This past week our ACE group transitioned from the classroom to the streets of South Africa. Last weekend, we were able to immerse ourselves into the South African culture by taking a tour of the Langa township, which was given to us by one of the locals, named Saviwe. Langa is the oldest township in Cape Town. South African townships have almost entirely black populations and formed during Apartheid.
While Apartheid’s effects are still apparent through the poverty seen in the townships, its residences measure wealth in a different way than we do. Saviwe told us that township residences consider each other to be rich people based on their inner morals and treatment of others. A person with a lot of money who makes judgments of those with less money is the one who is truly poor.
Many Langan residents live in shacks made of sheet metal and power their homes through illegal power line connections. Many local businesses, like food markets or hair salons, operate out of these same shacks. They protect their community by driving out those who sell drugs or cause violence. When township residents manage to break the cycle of poverty, there are middle and upper class homes available in the township just across the main road from the shacks. This gives those with less money something to strive for. While this creates a great sense of community within the township and assimilates class differences, it also lessens the chances that different races will one day live together.
All of this being said, the people of Langa were some of the happiest I’ve ever seen. They were very curious to learn where we were from and what we were studying, and didn’t hesitate to offer us gifts or welcome us into their homes. This is a side of South Africa that many visitors don’t see, but we are grateful that we were welcomed into a place where so much of South Africa’s culture stems from.
During this past work week, we also utilized new skills: construction and cement work, painting, and leadership. All inclusively, our second week in South Africa has not been short of new experiences and challenges.
Going from the ACJ school to the Ikhayalthemba nursery and orphanage required a major change in team objectives. The tasks we were given (for example, building a market stand out of PVC, painting fun illustrations on the walls of a children’s bedroom and constructing foundations for the new water tanks) required physical endurance and compromise. Not only were we facing new physical challenges, but the children at Ikhayalthemba were an especially rambunctious bunch that enjoyed testing our authority as teachers.
These new challenges were especially wearing on our team the first day we were at Ikhayalthemba. However, we quickly realized that we needed to shift our mind sets and acclimate to the environment. By our last day at the orphanage, we had successfully painted a room, built a functional market stand, dug and filled three foundations with cement and befriended the children while maintaining classroom control.
This week was especially notable because of our group’s capability to be flexible and pivot our efforts when necessary. Faced with challenges, we had to learn to manage and, in the end, we accomplished a great deal. Although this week was difficult, overcoming the challenges we were presented with has been a defining piece of our trip thus far.