A Little Bit of Home Away from Home by Casey Overway

Like much of Cape Town, Pniel is bordered by a mountain, and even though when we arrived it was dreary, cold and about to get real wet, the scene was beautiful – much like our fall in Michigan. We were welcomed into Winston and Denise’s home where we met Uncle Eddie who was to be our tour guide of the village before a braai (barbeque) and meeting meeting our host families. On the tour we started by setting the very first church building that was inaugurated in 1843 as well as the two additions that were added on in 1850 and 1865.

Following the church we toured the Pniel Museum which gave the history of Pniel as the first mission station established outside of Cape Town. It also included rooms designed as an old kitchen, living room, church, and school. There was also a room celebrating the sports of Pniel and Winston’s Rugby picture was hanging up. The museum was quite interesting because the people of Pniel are so proud of their village and they want everybody to see and love it as much as they do. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we loved our time there and it was a great home away from home. Below are testimonials about Pniel from the six different homes that students from our group stayed in:

We stayed with Denise’s sister’s family. They were very welcoming and nice people. We went with them to a 21st birthday party that was Moulan Rouge themed which was a god time. On Sunday they took us on a tour of Pniel and the neighboring communities which was educational. It was a privilege because we were able to hear their perspective on Apartheid and how it is still affecting many families. Overall our family was amazing and we couldn’t have asked for a better host family! -Sarah and Jessica

We stayed at Henrietta and Winston #2’s house. We were able to chat with them for awhile before their son and nephew (Clint and Warren) picked us up and showed us around Pniel and took us to the Rugby Clubhouse for a going away party for a family friend. After the Clubhouse we went to Henrietta’s sister’s house to get to know each other and compare experiences and perspectives on the U.S. and South Africa. By the end of the trip, it truly felt like we were family because everyone was welcoming and made us feel at home – they even taught us a new game called bottles. -Maddie, Stephanie, and Margie

Our family took us in with open arms and were unbelievably warm and accomodating. We were treated like family and were able to enjoy pizza, red wine, and good ‘ol South African board games. We learned a lot and we couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling and positive weekend. -Glenn and Anthony

Our host Mom was Lucille, and she was so sweet and caring. Pniel was nothing but welcoming and the town was beautiful. To be totally immersed in another community is definitely a unique experience and was one of the best things about South Africa so far! -Claira and Challie

The homestay was my favorite thing so far because I stayed with the most loving family (Denise and Winston), who made me feel like I was one of them. I got to meet a lot of sweet people at a birthday party and got to play with their three daughters the whole time. It was great to be truly immersed into their culture and be with genuine people. -Esther

Pniel was interesting. It was nice to experience the middle class of South Africa. It would be nice if Pniel was representative of most of Africa, but that is not the case. However, as we traveled through the quaint village we couldn’t help but notice the way everyone waved to anyone and everyone as they passed them on the street. The warm hugs that greeted us as we walked into homes made us feel like we were coming home after being gone for months. Being in such a close-knit community that is so proud of their history and so welcoming was so refreshing, and was exactly what we all needed. We all now have a community that will always welcome us with open arms even though we all come from different experiences, backgrounds, and cultures. -Zak, Kanyn, and Casey

In closing, Pniel was a warm and welcoming village that offered us a unique experience. Now I ask you, how do you celebrate your history and how do you welcome those who aren’t from your community?

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Uncle Eddie

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Church in Pniel

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Nowhere is Better: We Are in the Struggle by Kanyn Doan

We Are the Women Song Video

Listen to the audio file here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/qplmk6hs6new6of/We%20Are%20The%20Women.m4a

In our experience thus far, we have been exposed to a crazy amount of history. We have been visiting museums, exhibits, and reading various articles that have all talked about South Africa’s gut-wrenching history. However, on the Thursday of our third week, we had the amazing opportunity to visit the Community House in Cape Town, and partake in a community meeting that discussed the struggles of women in the labor field and the effects of these struggles. The Community House has provided a safe space for community members to resist Apartheid since the 1980s and currently houses many organizations and resources. Before we went to the meeting, we read an article by Jeffrey du Preez that discussed domestic work in South Africa, and how this workspace has been influenced and shaped by Apartheid.

