A Travellerspoint blog

Poverty, Community and Love

This time tomorrow I will be at Durban Airport waiting to board my flight home. I cannot quite believe that my 3 months in South Africa has come to an end. There have certainly been moments when I wished, more than anything, to be back at home but I have enjoyed the majority of my time here and certainly feel that I have challenged myself and grown as a person.

During our last week on placement in Cedara we organised a careers session for the children and young people in the village, arranged a netball session with the young girls and helped run the Grade R and Grade 7's graduation. The graduation was such a big event - bigger than my own graduation! The children all got little gowns and caps and all the village turned up to watch them receive their certificates. It was great to see how excited they all were to see their children succeed.

These past three months have been exciting, challenging and exhausting! I have learnt so much about South Africa but also about the way I perceive the UK. This whole experience has certainly taught me to be extremely grateful for things I often take for granted.

What I am even more grateful for:
Hot and cold running water
Showers!! Not having to bath in a bucket!
An inside toilet and kitchen
A washing machine
The vast amount of opportunities and freedom I take for granted
Not being discriminated against because of my gender or age
The money to have a balanced diet
The rain!
Good friends and a loving family

I have also learnt a lot during my 3 months in South Africa and I just wanted to share with you what I have learnt about poverty, community and love.

Poverty:

Poverty comes in all shapes and sizes. Just because you don't have running water inside your house doesn't mean you are poor. The community in Venda had access to clean water and had ways of storing it. We never lacked water at home, even when the water was turned off. You quickly learn to live without a shower, without a flushing toilet and without an oven- fire does the job just fine. The things that we think are signs of poverty are just signs of a different way of life. The poverty the people in both Venda and KZN suffer from is the lack of opportunities. We have so many opportunities available to us that we often feel overwhelmed and put things off. We say that we'll do that thing next year or we'll look into this thing next week but we often end up so comfortable with our lives that opportunities and experiences pass us by. Being in South Africa has made me more determined to look out for and grab opportunities when they come my way, to see them as a challenge and most of all, to be grateful for them.

Community:

During my three months here, I have met many incredible South Africans who are determined to change their country for the better. They know that their country faces vast amount of problems but they are determined to tackle them head on and make a positive difference in their local community. This amazing attitude has really challenged me to go home and see how I can make a difference in my local community. When I think about poverty, I often think about Africa or India or South America. Very rarely do I think about people at home in the UK. I think this is because I know that, compared to a vast majority of the worlds population ,the UK is extremely rich. Statistics show that the UK is the 7th wealthiest country in the world. Yet 22% of families are living below the poverty line. That is around 13.5 million people. The number of people relying on food banks to feed their families is rising and there are more people living rough on the streets than ever before. Whilst I whole-heartedly believe in overseas aid, I also know that I sometimes spend so much time worrying and wanting to help people in other countries that I forget to look at who I can help within my own city. This experience has made me determined to return home and help out where I can.

Love:

So that finally brings me on to the topic of Love. I think if I could ever quote Nelson Mandela in a non-cliched way it would be now. So this is what that great man had to say on the topic of love.

' No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than the opposite'.

Love has certainly come naturally to the two families I have stayed with during my time here in SA. I think most of us find it hard when family members come to stay for four days at Christmas so I don't think many people would find it easy sharing their home with two complete strangers for 3 months. Yet both families I have stayed with have welcomed me into their homes and lives with open arms. I have been treated like an adopted daughter and can whole-heartedly say that I have been loved like a daughter. Saying goodbye on Wednesday was really hard and a lot of tears were shed. That's the thing about loving people, when you leave them, or worse, lose them, it hurts... a lot. Loving someone with your whole heart can be the most dangerous thing you will ever do, for the fear and pain of losing them can cause you to lose yourself. Yet I truly believe that love is the greatest weapon we have against the awful hatred that is in our world-South Africa is living proof of that. The pain that this country has suffered, and continues to endure, is like no other county in the world, yet it is a country which continues to love. Love can eradicate racism, destroy homophobia and stamp out sexism. The people I have met during my three months here are all living proof of that. Their country is one that, for so many years, was governed by hate and fear yet the work of LGAMC, School Trade, and many other organisations like them demonstrates the great love that South Africans have for their country and for all its people. Despite the pain, South Africans are learning to forgive and move on from the past. But most importantly they are learning to love again.
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Posted by Ruthiebrady 07:16 Comments (0)

From melting temperatures to mist and mud!

