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.