Live weather update from the African bush — it is RAINING. This is absurd. It’s the dry season. The morning was beautiful, but now we’re all confined inside the farmhouse drinking rooibos around the fire.. Life can get rough sometimes.
So, what better time to update the world on the last week or so of activities? Our time in/outside of Jo’berg wrapped up quite nicely. We had a few interesting encounters, including a meeting at the Department of Basic Education (in Pretoria–the same day as the Pistorius trial, actually), a trip to the Apartheid Museum, and an afternoon in Soweto watching Sportstec’s high school soccer leagues. We made the happy discovery that we can feed ourselves for multiple meals on a grocery shopping trip that is equivalent to about $5, and we spent our nights having meetings by lamplight in our tents while the wildebeests and lions mated outside (not a joke).
We headed down to the farm/Geluksburg on Thursday, and pretty much jumped right into getting to know the community. A few friends from last year (who work for Sportstec) were at the farm when we arrived, and it was so nice to see them. Friday morning, we went to the ECD (Early Childhood Development) center which is here at the farmhouse. It was started when I was here last year, and it’s basically nursery school–in rural areas, children typically don’t have the opportunity to go to school before they start at age 6, so they are typically behind when they arrive for kindergarten. The program has grown so much since last year–there are about eight local moms who volunteer every day, nearly 30 kids on the roster, lesson plans, curriculum, a physical education component.. We talked to the moms there and had a chance to play with some of the kids. We also went to the closest elementary school, Maswazi, which is about a minute’s walk from the farm, and saw the Sportstec guys working there. We were beaten pretty seriously in dodgeball (they throw much harder here..), and we were also able to meet some teachers and check out the classrooms. Of the 5 teachers that work there, only 3 were present, and the principal was also gone. That night, we had dinner with some of the local guys, and then on Saturday, we went with them to a Zulu cultural festival in the nearest town, where a bunch of local schools were competing in different forms of traditional dance (picture attached). It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, but it definitely felt a little strange as a group of four American kids to come wandering in, even if we came with some local friends. Today we went up to visit one of the tribal families, which was really wonderful.. I think it can be really easy to feel voyeuristic or supremacist in this type of context, until we see people like that who are so happy just to talk to us about where we’re from or introduce us to their family, and I remember again the importance and symbolism of building relationships.. Overall, the past few days have been a great introduction/reunion in Geluksburg, providing a good overview of the town and Sportstec’s involvement, though I think we still have a million questions we’d all like to ask in order to find out more–hopefully the coming week in the schools will provide some more insight.
To give a general overview of what exactly we’re doing here (ha ha my favorite question), there’s sort of two components: The first is that we’re volunteers for Mighty City/Geluksburg, and our goal is to use the pre-existing sports projects happening here (facilitated by Sportstec) to build relationships with the community that can help us perform a needs assessment–which can ideally help us complete some kind of community project in our time here. One thought we’re having now for a project is to help them pilot an after-school club where kids can further explore things they’re interested in outside of school (hopefully being able to tie in some type of creative arts/environmental/gender equality aspect.. we can dream!). This will require a lot of research first though, so I’m not sure how much is actually possible in our limited time frame here (we’re spending the next two weeks in Geluksburg, then two weeks traveling, then 3 final weeks in Geluksburg). The second component of our work here is that we’re basically interns for Sportstec, and are helping them design a blueprint for an international volunteer program. A lot of my personal work in the last year has gone towards this, but we’re working on a way to streamline feedback and reports in order to give them an idea of how to do something like this again in the future, particularly if none of us personally decide to continue working on this project.
Which segues into my next and final thought–my involvement with this program. Mighty City, MCAP, whatever, has been my life for the last year (perhaps that’s hyperbolic). I have been working non-stop since I left here last year to make this a reality, but I’ve never been exactly sure why, and never been sure if I was more excited to do it or more scared. Regardless, as happy as I was to see Geluksburg and everyone here, the moment I arrived on Thursday, I felt.. heavy. Struggling to meet the expectations of people here, my team, and myself felt sort of all-consuming. But I think the last few days have allowed me to realize that this is just a summer–or a year–and it doesn’t have to be more, but I’m here, and I’ve done so much to make this happen, and it’s a totally incredible opportunity, so why not make the most of it and do everything possible? Even if I leave here at the end of next month without having created something tangible, or no intentions to return, that’s okay. Building relationships is important, seeing the world is important, sitting down in a Zulu hut and getting to know a local family is important (in case anyone is wondering, my Zulu is rapidly improving), and it would be a waste to have this experience and not learn everything I possibly can. South Africa and Mighty City do not have to be my future–I think I’ve felt pressure to make them that way–but everything I do in the future can be informed by this experience, and that is incredibly valuable in itself.
PS, happy birthday to my wonderful mother! Wish I was there to celebrate with you!