I have now been in my new team for two weeks and they have been two weeks full of new experiences, lots of laughs and an obscene amounts of food!

I am now living in a place called Cedara which is about an hour away outside of Durban and very, very different from my village in Limpopo. There is mud, rain and mist for starters! Cedara is actually the name of the agricultural college. The village, where most of the team live, was originally built for the workers of the college but now anyone can live there and it has just been named Cedara for ease. The college is at the top of the hill whilst the village is in a slight valley. I am living with a UK volunteer called Fay in a house which is close the college. The rest of team call it the suburbs as we are living in a mansion compared to those living in the village! We have an actual kitchen, a dining room and an inside toilet!! My new team leader KG also lives in the suburbs with us, whilst Jemimah, Nonto, Sia and Tinashe live down in the village. They still have a kitchen and toilet etc but their houses are much, much smaller.

I have been made to feel very welcome by my new team and also by my new host family. There is Ma, who owns the house and works for the college, then her daughter Maskay (30) and Maskay's brothers Sia (26), Spar (19) Sia 2 (18). There is also Michla (6) who is Maskay's daughter. So it is a full house but one full of laugher, lots of singing and constant dancing! Maskay cooks amazing food and really treats us like we are her own sisters which has been great.

The team are the first team to have been based in Cedara and are working with a project called School Trade. School Trade is run by an Afrikaans couple called Colin and Vanessa who are absolutely lovely and have really spoilt us while I have been here. Throughout the two weeks I have been here, we have worked with two schools - the local primary school and the local secondary school, where Vanessa is a teacher. We have assisted with lessons, helped make graduation gowns and cleaned out entire classrooms. One classroom was completely full with desks - from ceiling to floor! We spent an entire day sorting through the desks, dismantling those which were broken and cleaning down those which could be used. We then took the clean ones to a local orphanage so that they could use them in their classrooms.

We have visited the orphanage twice now and on both occasions it has been very eye-opening. There are 40 children in total and some are HIV positive. The children are absolutely amazing but they all crave attention, affection and love. The orphanage is run by some lovely ladies who do truly love the children but imagine having 40 children to look after. No matter how hard they try, they cannot give them the attention that they need, so when visitors arrive the children go a little crazy! At one point I think I had about 10 children plaiting my hair, while another four were sitting on my lap and another two were shouting at me to watch them do multiple cartwheels! It was fun but exhausting!

We have also visited a local crèche which is about half an hour from
Cedara up a very long hill! Last week we did Arts and Crafts with the young ones which involved painted hands, lots of colouring and dressing up. It was a fun morning until the clinic turned up to give the children injections. All the children were meant to be getting their MMR injection which, like at home, is freely given by the government. However, less than half the children received the vaccination because the majority of the children's parents hadn't sent in the correct paper-work. The principle of the crèche was really upset and frustrated because she said the parents had been given enough notice about the clinics visit but they still didn't put their children's health first. Children's Rights are still very much a new thing here in SA for some communities and you can certainly see that in Limpopo and also here in Durban. But there are organisations like LGAMC and School Trade which are fighting for Children's Rights and we have to be encouraged by that.

Trips to the National Botanical Gardens, Howick Falls and Nelson Mandela Capture sight have also been enjoyed whilst I've been in Cedara. One of the things that I have found hardest to come to terms with over the last two weeks is Cedara's proximity to 'western wealth'. In our village in Limpopo we were very far away from any big towns or shopping malls. There was only one main road and that was frequented more by cows and goats than it was by cars. Whereas here we are very close to big towns, to nice shops and busy roads. We can leave Cedara, with its muddy paths, small houses and goats and within 15 minutes be inside a lovely farm shop which sells hummus. The differences in culture and wealth is vast but the two communities exist side by side. It has been quite hard to get used to and impossible to get my head around but it is this diversity which makes South Africa such an incredible yet complex nation.
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Posted by Ruthiebrady 03:59 Comments (0)

And then someone shouted PLOT TWIST!

