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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Respectfully Yours

As we drove to the airport, we felt sad passing by the townships we had grown to know, full of the people we grew to love. A completely different experience than when we had driven past them in disbelief when we first arrived. Likewise it was sad to say goodbye to the staff of our bed and breakfast, to our tour guide Yasmin, and to the drivers such as Sabide.

It was a long flight and we lost a complete day returning home. However the green hills of Vermont, the warm, last days of summer, and our loved ones were a welcoming sight!

Of note, news of our project was published today in the Cape Town Sunday Times written by reporter Philani Nombembe pictured here. The article is titled "Kids help create a game of respect."  

The faculty were discussing the title and we think that "respect" is a very good name for an important value that we hope can be created by the project. Respect is what South Africans hold for their elders. Respect is the word we now hold for those we met. Respect is what we believe men and women must hold for each other in order to create a better, more just, and economically thriving society. 

Here is a link to the article: One correction is that the rand amount is incorrect and is approximately R1.5 million or $219,000. 

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Last notes from 40 Winks in South Africa

Just a quick note to let all know that we are on our way home! The last two days were spent meeting with South African academics, experts and passionate people on media and culture, technology integration in South Africa—specifically in developing nations, the South African animation industry and today rape and abuse of women, children and men. 

The statistics are frightening. A child is abused every 8 minutes in South Africa. A child is raped every 24 minutes.  1 in 4 girls and 1 in 5 boys under 16 years old have been sexually abused. 
40% of young men 20-29 are infected with HIV/AIDS. One in four women are in an abusive relationship.  Approximately 1 in 10 people are raped a year here. Every six days a woman is killed in South Africa by a partner.
The good news, cell phone technology is pervasive in even the poorest communities—so we have a vehicle to share our game upon. We have connected with the people of this city in a unique way that has allowed us to see many of the dimensions of the problem. We have the Sabido method, a proven method, to rely on. Likewise we have made many connections to people that can greatly aid our project. We have concepts, research and connections to make it happen. We are committed even more strongly than when we began.
And the words of one of the staff at our bed and breakfast will stay with me. Asanda, after explaining and then discussing our project with her, said to me, 
"Thank you for coming to South Africa."
It is what we have been greeted with over and over by those who clearly and personally know the facts.
See you all tomorrow!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Strength & Courage

(I’m exhausted and mentally, emotionally, and physically drained tonight… err, this morning by all of our amazing experiences this week. Here’s a snippet from my notebook writings on Wednesday. For confidentiality purposes, photos posted here range from many visits on our trip. )

Right now, I am sitting in a battered school room. Twenty-one beaten up wooden and metal desks cluster on a dirty tile floor with a pile of garbage swept up in one corner. Rickety yellow-painted metal and glass pane windows let in large amounts of sunlight, shining on mysterious chunks of black hair on the floor next to me. Half of our group is in the Philippi Township at Sinethemba School.

I am listening to the sweet melodic singing of a 16 year old South African girl. She is not performing for us, she is connecting us with her culture. Two sharp Champlain students (Nichole Magoon and Jaimie Olmstead) are each conducting interviews right now with two girls from this school. My role is of an observer... to capture some essences that could be lost in translation. After being asked a question about what games they play, one girl started with that sweet song which is part game - part dance. Her voice sounding strong and compassionate, filled with love and hope.

Now, music is playing over their cell phones and they're singing along. They're not shy. In the States many girls might do this, but many more would be embarrassed to do this in front of a stranger. These girls love to share their music and their stories. The look in their eyes is a look of utter strength, but inner struggle.

The Champlain students in this room are amazing right now. They're spot on. The mood is casual and comfortable. The conversation is flowing. Laughs are full. Soft spoken words of struggle are muttered. The tone of the room can go from full laughter (talking about siblings, music and friends) to quiet discern and avoidance of eye contact (talking about alcoholism, abuse and rape). What a whirlwind. I much imagine this is how these girls live... extreme highs and lows.

Despite all of this, every South African person I've seen and spoken with seems joyous, so full of life, so full of hope. They say things are improving... the townships are becoming safer, the education is getting better, the dreams are becoming bigger. Dreams are what the girls in this room are made of. Dreams and courage. I believe their dreams can come true. I only hope we can help them along in their journey.

We Can Learn from Each Other

It is late tonight in Cape Town. We are all overwhelmed. It is the mid-week and I know from experience that in an intense experience like this it is always the hardest part of the journey. So upfront I need to apologize to those we may have seemed distant from, short or less respondent that usual.

