This was our first day at Manenberg Primary school; the reason that we ventured so far to South Africa.
Before I start to describe my day, it’s best to give some background about Manenberg. The city of Cape Town is segregated. Although apartheid ended over 20 years ago, race still dictates most individual’s standard of living. The city centre of Cape Town is predominantly White European and has a population of around a half a million. The suburbs around Cape Town, called Townships, house upwards of 5 million individuals, mostly people of color. Manenberg is one of these Townships and the school is specifically in a Black Township.
This area of Manenberg is known of gang violence. There are a few gangs but the main two are the Americans and the HL’s. (which stands for Hard Livin’) These gangs are active in the community that Manenberg Primary school is located. Many kids have seen people be shot or stabbed and can hear gunfire from their homes. Luckily, there seemed to be a lack of gun violence or a cease-fire at the moment. The school and the playground are the safest spaces for children to be in. An organization, SHAWCO, has come into a few of these townships communities. There is a SHAWCO office in the Manenberg Primary school and it has done wonderful things for children who get involved. SHAWCO is run through the University of Cape Town, but since it is the holiday season as well as summer break, we wanted to step in a be a presence.
I did not know what to expect when going to the school. Media in America portrays a picture of ‘poor African children’. These images include children who have bloated stomachs from a lack of food, water, and in need of medical attention. These images portray uneducated and unmotivated individuals. These images show hopelessness.
When we arrived, I was worried that Jamie, Brent, and myself would not be embraced due to our skin color and limited time in Manenberg (2 weeks). I never want to be that ‘Savior Social Worker’ that comes into a community to “fix” their problems then disappear. That is not helpful in any way. The way to work with a community is to talk with the individuals that live there. No one knows their needs like the locals do. Luckily we had some lovely young ladies, Felicia and Sharnay, that were able to provide this perspective for us. My worries about not being accepted were quickly gone. Within 5 minutes, we were all holding 3 children. I have never been given so many hugs and so much attention than at Manenberg.
Introductions to the school staff took place and they were also happy to see us. School was ending the next day and they were a little confused to why we were there at that moment because volunteers typically come and help at the school. But we were specifically looking to work with the SHAWCO Little Star program. This is a program that works with younger kids after school. These children stay on the school grounds in hopes to learn as much as possible.
The day continued and mostly consisted of meeting all the children and learning what a typical day looks like for the Little Star program. There is a lot of playing in the school yard, arts/crafts, cuddles with adults, school lessons, and snack time! My lack of Afrikaans created a large communication gap. Thankfully the children are intelligent and can speak English. This still did not help with the pronunciation of their names. I just can’t roll my R’s.
The first day instilled excitement for the rest of the trip.
Although it did wipe the energy right out of me. A nap ensued.
On a side note:
We went out to dinner that evening. The 4 of us love spring rolls and order them whenever we can. The place we went to dinner had spring rolls so we ordered them as an appetizer. The server asked how many we would like, we replied 4 spring rolls. Moments later, he brings out 4 orders of 4 spring rolls and an Apple Teazer drink. We learned to specify our dinner order and to say ‘Starter’ and not ‘Appetizer’. It's small cultural differences that make you to truly be mindful of what you are saying.