]If you'd told me this time last year that I would now be in South Africa, I would have laughed at you. If you'd told me this time last week that I would now be in Durban, I would have laughed at you. Lesson learnt - life has a sense of humour and it never, ever goes to plan!

Sadly the boys in our team got caught drinking at the weekend. As it is meant to be a dry programme, the organisers took the decision to send the boys home. They also felt that they couldn't leave us four girls to run the project by ourselves. So on Monday afternoon we were told to pack our bags and be ready to leave for our new teams on Tuesday morning. We were all very shocked and very upset. We had been working so hard and had so many great projects running in the community that is was absolutely devastating to hear that it was all coming to and end so soon and so abruptly. The host families we have been staying with for the past 6 weeks have become like our own families and we all felt very settled in our homes and the project. Saying goodbye to my family and to all the wonderful children and young adults we had been working with was heartbreaking. It was especially hard saying goodbye to my host Ma and sister Onea. Onea has provided so much entertainment for us over the last few weeks. She has more sass and attitude than Beyoncé and Rihanna put together and can dance better than either of them as well! When we told Onea we were leaving she just burst into tears, which was really hard to take. The whole thing happened so quickly and before we knew it we were in a taxi heading for Tzaneen.

Last night us four girls spent the night in Tzaneen in a very cute b&b. The hot showers, comfy beds and lasagne didn't quite make us feel happy about the whole situation but they did make us feel a little bit better! Yesterday morning we sadly had to say goodbye to Denise and Sne as they are both going to teams in Limpopo. Abby and I have been placed in new teams near Durban so we boarded a bus with the boys bound for Joburg. Once in Joburg we said goodbye to Tebs and Muzi and then Abby, Emmanuel and I settled down for our 6 hour wait until it was time to board our bus to Durban. The bus left Joburg at 10pm and got to Pietersmartizburg (just outside Durban) at 4.30am in this morning. We are currently staying with staff members of Zoe Life and will be heading to our new host homes tomorrow morning.

So this week has all been a bit crazy. Before all of this happened, however, we had enjoyed a mini-break at midterm and an amazing outing to Kruger National Park. Mid-term is where all the Limpopo teams meet up for 2 days to learn about what each team has been doing. It was really great to see the other teams and learn all about what they have been up to and how they have been making a difference in their communities. However, it was rather sad and, to be honest, quite disheartening to hear about the variety of social problems all the other teams had faced. From schools where teachers are few and far between or worse, apathetic and unwilling to teach, to villages straining under the weight of orphans needing to be fed and looked after, South Africa has so many issues and faces so many problems that it can sometimes feel like nothing we can ever do will make the tiniest bit of difference. In our own village the lack of opportunity for young people means that, despite their desire to betters themselves, they get caught up in the vicious circle of poverty which is so hard to break away from. But if you think you are ever too small to make a difference, you have never been to bed with a mosquito in your room! And that saying is quite apt as I have been sleeping under a mosquito net for the last 6 weeks trying to avoid getting bitten!

So while the problems throughout SA can sometimes feel overwhelming, we have all tried to focus on the positive difference we have made within our communities. We may never know the full impact we have had upon the lives of the children and communities we have been involved in and I truly hope that, despite the sudden change, my team brought a smile to the faces of the children in Tshaula Madzemba. They definitely loved the tyres anyway!

Mid-term finished on the Friday and on the Saturday we finally made it to Kruger National Park. This trip had already been changed three times so we were very, very keen to go. I say we but I mainly mean Denise, Abby and I. Our SA team mates weren't too enthusiastic about sitting in a hot mini bus all day looking at animals they had already seen before but they gracefully put up with our ooos and ahhhhs every time we saw an elephant! And we saw lots of elephants, much to my delight. We also saw zebra, giraffes,
wilder-beast, water-buffalo, hippos, monkeys and, incredibly, Simba himself! We were told not to get our hopes up about seeing lions as they aren't active during the day. However, Simba was just sat at the side of the road in all his glory. It was a really amazing experience and I felt truly privileged to see these animals in their natural habitat and not behind any bars or fences. And now, given the circumstances, I am so grateful that we had the chance to go as I doubt they would let me drive 22 hours back to Limpopo just to see an elephant!