We have been conducting focus groups and one on two interviews. We have also been getting to know personally the teachers, learners (students), drivers, and staff at the various schools such as Sinethemba.  Our Champlain students have been masters of diplomacy and generosity of spirit.
We have been asking hard questions, have been asked hard questions, and have discovered truths uncomfortable to a Western frame of mind. What is wondrous is the openness with which the interviewees and those we meet talk about the issues of violence, abuse and issues surrounding sexuality. It is not a secret here.

It is quite evident that at this time in the culture of density that is the townships, discipline means reinforcing through physical punishment. It is also evident that "discipline " is routine from childhood on up through adulthood (this includes women). It is also evident that a man's duty is to produce heirs—this often means having many wives or partners. In the townships, teen pregnancy (age 14) is commonplace. Poverty also is overwhelming. Though we get to retreat from it in the evenings, we have been spending the last week within it and part of it. It puts another perspective upon it when that is what you see, and breathe, and eat.
This may sound to Westerners just plain wrong, but there are other things we have discovered that make us question the validity of our Western way of living. 

A key value to this population is community. In our Western world we actively are trying to find or create community. Well we from Champlain have found it abundantly here in the townships of South Africa. They embrace each other—and the possibilities open to them limited though they may be. And they have embraced us!

Another key value is respect—particularly respect for elders. All men older are honored as "father", all women older honored as "mother". Grandmothers are especially important in the life of the children. Children are desired but a few per mother, many per father. 

Hope for a new future and belief in the possibilities is strong unlike the fear that seems to drive the U.S. Though when we look, it is easier to see the odds against success, when compared to the rich opportunity available in America—especially when looking at the differences our educational structures offer. Here the odds against becoming well educated are high. 

For instance today, Champlain's IT guru, Ray McCarthy-Bergeron fixed the server of a school. The school is considered to have the best equipment in the townships. The equipment was 3 generations behind what is available in our schools. The server held 1 Gig and the electricity kept failing. The there is the teacher/learner ration. Teachers have 50 to a classroom and little to no text books of supplies—forget the internet as a valid teaching option. They teach 5-7 sessions a day with one small break.
But why should it matter to us you may ask? We shall soon return home. The thing is we've fallen in love with our friends in the townships: the learners, the teachers, the children. We want to keep up our ties, to invite them into our communities, to aid them in their reach for their dreams. We want to be their true friends—today and tomorrow. We want to see them succeed! We are the ones who need a dose of their hope.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Moved Once Again

I cannot possibly describe the experience I had today, but I will do my best. It was similar to yesterday, when we got to chat for a while with some older teenagers. Today, though, I got the incredible chance to sit down and talk to three girls ages 17 and 18 for TWO WHOLE HOURS at a township school in Phillipi. I asked them about everything: their relationships, their families, race, sex, drugs, violence. I didn't hold back, and neither did they. They opened up their lives to me, and I felt so welcomed once again. It was so hard for me to look into their eyes and listen to their stories knowing that each day they risk their lives by walking on the street. At one point during the interview, I told them how moving it was for me to talk to them and listen to the gang and gender violence they endure. I almost started to cry when I told them, and they responded with happy words: "We are so happy you told us that." For their privacy, I cannot disclose any of the specifics of my interviews with them, but just know that there is no way we can possibly conceive what they go through every day. Take my word for it.

I am excited about going back to this township tomorrow, and I hope that it warms (and breaks) my heart just as much. This trip has made me more globally aware than I have ever been, and the creative flow is flooding with ideas. I have so much hope; lets make this worth it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Rob and Bryan have already posted about today but it was such a powerful day that I have to add my voice. We went to the township of Khayelitsha. A few facts, it has a population larger than the state of Vermont, over 1,000,000 people compared to Vermont's 700,000—with 1000 more moving in each month. The area Khayelitsha comprises would be equal to South Burlington or Bristol, Vermont.Unlike Langa, the oldest of the townships which we visited on Monday, many of the people come from the Eastern Cape of South Africa—and even from other nations in Africa. Lately this has caused conflict within the townships. They are looking for work and stability. The photos above are of the township. It is their homes.We met two incredibly inspiring people today, Joy Olivier (Co-Founder) and Luyanda Kota (Director) who create Ikamva Youth It means the "future is in your hands". It is an after school program and more, working with truly motivated teen learners. It is built upon mentorship....much like we hope our project to do. Unfortunately they can only support about 93 students due to lack of funding, spacial constraints, and the need to maintain community. This is a quote from Luyanda on why he does what he does: 
"IkamvaYouth makes a difference in the community....I can see the difference and I want to be a part of the difference." 
We were invited to make a difference today. We worked with the young learners—tutoring in subjects we had long ago been fluent in. We helped with problem solving, knowledge, shared our experiences and listened to theirs. Today we were graciously invited to become part of that community. Thank you Luyanda, thank you Joy, and thank you all the eager learners who taught us today what learning is all about!
Enough said, more pictures so you can join us too.

