Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Global Citizens

I've taken this course, Global Citizens at UCT. We're the first batch piloting this awesome endeavor, funded by the Vice Chancellor, and so far its been great! I've registered for the "Thinking About Volunteering" section (not the discourse and dialog part which I wish I had time for too!) It's actually pretty cool because the requirements of the course is that you do 15 hours of community service this semester, and submit blog posts! Now, that sounds like something I could do!

We have weekly meetings do reflect on our service over the past week and discuss topics such as "is there a difference between charity and social justice? If so, is one inherently bad and one inherently good" and "what are the motivations for volunteering, and does service mitigate inequality, or does is just perpetuate it?" You have no idea how great it is to crystallize these vague but critical ideas into workable arguments and discussions, to be given the space to refute and ponder, to meet others who share my interest or can introduce me to new ones. A place to learn and grow and share and feel normal. Feel normal for wanting the world to be a better place.

Its a give and take. In that room on a Wednesday night, on the online forum, reading the blogs, there is just so much muchness. I feel like as much as I can learn there, I can teach too. As much as I can agree there, I can argue too. Its just so..just So healthy. Like taking a deep breath of clean air in the country after a four hour car ride from the city (with the aircon on).

And the best part is, I think it's actually helping! So much of the time, we go out and do service, hold meetings, plan strategies so that we can reach our objectives, managing our time, and oh yes, keep the community's needs at the forefront of our thinking all the time. In all this running around, organizing transport, meetings, funds, workshops, speakers, even site visits...somehow I lost the plot along the way. I forgot what was really important. The people. The people we want to help, and the people who are doing the helping.

I'm planning to run a workshop with my team members tomorrow where they discuss and reflect on their purpose as individuals, as well as that of the team. I want them to feel like they belong, that they are making a difference, that what we are doing is real, involving real people, with real problems. I hope it brings about a fresh sense of purpose in my team members! I'm so proud of them already, and can't wait to see what they come up with!

Thank you Global Citizens...there seems to be something to this reflection stuff after all!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Back to Nyanga

I visited Nyanga today, for the first time in months. It was different this time. I don't know why. It wasn't that I was scared. No, I'm not scared. Tume was with me and two others and I know that people look at me because its strange seeing someone like me there. An Indian girl on the streets of a Cape Flats taxi rank. It's a sight! So I'm not scared when they look. But it was different. It was like the first time I was there, when I was nervous, shy, arms crossed and sticking close to the others. Not my confident, friendly, open self. I guess its a little like getting to know Nyanga all over again.

Some people remembered me though. I could see it in their smiles, their greetings. I really need to learn more isiXhosa. My heavily accented "Molweni" is replied to with a laugh. I can just imagine them thinking "Oh, poor girl trying to speak isiXhosa. Cute!". Why did I have to learn isiZulu???

Tumelo is a great translator though, and I've contacted Abalimi and Shawco, the two NGO's at the site who have offered to help me find a reliable translator. Someone from the community will be better I think. And I'm sure an extra R50 in their pocket won't hurt them either. t might just be our ticket to gain their trust. One of the traders mentioned that it was very important that we had a translator, so that they can communicate to us exactly what they like/ want. I was so glad for that, because all this while, I had been worried about how we were going to communicate what we had to say...It was great to realize that we had missed something so important, and have a chance to adjust our mindsets to serve the people we're doing all of this for. At the end of the day, they are the only one's that matter in all of this.

We bounced the idea of the stoves off them. And the response was great! The people are really willing to try something new I think. Anything to help their business. My plan is to work out an business strategy for each individual trader, working out a payment scheme to suit their own business needs. Combining this with a little bit of health and basic business management education would make a much bigger impact than just handing over stoves to them. I'm really excited about the project.

There was one guy. Just an old "Mkhulu" on his way back home from work, wearing his blue contractors pants. He stopped and greeted us, shook all our hands with the regular "touch my blood" line that people of this country use. (I never knew that before today.) Then he thanked us. He thanked us for being there, for being in that place, on that street, unafraid, walking around. He thanked us for leaving our pretty little lives behind for a while and for taking the time to see. To see it. To see the people of this country.

I looked at the mountain. I thought "I live at the bottom of that mountain". From where we were, it didn't really seem all that far away.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I'm taking an interesting course this semester called Global Citizens. It's a non-credit bearing course directly from the VC and deals with ideas of service, leadership, what it means to be a citizen etc...

A major part of the course is reflection and learning from experience. As a result, I've been reflecting on a few things myself...I was remembering the first day I ever visited an informal settlement and the first day I ever stepped into a classroom of underprivileged learners. These were both such pivotal moments in my life and have changed me so entirely. I think about my time in Nyanga, which is still continuing, and the recent violence that was experienced there. The Women's day protest, where women from the community marched against ongoing rape and violence against women, trying to emancipate themselves from the slavery which is their lives. I think about the young Somalian man who was recently shot and killed outside his shop, yet another victim of xenophobia. I wonder about how this has affected my life, my thoughts and understanding and the way I treat people. What have I learnt about my country, my people, my actions and words and their impact?

I think about the difference between charity and service. What is the value of giving money to the needy, and how does this differ from becoming deeply involved in a project, a community, an individual's life? Which is more valuable, which causes the greater impact. And very importantly, which will have the greatest impact on me? I urge my friends and family to help me in my project, to become involved. But why is it that I hate giving money to the beggars on my street corner which I pass every day? Where is the line and how did I draw it?

I like the idea of reflection, the point isn't to make an argument, or even have a point. It's just to take a checkpoint on your life, your day, assessing it, reliving it in your mind, appreciating it and most importantly, learning!