From our intern…
Thursday July 1, 2010
To start my day we established I would meet Michelle at 9am in Muizenberg. I arrive and we drive to Khayelitsha. I am excited to be going there – I like getting out of the urban area of Cape Town and Observatory and I was excited to being visiting another children’s home.
Khayelitsha was established by the apartheid government in 1985 and is the single largest township in South Africa. It is located about 30 kilometres outside Cape Town. Our reason for going to Khayelitsha was because a children’s home there had contacted Michelle and wanted OTSK to discuss a partnership to help with their transitioning youth. The trip there was stunning, it was a beautiful sunny day and the whole ride is along the coast of False Bay, with the waves crashing and sand dunes everywhere. Once you hit Khayelitsha, the land is covered with shacks as far as the eye can see. There are asphalt roads in most public areas but once in the residential areas it goes to dirt roads and there are no street signs. The shacks are right on top of one another, there are lines for washing hanging everywhere. Small corner stores are bustling with business, lots of kids in the streets playing because they are still on holiday, women doing one another’s hair and men standing in groups talking and watching. There is a lot of trash everywhere in the streets but no one seems to notice or mind. Most of theshacks do not have doors, so you can see right into their homes. The shacks are small, very small.
Michelle is very excited to be here, when she first came to Cape Town she spent a lot of time in Khayelitsha, coaching soccer. She loves the feeling of community and togetherness that people have there. She spoke about the youth we work with – the mentees – really loving returning here for the weekend because they are surrounded by their community, their families and friends. We get many smiles, waves and some hellos. Since no streets are labeled we need some assistance finding where we are going.
We are going to visit a children’s home that gives shelter to between 140-160 children, aged newborn to 18. When we arrive we meet the staff and we are given a tour. First we go to see the smallest ones, toddlers and infants playing in the yard in the sun, outside with volunteers. Some are being rushed in and out for diaper changing, food eating or clothes changing. The majority of them are suffering from runny noses and are dressed in sweaters and long pants and are interacting with the other babies around them. We are told that most of these babies have HIV or have been affected by HIV. Some of them are dropped off at the home, some are found abandoned and some are taken from bad living conditions.
When we return to the office we talk about OTSK: what we do, our plans for this year and next and then we are told of the issues and concerns facing the youth in children’s homes in Khayelitsha. Some children live in institutions their whole lives. They have no family, they are not adopted, they are not sent to a foster home, they grow up here. When age 18 comes around they cannot legally stay.
As I am sitting in the office listening to Michelle speak to the director of the children’s home, my body is present but my mind is looking at a list of the 45 children’s home in the area. I read the list over and over again, thinking about how many children that represents and how they will fare out in the real world. A couple of times I think about the little toddlers playing in the sun and the teenagers in respite care and desperately hope that cycle of disease and death can stop soon. My eyes tear up a couple of time and I have to focus back in on the conversation so I don’t cry. Michelle tells the director she will have to look at OTSK’s numbers and let her know if we can invite them to join the programme next year. Michelle has to employ two full-time staff next year and that means bringing in a lot more funds before we can commit to adding too many more youth to the programme.
From the children’s home we drive to pick up a mentor and have a brief check in meeting. We pick him up from the side of the road and we go to Khayelitsha Mall in site B. The mall is a very new looking, open market with a very large open courtyard. Michelle and I are the only white people I see in the mall. This is a new experience for me – coming from a country where white people are the majority. Moms with kids, teenagers in groups, long lines at the bank, people in line to pay bills, the grocery store is crazy busy and lots of babies on mama’s backs. We sit and chat about his mentee and how things are going. He is extremely invested in the program and wants to have more contact with staff and his mentee. He is an amazing role model for his mentee; he is well connected in the community and has a great deal of patience with the youth.
After we do some other errands together we visit one of Michelle’s mentees. Michelle lights up at this visit, she is excited to hear how he is doing and what his plans are, now that he has moved back into the community after a number of years living in an institution. This young man has a baby girl who is immediately passed to Michelle while we all stand around and chat about family, friends and current going-ons. We hop back in the car, drop our mentor off and head back into Muizenberg. Once I see the ocean again, I look back and feel like I have just visited another country.