Before the meeting began, another member of our group and I were talking to the SHAWCO student representative of the group, Loveness, who moved to Cape Town from Zimbabwe. We were asking her how she liked Cape Town, and if she planned to stay here or move again. Loveness started talking about her perception of South Africa as corrupt, and even though legislation has been written to create equality, equality has yet to be seen in the social space of South Africa. We continued to talk about other places that may have the equality and freedom that we all wish to see, but a simple phrase that Loveness said seconds before the meeting stuck with me for the rest of the day: “Nowhere is better.”

Such a simple statement, yet so many layers to examine. Ever since we arrived in Cape Town, the majority of the group has been discussing how in love with South Africa they are, how they want to move here, and how much better South Africa is than the United States. Though everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I can understand where all of them are coming from, I find all of it really hard to swallow.

While we were at the Community House, citizens from the Western Cape, mostly unemployed women, spoke of their struggles to the group. No running water, electricity, empty promises, and resorting to prostitution or other forms of dangerous employment is their everyday reality. These conditions are a result of Neo-liberalism, in which the government promises that encouraging profit for the wealthy will allow everyone to benefit as the resources trickle down, yet these community members’ experience indicated this is an empty promise in a corrupt system. I believe it is very important that we were exposed to this side of the social aspect that is these women’s everyday lived experience.

Before and after we began the discussion, the folks from the community began chanting and singing resistance and celebratory songs. The lyrics were both in Afrikaans and English, and as they sang with smiles on their faces, I couldn’t help but have an overwhelming feeling of pride and passion for the struggle that I as a woman go through. These individuals sang of their struggles while dancing and encouraging all of us to join. Yes, we are all facing our own struggle, no matter what country we are from, what color our skin is, or what gender we identify as. This experience reminded me that every person, every city and even every country has their own struggles, their own flaws, and their own type of corruption. Denying those flaws will not solve them, and only focusing on the “good” parts of any country is ignorant and detrimental to the future and progression of any nation.

The meeting at the Community House reminded me to appreciate what I have and that there is no better. We are all citizens of a world that has yet to see equality, and by putting certain nations, ideas, and people above and below each other is only regenerating inequality. We must begin to appreciate variety, differences, and similarities to finally accept every person and culture for everything they are and are not.

I was inspired by this day so much that I wrote a poem/journal entry that I would like to share with you all:

“Nowhere is Better”

Having various conversations about this land vs. that land… trying to decide which is better, more well-off, more progressive, equal and “the way to be”

All I can say is we will always want what we can’t have… the grass is somehow always greener on the opposite side of the world.

Yet, we have what every person strives for, kills for, only dreams about.

We have what every person wants, yet we crane our necks and scream to every open ear how fantastic this nation is compared to our own.

Are you telling me you find it progressive that these women and children don’t have water? Electricity? That they live between walls so thin and flammable that they might as well be the pages of the Constitution? You can not look me in the eyes and attempt to convince me that they have it better.

All these people have is words.

Empty promises that they hope for every night as they close their eyes, and are reminded of as well as disappointed in every morning at 4 am as they attempt to make this day a little easier than the last.

You are telling me that you wish to study at an institution that shuts out the people that need that library the most? That deserve those pages and what they have to say, so that maybe they can have a chance to voice their experiences, their struggles, their hopes?

I am so sick of this pedestal that we continue to put these people and their country on. Can’t you see you are adding to it all?

When we start to view each other as not only equal but DIFFERENT…

WOW.

What a difference we will see.

No country, place or person is better than the other; that idea is why we ended up here.

Everything is at a different place, in a different position on the path towards a life without struggle, hate, and toxic power.

In awe we all are because we have been plucked from our privilege and reminded that there are people in this world that do in fact STRUGGLE.

Stop glamorizing their struggle like you do everything else.

I can tell you that it is not glamorous.

Go walk down the streets of Langa and Manenberg and then tell me this country is more progressive than the rest.

We need to look at both lands for exactly what they are and are not.

Don’t put one above the other, that has caused far too many problems already.

We are in fact IN the struggle.

We ALL are, and will continue to be unless we can stop placing each other on top of one another.

Once you stack that tower too high, it will eventually collapse.