Tomorrow I will be heading to my new team who are based in Cedara which is about an hour and a half away from Durban. The team I will be joining have been working with an organisation called School Trade. I am not quite sure what the organisation does but I am looking forward to meeting the team and getting stuck in with the work that they have been doing.

With only a month left in SA and only three weeks left on placement, we were all very disappointed and sad to have to leave our original project and give up on the work that we had been doing within the community. We also feel sad to have to break up as a team and I know that I will miss the guys. But all of us girls have decided to look on this change as a brand new adventure. Abby and I have certainly seen parts of SA we never thought we would see and I hear Durban is relatively cool with thunderstorms! So maybe the lesson here is that you should be careful what you wish for as I was complaining about the heat! But maybe the lesson is also that yes, life doesn't always go the way we would like it to go and that's hard, but what happens instead could be the start of something even better!

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Posted by Ruthiebrady 08:52 Comments (0)

Feeling hot hot hot!

I never thought I would say this but I am actually looking forward to getting back to cold, wet, miserable England! A day of drizzle would be amazing right now as we enter the South African summer. Going to bed sweating and waking up sweating in 40 degree heat isn't great but I think I am slowly getting used it. The Saturday after I wrote my last blog we had a team outing to a luxury lodge called Copa Copa where we had an amazing lunch and spent the afternoon in the pool. It was divine! They even had a shower, which after weeks of bathing in a bucket, was heavenly!

Another week of hard worked started again on the Monday as we began to clear the land for the Jungly Gym and collect wood for tippy taps. Tippy taps are where bottles of water are attached to a wooden structure and can be tipped using a foot leaver. They are easy ways for children to get water and are going to be placed around the land where we organise the children's activities. At the moment there are no water taps on this land and the children either have to bring their own water or not drink at all. Having no access to water when they are trying to learn or take part in activities in the baking sun isn't ideal so these taps will really make a difference.

By Wednesday we had cleared the land for the Jungle Gym and started to move the tyres up to the site so we could mark out the area. Thursday was a hot day spent digging holes for the tyres and placing them round the site. To be honest the boys did a lot of the work while us UK girls attempted to cook on an open fire. We had a bit of help from Sne to get the fire going and it took us a bit longer than usual to cook the chicken but we got there eventually and managed to not only make a edible meal but a tasty one at that!

We finished placing the tyres on Friday morning and by Friday afternoon the kids were bouncing all over them. I think they would be happy if we just left it at that and didn't add anything else! We couldn't add anything else this week as we were still waiting to receive the money for the materials from Zoe-Life. This arrived today so hopefully next week the Jungle Gym will start to take shape.

Last weekend we had the pleasure of attending a local wedding. Teboho and Emmanuel are staying with the local pastor who has been with his wife for 39 years but they'd only had a traditional wedding. So this event was to celebrate their 39 years together but also for them to get legally married. It was a great event albeit very very long and hot! After two hours of family and friends speaking about the pastor and his wife, another pastor got up to deliver the sermon. By this time we were all very hungry so when the pastor said he was going to deliver a short sermon, we all heaved a sigh of relief. An hour and a half later the pastor finished his 'short' sermon! And then we still had all the toasts, the cutting of the cake and the offering to the happy couple to get through before we could eat. By the time we got food we would have probably eaten absolutely anything! The menu consisted of beef (two cows had been killed for the occasion), fried chicken, pap and coleslaw - all of which we had to eat using just our hands. After the food there was some incredible traditional dancing and music. It was an amazing spectacle to see and I was privileged to be a guest.

