritional and varying meal plan. I did research on the nutrition needs for HIV positive children, and tried to implement affordable but nutritious ingredients into their meals. I also looked into potential food donors to donate food on a regular basis to Ubuntu. In the US, there are usually many food banks per county and state, but I was surprised that there is only one in all of Cape Town.
My favorite and most memorable experience at Ubuntu was the talent show. The kids had been practicing for months, and many parents and grandparents came to support them. They performed singing, traditional Zulu dance, and role plays. I was amazed and brought to tears– every act was truly beautiful and talented. In all the musical performances I have ever been to in my entire life, I have never been so moved and touched. Watching the kids perform made me appreciate Ubuntu even more. Aside from the education, nutrition, health benefits, and opportunities to showcase their amazing talents, they also receive psychosocial support from the staff and each other to create a “home away from home.”
Class 2 performing their traditional dance
One of the first things I saw posted in their facility was "I am, because we are." After working at Ubuntu for a couple weeks now and seeing the daily joy and laughter from kids and staff, I am getting a better idea of the African meaning of Ubuntu.