Service Learning in Manenberg is Underway! by Claira Freeman

One of the unique things about this particular Study Abroad trip is the componenet of service learning that it includes. Service learning goes beyond volunteering or just reading about a concept and actually moves into taking your education about a certain issue or community and applying it by working for or serving that particular community in terms of their needs. We are doing our service learning at a Primary School in Manenberg, a township outside Cape Town. SHAWCO, the UCT affilicated non-governmental organization that we’re partnering with, found the community has a need for tutoring with their 11-13 year olds, so we are here to fill that need. We have familiarized ourselves with the community and now we have started our service!

On Monday, May 19th we had our first day of working directly with our learners. Going into it I thought I had a good idea of what to expect. I have a fair amount of service learning experience that also included different populations and places other than my home, some even involving working with kids. In all service learning situations you typically have to show up with that service learning mindset of being ready to go with the flow and ready for anything, all while trying to keep your purpose and issue in mind.

We had to do just that, there were some ups, downs, and curve balls, but we handled them successfully! In Manenberg, our purpose for our first day of service learning was to get to know the kids and set up a basis for our relationship in the coming 4 weeks. We had a structured “get to know you” game where we passed a ball around answering questions about ourselves, such as favorite food, animal, etc. We then broke off with our specific learner and drew pictures of our names, families and other things that are important to us. This may not seem like a traditionally productive day of volunteering but in terms of the concept of service learning it is crucial. By getting to know the learners we are completing an important part of connecting to the community.

The kids were really receptive to us, laughing along with our answers, wanting to participate and even giggling at our bad attempts at speaking Afrikaans. Getting attached to the kids won’t be a problem. The importance of connecting with the community we are serving was smoothly achieved today. Now, we just need to focus on tutoring the children in the subjects of math and English; making sure they are marking progress and we keep building and solidifying our relationships. From here on out our interactions can only get better as we move into more one-on-one time with our specific subjects. I think by having such a good “get to know you” first day coupled with our commitment to education in serving the Manenberg community, I would say that we are well on our way to having a successful service learning experience here in South Africa.

To keep our service learning experience fun and engaging, we welcome suggestions in the comment section about working with kids around the age of 6th grade, including what works well in the classroom, fun little games for downtime, etc. We really want our time with the kids to be as beneficial as possible!

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Reclaiming Space on Robben Island by Jessica Gibbs

Earlier this week we went to the V&A Waterfront and stepped aboard the Sea Princess. This boat took us on a 30 minute boat ride to Robben Island. Robben Island got this name because of all the seals that were around that were referred to as “Robbens.”

What most people know about Robben Island though is that it was the place in which Nelson Mandela was held captive for many years. We did see his cell and it was an interesting feeling to stand right outside the door. I felt speechless in that moment because history was right in front of me, at my fingertips. President Obama is one of the few individuals who has been allowed inside.

Our tour guide was a former prisoner at Robben Island. He took us around and explained the different areas of the prison and their purposes. Hearing the story from someone who actually experienced life in imprisonment on Robben Island was a great way to get the truth and details about what took place. He told us that in the kitchen they would put paper (notes, newspaper clippings, etc.) between slices of bread in order to get information to the other inmates. I found this interesting and clever. He also told us of the hidden manuscript for Long Walk to Freedom that Nelson Mandela had buried on on the grounds. Long Walk to Freedom, at that time, was the start of Nelson Mandela’s biography of his life. The book is now published and I plan on reading it soon because I want to have a better understanding of his life. One was found and no one knows what happened to it, but he also had more copies hidden behind pictures in a photo album of a fellow inmate.

We drove around the Island and came to a spot where all of the prisoners used to work. Years after they were free they came back; they came to this spot and each took one rock and made a pile. This is very symbolic on the Island and we were not able to get out to get a closer look. But the idea that these men, and even some prison guards, came back and retold stories to relive those memories is amazing. The prisoners that were kept at Robben Island found a way to forgive and move on from all of the awful things that went on at that time.

Could you see yourself in this position – able to forgive and come to such a cruel place? I think we all have a lot to learn from Nelson Mandela and his fellow comrades who were imprisoned.