One Heck of Ride

Life is like a roller coaster and you're never sure when the next high point or low point is. This trip has definitely been a high point for all of us. I find it very reminiscent of my time spent as a Student Ambassador with People to People. But in comparison this trip is so much more powerful and thought provoking than those trips ever were.

Maybe it’s because I’m now working on a project related to the trip rather than going on the trip just to try and understand the culture. I think the fact that we’re a lot more focused in our task lends itself to a much greater learning environment. Not to disrespect People to People because I think what they do is great.

Over the past couple of days we’ve visited Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mendela was incarcerated. We were given a tour by a former inmate and he shared his experiences with us, it was quite powerful. We’ve also visited a couple townships with a couple more in the future.

The trips to the townships are very enlightening. The first one we went to we gathered a group of children around us and I couldn’t help but feel like Indiana Jones at the end of Temple of Doom when all the kids are running around his feet. There was this one girl named Janet that I carried around on my shoulders for a while. It was a very moving experience.

The second one we did just today and we didn’t go on a tour of the township but instead visited a local library and tutoring center. I’m probably describing it wrong but that’s the best description I have for it in my head at the moment. We broke up into small groups with the kids and tried our hand at being tutors and doing what we could to help teach them while at the same time get to know them and their customs.

We have also visited UCT, the University of Cape Town, and we tried our hand at mingling with some of the students there. I spoke with one and as we talked and I told her about our schedule and what we’ve been doing she was surprised that we were going to the townships. So were some local technology experts we’ve spoken to. This is because the white South Africans don’t go and it’s strange to see white people go.

But these trips into the townships are definitely what are making this visit to South Africa all the better. We’re really getting into our research and really getting to know our target market. If we weren’t visiting the townships this trip would have been more for show than for us really doing what we were hired for.

Hello! Day Three and running.

So day Three, and we are running strong. Today we spent a better part of the day at an after school organization in the townships call Ikamvo Youth. This is an organization dedicated to getting a group of kids every year to finish 12th grade and get into college (tertiary school). First we met with the directors of the program and listened to what they had to say about the problems with the townships, education, what their program provides. They are angels in townships, working for kids so that kids can have a better life and future. I have read so many times that education can enable people to overcome almost any problem. Seeing the kids today I believe that even more.

And being with the kids today I learned so much about them. They are very intelligent, and are so nice and accepting. Today I talked with 5 girls while I tried to help them with their math homework.  I was less affective helping with their homework but I learned so much about them, and while I have trouble expressing what I learned, they impressed me. It felt like they all accepted us into their group. After spending time trying to tutor, we spent some time watching a movie made by someone trying to raise money for the center. Before the movie the director worked to try to raise money for a girl who couldn't afford to travel to school, we all students and us left money for her.

So after that we came back and here we are for the night. I will hopefully be able to blog tomorrow :D.


Men, Women and Children

A thought from yesterday's meetings with Tino and Raymond. Independently they both stated the following on Champlain students and this project entering into the South African townships:
“You'll have more contact than most South African academic researchers ever have.” 

The UNFPA has stated that Violence Against Women is the number one cause of global poverty. I can understand that here. Africa is predominately children. Europe and America have significantly older populations. Men in South Africa are considered heads of the household and are "free" to discipline their wives as they see fit. Women, we've been told, are second class citizens with rights equal to those of the family pet in the western world. 

Though generalizing, men here see children as their right. They determine whether birth control is used and see children as a symbol of their place in the world. Men may have many partners and many children. Mothers stay with the children, fathers travel for work. All this with little to no income. 

Parents often die early due to AIDS, TB and malaria. Sisters often become the head of households at young ages—bringing up their siblings AND their own children at ages as early as the onset of puberty.

How can this not equal a circle of poverty?