On Monday we took part in a Youth Dialogue event which had been organised by Deon, the leader of our organisation. The young women of the village came to cook for the event and even let us help them make the Pap. Pap is just maize and water but takes quite a while to make and has to be stirred a certain way. I don't think the girls were too impressed with our help as we were soon relieved of our duties. The event saw about 20 young people from the community come together and learn about how they can bring change to their local community. It was run by an organisation called Activate which aims to encourage young people to become leaders in their community. It is great to see that such schemes are reaching these young people and that the knowledge about how they can make a positive difference within their community and country is being clearly communicated and encouraged.

On Tuesday and Thursday, Teboho and I go and check on the community vegetable gardens. Various members of the community are taking part in a garden scheme where there are provided with the seeds and knowledge to grow their own vegetables. Teboho and I have to check how the gardens are getting on, whether they are being tended to properly and whether the owner needs more seeds. Obviously a big problem here is the lack of water but it is great to see that there is the potential for life and that the local people are determined to look after these gardens despite the odds being stacked against them.

Next week we will hopefully be starting the Jungle Gym and starting to plan a Colour Run which we would like to do with the children to teach them about the importance of hygiene. Life is always made better by a little bit of colour!

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Posted by Ruthiebrady 09:48 Comments (0)

Where has this month gone!?

The first thing I have to say on this blog is that my host brothers name isn't Joseph but is actually Patrick! I have no idea where I got Joseph from. I am convinced that is what he told me but apparently not! So yeh, my host family consists of Ma, Baba, PATRICK and Onea.

I have now been in South Africa for nearly a month. Which feels very strange to write as it really doesn't feel that long and I am not sure where the weeks have gone. One thing I have learnt so far is that South Africans are very loud! Our Ma knows everyone in the village and shouts hello and has full on conversations with everyone who walks past the house, even if they are right up the street. They also love loud music. Patrick has a massive sound system in his bedroom and plays music 24/7, even when he's not at home. And the TV is always on. There is no such thing as an inside voice and as soon as one person is awake, everyone's awake.The music at church is also deafening. Piano, drums and microphones are turned up so loud you can hear the sermon from all over the village. The vibrance and energy is catching though and makes everyday exciting and interesting.

During these past two weeks we have continued to help out with the computer classes, after-school programme and Scouts. We have run sessions on culture, gender, sustainable living and the importance of water, which the children all seem to have enjoyed. The majority of the community here do not have running water so rely on the local taps for clean water. However, these only work for around 3 days a week so the families have to stock up on water and use it wisely. In a place where it has been as hot as 43 degrees, this lack of water isn't great but the local people have learnt to get by.

We have also been clearing a plot of land to create a vegetable garden for the organisation. This was very hot and hard work and involved lots of interesting looking creepy crawlies but it will help the organisation cook for the children and have an income from the vegetables they sell. After three days we cleared the land and we are now waiting for the materials to be delivered so that we can put up a fence and start planting the seeds.

Another project we will be starting next week is to create a jungle gym for the children. We have been donated the tyres for swings and decoration and are now just waiting for the proposal for the other materials (eg; poles, slide, nails, cement) to be approved so that we can start building. We will start by clearing the land next week. It will be great for the children to have something they can actually play on rather than just dirt, rocks and sticks.

When we haven't been working, Sne and I have been getting to know our host family. Onea is 12 yet she seems to do all of the work round the house and most of the cooking. In Venda, women do all the work in the house and show respect towards men and their elders. Baba works 6 days a week and gets in about 8pm. He is a very lovely man and is helping us learn Venda, but he won't ever serve his food himself, Ma or Onea will lay it out for him to have. Patrick seems to be a law unto himself, doing what he wants, whenever he wants and the house is always full of his friends. They are all very nice but very, very loud! Ma is great and is definitely a social butterfly. She knows everyone and is also a local football referee. We went to watch two local games with her the second Sunday we were here and she got very animated. She also showed me her right to use firearms certificate so I won't be messing with her!

Last Saturday we travelled for an hour to Thohoyandou where I got to eat a pizza, buy chocolate and use a flushing toilet! It was amazing! I feel that I have adjusted to life here and am really enjoying the work we are doing. But it has made me realise how truly privileged we are to lead the lives we do back in the UK. We can have clean, fresh water whenever we want it - that's pretty great.

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Posted by Ruthiebrady 13:20 Comments (0)

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