My Baboon Surprise on the Cape Coast Drive by Stephanie Leugoud

This past weekend we embarked on our day long tour of the Cape Coast. We began bright and early and our first stop was a very cool gemstone shop where you could create your own assortment of different minerals and gemstones. From there we stopped to explore Simons Town, a small little village on the ocean, which was a lot of fun; I of course used that time to go shopping.

Our next stop was one of the highlights of my day – seeing the penguins at Boulders National Park. Boulders is world famous for their colony of African Penguins that live there, and African Penguins are actually considered an endangered species. While we were there, most of the penguins were asleep and some were nesting on the ground, so there wasn’t much action. They were still very cute to watch anyway. After leaving the penguins we briefly visited an ostrich farm which was fascinating to see.

From there we headed to the Cape of Good Hope – the most Southwestern point of Africa. We had the most perfect day, the skies were clear and it was sunny and the views from the top of the mountain were breathtaking! We ran into a variety of animals there, including dassies which I was looking forward to seeing; they are very cute and used to being around humans so they weren’t very skiddish. We enjoyed the views there for a while and then proceeded to Cape Point. Cape Point has great historical significance. It is where settlers originally stopped when sailing around Africa and it is where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.

Cape Point was a very interesting experience for me. As you arrive to Cape Point, there are several signs warning visitors about the wild baboons that live in the area, and that they are attracted to food. As we got closer we saw baboons walking on top of cars and doing other obscene things but didn’t really think much of it. Our wonderful driver, Cecil, parked our van and we all got out to head towards the Cape Point Lighthouse to see the view. I of course decided to bring my sack lunch along because I hadn’t ate it earlier when we stopped. As we were waiting for everyone to exit the van a group of us saw a baboon with a baby baboon on its back walking towards us, and we all thought aww, houw cute, let’s take a picture of it! As I’m getting out my phone to take a picture of it, I realized that the baboon was coming straight at me, and the next thing I knew the baboon with the baby on its back grabbed my sack lunch right from my hand and ran away with it!

I screamed my head off and ran towards the van while everyone else screamed, and then proceeded to laugh at me. I thought the baboon was going to take me down at that moment and I was very frightened! But I was fine and the baboon and its baby had lunch so everything worked out. I was a little nervous the rest of our time at Cape Point, but once we hiked all the way up to the Lighthouse I forgot all about the incident after seeing the view from up there.

The Cape Coast is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. After that adventure we all (well, most of us), were fast asleep in the van and woke up a while later when we arrived for dinner at a place called Fish On the Rocks. I usually don’t like fish but the fish there was great; and I didn’t have to worry about a baboon taking it from me!

The Cape Coast Tour has been one of my favorite days on the trip so far, and I definitely suggest everyone to visit it once in their life. You wouldn’t regret it, just make sure you are aware of the baboons!

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Baboon on top of the gift shopp

The Spirit of District Six by Sarah Wolfe

On February 11th of 1966, all of District Six, a unique, intellectual, artistic, and diverse community located between Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, was awoken to discover an unimaginable sorrow in the morning’s newspaper. Over 70,000 of the communites’ beloved members were to be assigned an identity of white, black, colored, honorary white, chinese, asian, cape malay, cape coloured, other colored, and bantu; to be dispersed into an assigned segregated area somewhere within South Africa at the government’s discretion.

To determine if someone was black, government officials would frequently use the pencil test. The pencil test, as implied, was quite simple and equally as degrading. A government official would simply put a pencil in the identified person’s hair and see if it would stay in or fall out. If the pencil stayed, the person was labeled, whether correct or not, as black. If the pencil fell, the person was identified as colored. This test was frequently used during Apartheid and led to furthering segregation between families.

For many, the breaking up of District Six, a community similar in nature to Eastown, Grand Rapids, was too much to bare. Many people were said to have died of heart break, in particular the elderly.
Moving from my place of roots, even when voluntary, is traumatic, but this is so much more
stated one of those relocated. The pain for many dislocated was drastically increased as nearly every block of District Six was demolished. The destruction process occurred block by block up until 1982, at which time a once thriving community with Sunday and Holiday brass bands, art, and a community swimming pool was leveled to the ground with only a limited few fortunate churches remaining. One of those churches, the Methodist Church, later became the District Six Museum.

Now, in 2014, the District Six Museum is extremely well known, bringing in visitors such as Former Vice President Al Gore and President Obama. Noor, our tour guide at the Museum and one of those dislocated, explained plainly,
There is only one race, and that is the human race
Sketched plainly on the wall behind Noor as he spoke were the heartfelt collective thoughts of the Museum and many ex-residents of District Six:
Remember District Six. Remember the racism which took away our homes and our livelihood and which sought to steal our humanity. Remember also our will to live, to hold fast to that which marks us as human beings. Our generosity, our love of justice and our care for each other.

In present day, it seems relatively easy to look back and ask why and how did this happen? The simple answer is that the demolition of District Six was just one of many irrefutably despicable acts of Apartheid and racism which is characteristic of not only South Africa’s history, but much of the globe’s. Out of spite for their ability to live and love in a diverse community, the government, under Apartheid, classified District Six as a “clearance slum” and assigned it a fate of demolition. Nevertheless, I think you’d find that the spirit of District Six lived on, especially within the museum in which the District’s story of life, love, and diversity are retold daily. Seeing the cloth hanging from the ceiling signed by ex-residents, the street signs from every road demolished, and listening to Noor’s story was an absolute privilege.

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Noor, our tour guide, sharing information with the group.

“It’s Only Day One” by Anthony Clemons

I’m going to be quite honest in saying I’m not the biggest fan of kids. Growing up with 9 siblings one either learns to love having a large amount of kids around – or – wants to spend the rest of their life absent of the craziness that kids entail. I’m definitely of the latter perspective. That isn’t to say I’m bad with kids or that I hate children; I simply would just prefer to be around adults. Today, I believe that changed – even if just a bit.

Today was our first trip out to Manenberg Township at the SHAWCO Centre at Manenberg Primary where we will be conducting our service learning. When we arrived on the premises we were greeted by many students running along side the van to see who is inside. The students know the SHAWCO bus brings with it visitors who will interact and engage with them.

Once off the bus we were escorted to our classroom where our students, 6th graders, were in class – English at this particular period. Class was soon to get out; however, we were given some time to talk one-on-one with many of the students. To ilistern and hear of these students’ dreams to be nurses, lawyers, and doctors is extremely encouraging because as we know not many of them are afforded the best living situations back at their homes. After learning a quick “insider” handshake the bell had rung and the students were off – and then the real fun began.

As the door opened to allow the 6th graders to leave, in trickled young children ranging in age from 2 to 7, all wanting to get a peak at the visitors from the SHAWCO van. One young girl walks right up asks to be picked by one of my colelagues and the rest of our time at Manenberg today is history – a very tiring history.

As soon as one child was picked up they all wanted to be picked up. “Spin!” many of them shouted at ys and we obliged and spun each one until it appeared the entire neighborhood of children had shown up. Before long I was dizzy from spinning so many children; two at a time, often with one on my back continuously for about a half hour. The kids began to tackle me and to be honest, they out-powered me. The smiles and laughter these kids had on their faces was unlike anything I had personally experienced. It didn’t matter how tired I was, all these kids were happy and I wouldn’t dare take that away from them.

Due to the rain beginning we moved back inside with the kids and I sat at a desk with a few of the ones I was plauing with outside. Unfortunately, the desk wasn’t big enough for all of us and one of them began to cry because he didn’t have room at the table. What made the situation worse is that many of these kids don’t yet speak English, making communication difficult. I was able to make room and the crying subsided but I think that was the moment I realized how much we mean to these kids, even after just a couple hours with them.

For these kids the affection we showed them is not something they got very often, but more than that they few hours they spent with us meant that was a few hours less they had to worry about things at home. I don’t say this to paint a picture that we’re their shining light and they absolutely need us to keep them from home, but more so to acknowledge the role and importance of a place like SHAWCO where the kids can go to truly change things for their future.

Knowing that we’re working with a local, community-based organization is comforting for me because it allows us to simply be assistants in the movement for change and growth in the community. We aren’t coming here and telling them what they need us to fix, instead we’re working within their community with needs set forth by their community. Although it took me some time to realize this, I cannot wait to see where this next month takes all of us because yes, we may be teaching them, but they’re teaching us just as much, if not more. So, as it may seem, I might just have changed my perspective on children – and it’s only Day 1.

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Anthony covered in children